Photo by Kayla Paulk.
Photo by Kayla Paulk.

Students from the Eastern New Mexico University Department of Music competed in the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from April 20-22.

The students of Dr. Travis Sherwood, assistant professor of music, who attended the competition were Amanda Rindlisbach, Tymia Peterson, Angela Rudd, Austin Phillips, Lindsey Bartlett, Devin Crockett, Juan Espino and Cristian Zaragoza.

The students of Dr. Gregory Gallagher, assistant professor of music, who attended were Isaiah Guerrero, Annabelle Rangel and Devin DeVargas.

The students of Dr. Stephanie Beinlich, instructor of music, who attended were Ruth McClain, Heather Brandt, Cecilia McAfee and Iysha Melton.

Following the preliminary round, Annabelle Rangel, Heather Brandt and Cecilia McAfee were invited to sing in the Music Education division masterclass, Devin DeVargas, Tymia Peterson and Austin Phillips were invited to sing in the Young Artist division masterclass and Isaiah Guerrero was invited to sing in the Vocal Artistry division masterclass.

At the final round, Devin Crockett won third place in the Music Ed division. Lindsey Bartlett, Angela Rudd and Cristian Zaragoza swept the Young Artist division taking first, second and third respectively. Dr. Gregory Gallagher took second and Amanda Rindlisbach took fourth in the Vocal Artistry division. In total, ENMU took home $2,675 in scholarship money.

ENMU students who attended the festival share their experiences:

Lindsey Bartlett, Junior Majoring in Vocal Performance

  1. Describe your experience at the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival.

The experience was wonderful! I was able to meet new people who were prospective students for ENMU, current students at other universities in New Mexico,  graduate degree students, fantastic accompanists, people who are very well known professionals in the music field and people from the Albuquerque community who have a deep love and passion for music. I was also able to hear so many different voices, new repertoire and learn about new skills and techniques that I am able to take with me into my own practice, as well as use to teach my future students.

  1. How did you prepare for the competition?

I prepared for the competition by thoroughly studying my repertoire, spending time in the practice room going over translations, poetry, rhythms, notes, the languages, the emotions that I wanted to evoke in the music and what my interpretation of the music was personally. I also attended my weekly voice lesson with Dr. Travis Sherwood, as well as my weekly vocal coaching with Mrs. Kayla Paulk. Both Dr. Sherwood and Mrs. Paulk have helped me tremendously with finely tuning my musical artistry with these pieces.

  1. Describe the competition.

At this competition they have a language theme each year, with this year's theme being Italian Art Song. To be able to compete a student must prepare two contrasting art songs, one in the chosen language that year, and one in a language of the students choosing. Once these pieces are chosen and prepared the students are put into categories of the competition depending on their age group. You perform your two pieces for a judge against anyone else in your age division, and after everyone has auditioned the people chosen for the masterclasses are announced, as well as the 3-6 finalists in each category. If you are chosen for a masterclass you get to sing one of your pieces in those classes and have the judge for your age division personally work with you on how you can improve the piece. If you are chosen as a finalist you choose one of your pieces and get a small one on one coaching with your judge, as well as to perform that piece in a finalists' concert. After the concert is over, the finalists are placed and awarded their prizes.

  1. What did it mean to you to win an award in the competition?

I placed first in the Vocal Artistry division. This award was very meaningful to me. I was very shocked to even have made the finalists list because of all the amazing singers I was hearing throughout the auditions in my category. Once in the finals, I knew that I just wanted to really show off the song that I was singing. I chose as my final song to sing - I. Night from Three Early Songs by George Crumb. This piece is so gorgeous, and I really think that the entire song cycle is filled with such rich poetry and beautiful harmonic lines. I just couldn't wait for people to hear the piece and I wanted to do it justice. I remember being so happy to the point of tears as they called my name for first place. I have been working so hard these past three years of school, and I felt a sense of pride in my musicianship. Even though I know I still have a long way to go as a musician, I feel like I have grown so much here at Eastern with the help of the entire music faculty, but especially Dr. Sherwood and Mrs. Paulk.

  1. What was your favorite part of the trip?

My favorite part of the trip was probably after the finals concert. We went out to eat dinner that night before heading home, and everyone was so happy for each other. We represented Eastern well, and all of the students sang so fantastically. We laughed and told stories the entire ride home, and it really helped me feel a deeper connection with my fellow students and professors.

  1. Additional information:

Hard work will pay off in the end, and you should never give up. Even if someone makes you feel like you should. The hardest part is getting back up after you're knocked down, and once you're past that, you can only get better.

Heather Brandt, Sophomore Majoring in Vocal Performance

  1. Describe your experience at the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival.

This was my first vocal artistry festival; I am so glad that I had the ability to go this year and be able to participate. I sang Friday afternoon after we had arrived at the school and was one of the first in my category. This is the second vocal competition I've been in as a collegiate and one of my best memories here. Saturday was full of masterclasses and learning new things, being able to hear others sing and progress in real time is always exciting. On Sunday I heard so many amazing people sing in the finals concert, it's so refreshing to see so many people sharing a love for music.

