At NATS, we embrace all genres of vocal music as art to be respected and appreciated. As a part of the NATS mission to advance excellence in singing for all teachers and students of singing, our National Student Auditions (NSA) leadership team is working diligently to expand our NATS student auditions to include a broader spectrum of music. We want to welcome teachers and students whose singing art is not limited to opera, art song, spirituals, and musical theatre — our current NSA categories of entry. In the 2023-24 cycle of NSA, we will open 13 new national categories in our student auditions. Some NATS chapters and regions have already been pioneering similar categories of auditions. Their successes inspired and informed our new NSA categories. The 2023-24 cycle of auditions will mark the first time these new categories of auditions will advance to the national levels of NSA.
In an ideal world, every genre of vocal music would each have separate NSA categories. Considering that Spotify currently offers 5,071 different genres of music, more genres exist than we could ever hear and adjudicate individually at an NSA event. An umbrella category is our best initial step forward, but we were without a satisfactory name for the new category of auditions that will include bluegrass, blues, contemporary Christian, country, folk, gospel, jazz, pop, rap, rock, R&B, soul, all ethnic musics, and more. We turned to our NATS members for answers.
To gain their expertise, we polled the 54% of NATS members who designated that they teach genres of vocal music not yet included in the national levels of NSA. We were thrilled to receive an unprecedented, high percentage of responses to this poll. A significant majority of those responding agreed that “commercial music” was the best title for this new umbrella category. We heard you and we listened. Multiple new NSA categories for different ages/levels of training will be titled commercial music.
We were relieved to discover our poll resulted in a clear majority in response to this challenging decision. We openly acknowledge commercial music is not an ideal name. Commercial could be viewed as implying that other genres of music have no commercial value, which is far from the truth. Commercial also could be viewed as implying that the music in these new categories has only monetary value, which is also far from the truth. In considering “contemporary commercial music” or “CCM,” we do not want to limit this category to contemporary music only, nor do we want further confusion with the several entities that CCM already represents including contemporary Christian music as well as the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. We considered the title of popular music, but that could be viewed as implying that opera, art song, and musical theatre are not popular. As a potential title, pop music is complicated because pop is also the name of a sub-genre of music as sung by Ariana Grande and a plethora of other recording artists. What to name this inclusive category of auditions confounded us until NATS members provided their responses.
Our NSA events are also growing in a different direction, children and youth categories will welcome student entries from children ages 11 and younger enrolled below 6th grade in school. The new NSA youth categories will welcome entries from 11- to 14-year-olds in 6th through 8th grades. We want to recognize the vocal training these younger students are acquiring. The new NSA children and youth categories will open in classical, musical theatre, and commercial music categories.
In other NSA news: to honor the many voice teachers who collaborate on a student’s vocal training, teachers entering students in NSA will submit the names of any additional voice teacher(s) contributing to a student’s vocal development. NATS members should respect a student’s prerogative to obtain instruction from any teacher(s) of their choice, including concurrent study with other teachers. Transparency should be maintained among all parties involved. To maintain transparency in the NSA registration process, the teachers with whom the student currently studies must communicate directly with one another prior to registering their shared student in NSA only once, regardless of the number of categories that student will enter. When entering a student in our NSA — whether at the chapter, region, or national level of auditions — NATS members will be asked to enter the names of the following, as applicable:
- Primary voice teacher. The teacher who currently teaches a student the majority of their voice lessons in an independent studio or in an academic degree program.
- Concurrent voice teacher. A teacher, who in addition to a primary teacher, also currently teaches weekly voice lessons to the same student. Common examples: voice teachers addressing different genres of vocal music or having different areas of expertise desired by the student.
- Supplemental voice teacher. A teacher, who in addition to a primary teacher, also currently teaches voice lessons to the student on a less than weekly basis.
- Former voice teacher. A teacher who taught the student voice lessons within the previous eight months, but who no longer teaches the student being entered. Common examples: teachers of students who have changed voice teachers or voice teachers of students who have earned a diploma or degree and who have begun a subsequent vocal degree program at a different institution or with a different voice teacher.
The NATS NSA leadership team includes National Student Auditions Coordinator Dan Johnson-Wilmot, National Coordinator of Competitions and Auditions Mark McQuade, and your new National Vice President for Auditions Alisa Belflower. This team collaborates with other national NATS officers and staff, the NSA regulations committee, and sub-committees of genre-specific experts — all of whom generously contribute their expertise to improve the NSA experience for teachers, collaborative pianists, and students. Our NSA will be forever growing and improving to meet the needs of our members and their students.
By Alisa Belflower, NATS National Vice President for Auditions
If you teach in one or more of these new category areas and would like to be involved with the creation of new guidelines and resources related to these new expanded categories, please reach out to Alisa Belflower at firstname.lastname@example.org.