2023 NATS competition is held at Muhlenberg

learn more about what the famed vocal competition's presence on campus meant to faculty and students

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The Baker Center for the Arts || photo by Maddie Ciliento '24

On Saturday Feb. 11, students from throughout the Lehigh Valley came to Muhlenberg to showcase their talents in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) student auditions. Held throughout the Baker Center for the Arts from 8:00am to 2:00pm, the day brought invaluable experience to these vocalists and accompanists while also sparking new interest in Muhlenberg from outside our small population.

NATS is an organization dedicated to the well-being of voice teachers across the country, both academically and personally. Trisha Budlong, a member of the Muhlenberg voice faculty and NATS, explained that they offer resources for teaching as well as health insurance, “which is significant as the vast majority of voice teachers, despite holding advanced degrees, are not in full time teaching positions at the university level, so do not have access to benefits through their employers.” Membership also allows students to participate in auditions each year.

When registering for auditions, students choose a category to compete in based on their preferred style of music and age range. They then choose two or three songs in that style that showcase the breadth of their talent through contrasting characters, languages and/or tempos. For the actual audition, the student performs all of their songs with an accompanist for a panel of three judges. The judges then deliberate the winners for their category, who are given a monetary award and the chance to perform for all students involved. All student auditioners walk away with the benefit of written feedback from the judges. They then may discuss this feedback at their lessons as a springboard for improvement.

Valentina Nazzaro ‘23, a winner in the commercial music category, found it more rewarding to think of NATS as practice than performance: “I didn’t really look at it as a ‘competition’ as much as an opportunity for me to get more experience singing in front of some sort of audience and on top of this being able to get professional feedback and suggestions on my work. I also loved being able to perform songs that eventually I will be singing in front of an even more intimate crowd at my senior recital in April.”

Auditionee Sabrina Vitale ‘23 agreed, stating, “Although it is a competition in nature, it is a phenomenal way to practice performance for students who may not have a ton of performance opportunities at the moment. I, personally, struggle with auditioning, so entering NATS allows me to confront that and get better in the process.”

This year was historic for Lehigh Valley (LV) NATS and Muhlenberg’s participation, as it is the first time the event has been held somewhere besides Moravian University in at least ten years, according to faculty participants. Accompanist Vincent Trovato, who has been helping with LV NATS throughout the years, loved the change, and not just for the sake of familiarity: “I’ve always done it at Moravian and I have memories of running from one floor to another, which was exhausting.” According to Budlong, Moravian’s facilities and parking had always been an issue, specifically for pianists, and it seems that the change in location helped make the day run smoother.

NATS Student Auditions had benefits that extended beyond the auditionees and accompanists into the Muhlenberg and Lehigh Valley communities. While auditions are happening each year, auditionees and music students are encouraged to attend a masterclass. This year’s was entitled “Well Canto – Mental Fitness for Singers,”which is described as an opportunity to “explore insights and apply practical tools that help maintain a state of well-being while developing awareness of how we think, feel and behave.”

“…think of it as something you’re doing for yourself simply because you love singing! And more importantly sing with your soul and really feel the music you are singing.”

-Valentina Nazzaro ’23

Students from other colleges and those competing in the middle and high school divisions also had the opportunity to experience Muhlenberg’s facilities and learn about our programs through LV NATS. Vitale experienced this firsthand: “I was even asked about our arts facility by other participating students from Cedar Crest who were curious about the amount of performance spaces we had and the productions we were putting on this semester. They even mentioned that they came to see a few departmental productions last semester and plan to return.”

“I think Muhlenberg has such strong theatre, dance and music programs, and a contest like NATS really offers students the chance to develop their skills through practice,” explained NATS organizer and voice faculty member Ellie Escher. “It went really smoothly which was great feedback for me, and I think that was in large art due to how well our campus is set up to embrace the performing arts.”

Nazzaro believes more people should participate in the auditions in the future: “…think of it as something you’re doing for yourself simply because you love singing! And more importantly sing with your soul and really feel the music you are singing. At the end of the day it’s better to jump at an opportunity that scares you than not do it at all! What’s the worst that can happen?”

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