How has NATS enriched my life on a personal and professional level? I must say it has in many profound ways!!
I encountered NATS after I completed my DMA at the University of Southern Mississippi and undergraduate degree at Concord University. I was a one-year replacement at Wichita State University in 1981. My first full-time university job! All of the WSU faculty were taking students to Regionals, and so I felt that I should as well. It was my first experience with NATS. I had heard of NATS, but had not had the opportunity to participate. I encountered student singers (as a judge) that impressed me on every level. And they weren’t just singing opera arias, but art songs and oratorio/cantata arias as well. I was thrilled! Also, I heard the NATSAA Competition that weekend. I discovered it was a competition that rewarded recital artistry, not just operatic arias. I was hooked on the whole organization.
After that year at WSU, I accepted a job at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where I have been since 1982. I started taking my students to NATS every year. We, my students and I, were exposed to new repertoire, began to get a feel for what standards should be for each particular category and grade level, and learned what degree of discipline is needed to make real artistic progress. Especially coming from a smaller school, I felt NATS helped raise the accomplishment level of my studio. Students practiced more. Yes, there were lots of disappointments, but we learned from them, and everyone gained. And…we had fun on all those NATS trips, even though they could be a pain to organize and carry out!
I am known to say I have a “love-hate” relationship with NATS. I dread it sometimes, because it involves a lot of hard work, many hours, planning, expense, stressed students, stressed teacher, lots of driving, fatigue--- but I love it as I weep with joy when a student who has worked hard and struggled sings in the finals with heart and artistry. I love it when students get pumped as they see students, much like them, being rewarded on stage. I love it when students develop friendships on trips, and are exposed to classical music, and now these days, exposed to musical theater singing as well.
And then there was NATSAA! I went to the national level three times from Tennessee and the Mid-South Region, on to semi-finals in Minneapolis, and then into the finals in New Orleans and Los Angeles! That was so exciting for me! I entered many competitions at that point in my life, but NATSAA rewarded the elements I believed were most important. NATSAA feedback and connections affected my career profoundly. Since then, I have judged NATSAA several times on the state and regional level, and have always been impressed by the quality of the competition and the singers.
As a NATS member, my life has been enriched with life-long friends, mentors, collaborators, colleagues. I learned early on that as a teacher/professor, I was not alone. I learned that other teachers encountered the same college/university challenges that I did. Even now, we share stories and issues only voice teachers can relate to. We sometimes share advice on the aging voice as some of us near retirement. We have life-long friends! Teachers and colleagues we respect and listen to! We look forward to seeing each other throughout the year. Even if we don’t agree on some things, we respect each other. I especially want to acknowledge the Mid-South Region and the TN State Board that I have had the honor of working with over the years. Yes! NATS is an organization that has profoundly affected my life and my students through the years!