  1. How did you prepare for the competition?

About two weeks before the festival I learned that one of the pieces I originally wanted to sing wasn't eligible, so I either had to get a new piece or not go. I chose the new music. I now had two weeks to learn and prepare a song for the competition. The first step was to learn the notes and rhythms; I spent hours on this piece every day to make sure I had it perfect. The memorization with this song came with the rehearsal. I performed this piece each chance I was given, and it was the focus of my lessons leading up to the festival. The other piece I performed, I had been working on since the previous semester and just needed to rehearse a couple of times to be set.

  1. Describe the competition.

For this competition, there were different categories based on degree and age. I was in the music education division; each performer had prepared two songs. One song was required to be an Italian art song, and the other could be any language. There was one judge per category, after a recital on Friday night the finalists and masterclass participants were announced. Each category had four finalists and most had 4-5 masterclass participants. Sunday night was the Finals concert in which immediately following the winners were announced; each person who made it to the finals received a scholarship.

  1. What did it mean to you to be chosen to sing in a division masterclass?

I was chosen to sing in the Music Education masterclass. This was such an amazing experience, and I was glad to have been chosen. In this masterclass, I worked on getting a more consistent resonance into my voice. I was told to place my hand on my cheeks and pull forward; this was to focus the sound and get it to have a more forward placement. She then had me put my hand in a claw shape and hold it next to my face; I'm not totally sure of the reasoning behind this, but it seemed to work. We worked on my Italian song, and I could feel a breakthrough happening with my voice.

  1. What was your favorite part of the trip?

My favorite part of this trip was being able to support all my ENMU colleagues. There was someone from Eastern in each masterclass and final divisions. I love being able to watch my friends succeed and do what they love. You can tell how passionate we all are about what we do and how much this department is truly like a family.

  1. Additional information:

Being a part of the music department at ENMU has provided me with so many opportunities that have helped me grow further than I could have imagined. I am so grateful to have the faculty members that we have here who care so deeply about their jobs and their students. Having the ability to go on this trip and gain the experience I have is just one of the many reasons I'm proud of being a Greyhound.

Iysha Melton, Junior Majoring in Music and Minoring in Theatre

  1. Describe your experience at the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival.

My experience at the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival was great, especially it was my first time going to the competition.

  1. How did you prepare for the competition?

How I prepare for this competition is having mental mindset to do the best I can do, going through my repertoires, and try to stay calm.

  1. Describe the competition.

I will admit the competition was somewhat scary… intimidating at times! What I had to do in the competition is walk in announce the repertoires I will be singing and sing my repertoire.

  1. Favorite part of the trip:

My favorite part of the trip was getting feedback from the judge to see what high points were, and what I could work on more.

Faculty Members Dr. Travis Sherwood, Assistant Professor of Music, Kayla Paulk, Instructor of Music, and Dr. Stephanie Beinlich, Instructor of Music, Discuss the Competition

  1. How did you find out about the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival? Have you attended before? What is the festival?

Dr. Travis Sherwood

This was the ninth year of the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival. Students from the ENMU Vocal Area have been attending and competing in the festival from the time of its inception. I have been serving on the governing board for the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival for the past year and a half. The Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival is an annual art song competition open to all singers and pianists who reside in New Mexico. Each year a different faculty of artists and scholars of art song adjudicate and educate the young artists who compete through masterclasses, coaching and recitals.

Kayla Paulk

I learned about Vocal Artistry nine years ago at its inception, and have enjoyed attending/participating/learning at this event most years since then. Students (from junior high through adult levels) sing an audition of two songs for an adjudicator (one of which fits the theme of the year – Italian Canzonette, French Melodie, etc.); performance(s) by guest artists (who are also adjudicators) occur in the evening; some students are selected to perform in master classes (which contain a pedagogical component); students selected to perform in the final round of competition are offered a coaching with their initial adjudicator; there is a final round of competition from which singers win places/all finalists receive scholarships (ranging from $100-$1000).

Dr. Stephanie Beinlich

As a first-year faculty member at ENMU, this was my first time attending Vocal Artistry. The voice faculty at Eastern have established a long tradition of successfully attending the Festival, so I was eager to participate and encouraged my students to do so, as well.

It's a fantastic festival because it isn't just a competition in which singers perform and then just wait for results; there are several masterclasses provided by experts brought in from around the country that singers are chosen to perform in. In addition to these masterclasses giving all audience members a learning opportunity, it also gives several singers an additional performance opportunity.

  1. How did you help the students prepare for the competition?

Dr. Travis Sherwood

The students prepared for the competition in their weekly voice lesson and coaching, as well as by taking advantage of on-campus performance opportunities offered in the Department of Music.

Kayla Paulk

My role in student preparation for Vocal Artistry as a vocal coach was multi-faceted. For the students I regularly teach, I helped polish their diction, provided feedback and insights for character development, and supported them by collaborating musically with them at the piano. For the students I do not teach this semester, we rehearsed just once prior to the festival, and the main purpose of that rehearsal was for us to discover a united musical philosophy as an ensemble. For some of these students, this was the first time they'd sung their piece with full accompaniment, so they were putting pieces of the compositional puzzle together in that rehearsal. For all of them, the ensemble aspect of preparation came together very quickly and well.

