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NATS Honors Joan Boytim and Virginia Zeani with Lifetime Achievement Award

Two of the most respected champions of the vocal profession have received the highest honors for their legacy as educators.
posted on 11:58 AM, September 15, 2016

At the 54th national conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, Virginia Zeani and Joan Frey Boytim (pictured, right) were given the organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award. The award ceremony was part of the NATS gala celebration banquet, which closed the biennial conference attended by a record-setting number of delegates.

One of the world’s foremost bel canto specialists

Award recipient Virginia Zeani is regarded as one of the world’s foremost bel canto specialists. “Her biography speaks significantly about her incredible singing career,” said NATS Secretary/Treasurer Lloyd Mims. “But it was after she stepped off the stage and into the studio that her legacy of bel canto singing and performance techniques began to multiply itself in the lives of countless students. Her perfectly crafted vocalizes continue to be the centrality of her training and are the most valuable information she imparts technically.”

After retiring from the operatic stage, Zeani, together with her late husband, Nicola Rossi Lemeni, began to teach at Indiana University in 1982. Both were later honored as Distinguished Professors.

Virginia ZeaniAttendees enjoyed a video retrospective of Zeani’s vintage performances and recorded interviews. In a prepared remark, Zeani expressed that she could not attend due to doctor’s orders. “At age 90, I have painful arthritis  caused by dying on the stage so many times in so many operas,” she said. Thanking the Association for the award, Zeani said, “I am happy that in the end of my life I have this privilege. I loved my life in the opera, certainly in the next life I would like to be another singer. We will see what kind of opera we will have over there.” 

Click here to watch Virginia Zeani's award presentation video.

A native of central Transylvania, Romania, Zeani made her professional debut at Teatro Duse in Bologna at age 22, in what was to become her greatest role. Since that first performance in 1948, Zeani sang Violetta in La Traviata more than 600 times around the world during her career. She is the recipient of many major awards, including Commendatore of the Italian Republic. In 2010, “Classical Singer” named her Teacher of the Year. That same year, King Michael of Romania awarded her his highest honor, The Royal Decoration of Nihil Sine Deo.

A lifetime of sharing musical talents and skills

Also awarded was Joan Boytim, who has devoted her life to sharing her musical talents and skills while enjoying a brilliant career as a teacher, author, compiler of song anthologies, arranger, clinician and professional performer.

Boytim earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Music Education and a Master of Education degree from IUP in 1955 and 1964, respectively. For her accomplishments and her remarkable contributions to aspiring musicians and vocalists, and to the profession of studio voice teaching, she was awarded recognition as a 2007 distinguished alumnus at IUP.

In 1956, Boytim opened her own studio as a private voice teacher. Over the years she has taught well over 1,000 teenagers and community adults. In addition to teaching privately, she also taught junior-high general music, senior-high choral music and instrumental instruction in the Carlisle Area School District in Pennsylvania. She served four years as an adjunct voice professor at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. She continues to teach in her Carlisle studio and presents her students in recitals and other community programs.

In 1990, she began compiling vocal anthologies for G. Schirmer and Hal Leonard Corporation, the largest musical publisher in the world. By the end of this year, Boytim will have 60 vocal anthologies in print.

Richard Walters, vice president of classical publications at Hal Leonard Corporation, remarked to the audience, “After 25 years she has accomplished a great deal. We’re so glad to be a part of it and have her as part of our family. What is inspirational to voice teachers is that this teacher from a small town, who works with young singers exclusively, could do something like this. To share that with you and have it mean something to you, I know it means the world to her.”

Click here to watch Joan Boytim's award presentation video.

Her book, “The Private Voice Studio Handbook – a Guide to All Aspects of Teaching,” was published in 2003 and revised in 2014. To date, more than one million copies of her publications have been sold.

“I am known as the old lady on Glendale Street who still teaches people to sing,” said Boytim. “As a grassroots career teacher by choice, I felt that I had reached the pinnacle when my student, Laura Choi Stewart, was a NATS Artist Award national winner.”

Boytim remarked that her life work is that of a teacher of singing, not as a performer. “My nature is that of being the motor that keeps things running,” she said. “I firmly believe that I have received more than a doctorate in private voice teaching from all the opportunities and affiliations these last 58 years with my NATS family and with participations in the conventions and workshops.”

She also shared the honors with her late husband James A. Boytim, Ed.D, a 1959 IUP alumnus, who passed away in 2014. “Jim was my inspiration in guiding me through the many decisions in my life. For 53 years he gave me complete freedom to pursue my dreams to make community voice teaching a profession of excellence,” said Boytim.

In 2015, Boytim provided major financial support for the professional development of independent studio teachers by offering up to 14 awards for independent teachers to attend the NATS National Conference. As a result of her generous contribution, NATS renamed its Independent Teacher Fellowships the Joan Frey Boytim Awards for Independent Teachers.

“Her students all know her as a dedicated and exacting teacher, a collaborative musical partner and a champion of our association and profession,” said Norman Spivey, outgoing president of NATS. “Joan has touched us all, sharing a legacy of publications and successful students. She has reminded us that when we teach our students, we really are changing the world,” added Spivey.

Boytim with (left) Allen Henderson, NATS executive director and Norman Spivey, NATS president.