I am honored to write this article for the "NATS For A Lifetime" series. I first became aware of NATS when I was a freshman music major at Rhodes College in my hometown of Memphis, TN. My voice teacher Neumon Leighton (also my teacher throughout high school) had me participate in the area NATS student auditions. I didn’t win anything that year, but I do remember singing Handel’s “O Had I Jubal’s Lyre,” one of the most difficult arias I had studied to date. Entering again in my junior year (1961), I scored higher, singing the challenging Charpentier “Depuis le Jour,” which became a lifetime favorite. Also entering the National Federation of Music Clubs auditions, I won my division and became eligible to sing at the regional auditions in Birmingham, AL. My accompanist and I took our first plane ride to get there, and it was an exciting adventure.
Fast-forward a few years to 1968. I had completed my Bachelor of Music degree, worked four years in Alabama as a church educator and director of youth and children’s choirs, and earned a Master of Music degree in voice pedagogy from Indiana University. Newly hired as Instructor of Voice at Texas Tech University, I arrived on the scene and was informed by the Voice Division Chair that “We are all members of NATS, and we all send our students to the NATS auditions.” Thus I joined NATS that year – 51 years ago!
The NATS auditions were a godsend to this newly minted voice teacher. Fortunately I inherited some excellent students, and my studio made a good showing at the auditions. I eagerly took home all the repertory sheets from the students I adjudicated, since I was desperate to learn new vocal repertory! I taught at Tech for three years before returning to Memphis to get married, but just before I left, I was asked to chair the Texoma Regional Student Auditions! I had to decline, and I congratulated myself on that narrow escape from a huge job. Little did I know what lay ahead.
Back in Memphis, I eventually joined the faculty of my alma mater, Rhodes College, where I taught for 32 years. I completed my Doctor of Arts in Music at the University of Mississippi in 1980. As the only voice teacher at Rhodes, I felt the need for collegial support, so I researched information about chartering a NATS chapter. I managed to round up the requisite ten members, and the Memphis Chapter chartered in 1976. I, of course, became the founding chapter president. We held local student auditions the first year, and they have been held annually ever since. Of course, I took my turns at chairing the event. I took students to district and regional auditions throughout my career, and they and I benefitted greatly from those experiences. I also served a couple of terms as Tennessee Governor of NATS, which allowed me to work with wonderful colleagues around the state.
Every voice teacher dreams of having a famous, successful student, and I was lucky enough to have one. One of my Texas Tech students, Mary Jane Johnson of Pampa, TX, had a world-class career singing in many of the great opera houses, including La Scala, Paris, and the Met. A NATS member, she has been Artist Professor at Amarillo College since 2000, and is Co-founder and Artistic Director of Taos Opera Institute (in its twelfth season), as well as General/Artistic Director of the Amarillo Opera.
Another of my highly successful students is Carole Blankenship, my former colleague at Rhodes College, who is currently President-Elect of NATS. Carole is a fine teacher, as well as a world-traveled lecturer and performer.
Of course, I am equally proud of my many other students who are singing and teaching all around the country. I have been blessed to learn from them all.
In retirement, I am still a student. I am adjunct voice faculty at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City, and I teach a few adult singers in my home studio. I sing in two choirs, and my latest venture is jazz piano studies and learning to be a jazz singer.
My greatest NATS honor is to have been invited to contribute, with my co-author Bill Biffle, a book for the fabulous new "So You Want to Sing" series. Our title is So You Want to Sing Barbershop, published in 2017.
I am fortunate to have been taught and mentored by many wonderful teachers: Neumon Leighton, Martha Lipton, Zinka Milanov, Wiley Tatum, Dr. Larry Frazier, Cynthia Linton, Jack Eric Williams, Mary Saunders Barton, Robert Edwin, Jeannette LoVetri, and my special mentor, Dr. H. Wesley Balk of the Minnesota Opera, who forever changed my understanding of the vocal art. I am grateful to these guides, and I hope to continue to pay it forward by sharing my knowledge with others as long as I am able.
For more information, visit: http://dclarkstudio.weebly.com