Dr. Stephanie Beinlich

Because the studio requires art songs only and focuses on one specific language each year (this year was Italian), we first need to choose appropriate repertoire for each student. Foreign language diction is a high priority for this competition, so this is another focus in lessons. We also discuss performance skills and professionalism to prepare them for such an event.

  1. Congratulations on being having several students win awards/place at the event! How were they chosen? What did having students win awards/place at the competition mean to you?

Dr. Travis Sherwood

Thank you! In the preliminary round of the competition, each student performed two art songs for a judge. Based on their performance, the judge then decides which students should advance to the final round of the competition and which students should participate in masterclasses. I truly enjoy seeing students reap the benefits of their hard work and experience success.

Kayla Paulk

Thank you! There were three divisions of the festival in which our students could compete: Music Education/Choral, Young Artist (collegiate) and Vocal Artistry (collegiate/adult). All of our students (along with other students/singers from other parts of New Mexico) sang in the initial round of competition (their first audition). From that audition, five students/one faculty member were chosen to sing in the final round: Devin Crockett (Music Education/Choral), Lindsey Bartlett, Angela Rudd and Cristian Zaragoza (Young Artist), and Amanda Rindlisbach and Dr. Gregory Gallagher (Vocal Artistry). We also had seven students who were selected to participate in master classes: Annabelle Rangel, Heather Brandt and Cecilia McAfee were invited to sing in the Music Education division master class, Devin DeVargas, Tymia Peterson and Austin Phillips were invited to sing in the Young Artist division master class, and Isaiah Guerrero was invited to sing in the Vocal Artistry master class.

As an educator, it was most meaningful to witness our students participate in the entire Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival. Each student sang and performed in the initial round of competition to the very best of their ability, and that was beautiful to observe. Watching our students observe other singers, learn new concepts from educators and performers other than ourselves and interact with new people and one another was highly rewarding. The icing on the proverbial cake was seeing so many ENMU students selected for both master classes and as finalists/winners. Those chosen to participate in master classes commented afterward that they enjoyed the experience and learned so much from the person leading the class.  Our students who observed the classes also gained wonderful insights from the experience of hearing both ENMU students and singers from elsewhere. Our finalists all sang so beautifully (each of them sang only one song in this round of competition), and represented ENMU in a most exemplary and sincere manner. I was proud of all of them and thrilled each of them earned a scholarship for their efforts.

Dr. Stephanie Beinlich

Each category has an individual judge who makes the decisions on who advances to the finals, so it is a fairly subjective decision based on a judging rubric. After their initial performance on Friday, finalists were announced and performed again on Sunday for three judges. The winners were chosen by that team.

Eastern has a reputation of bringing competitive students to musical competitions, so we were pleased to continue that tradition at Vocal Artistry this year. Our students are talented to begin with, but also work hard and therefore, consistently improve. It was thrilling to see so many students, not just from my studio, but from all of the Eastern studios perform so well and see the benefits of their work.

  1. What was your favorite part of the trip?

Dr. Travis Sherwood

Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the festival this year. I had a performance obligation in Illinois. I am very grateful to my colleagues for leading this trip.

Kayla Paulk

I was going to say my favorite part of the trip was when my colleague, Dr. Beinlich, taught me one of her high school cheers. A highlight, for sure, but I should probably choose another moment.  A definite 'proud teacher' moment was following the first evening's recital (which occurred after all our students had sung their initial audition). As we were all in the lobby and I was orchestrating a photograph of our students with the soprano who had just sung (Kendra Colton, Oberlin Conservatory), the founder/artistic director of the Vocal Artistry Art Song Festival, Jacque Zander-Wall, walked up and said to all of us: 'I am so thrilled you all are here. You should know that ENMU is the HEART AND SOUL of this festival. Thank you so much for coming!' That meant so much to me and to the students, and it is very true. ENMU has participated in this festival since its inception. It is a terrific vehicle for promoting the performance of art song, and I hope we will continue to remain active in this endeavor:  for our students' benefit and for the promotion of art song in general.

Dr. Stephanie Beinlich

I have seen the voice majors at Eastern consistently support one another at competitions this past year. Vocal Artistry was another example of this. We brought a large group, and of course, not everyone can advance. Despite that, each student from Eastern had a big cheering section all weekend. That was a wonderful thing to see.

  1. Additional Information:

Kayla Paulk

A huge shout out to Don and Teresa Weeks, parents of ENMU senior, Hannah Weeks. Although Hannah did not participate in this year's festival, her parents (as they've done for many years) most graciously opened their home (and Hannah's grandma's home) to house all of our ENMU students during the festival, which makes the experience not only more affordable for our students, but makes it much more enjoyable and sociable. As if that weren't enough, they also prepare most of our meals for us while at the festival. They are our angels.