This Sunday, 23 musi­cians will each take the stage of Markel Audi­torium, all vying for the oppor­tunity to perform a solo accom­panied by the orchestra in their March and May con­certs. But only a few will strike a chord with the judges.

“It’s one of the few things we do in the music department that is at a com­pet­itive level,” Music Department Chair James Holleman said. “This is one of the few just flat-out com­pe­ti­tions.”

The annual con­certo com­pe­tition started in the early 2000s as a way to honor selected seniors, but evolved into a com­pe­tition as the music department grew. The com­pe­tition is open to any non-freshmen reg­is­tered for private music lessons at the school. Even stu­dents who are not music majors have a chance at winning, some­thing which Holleman said is unique.

The com­pe­tition brings in outside judges, chosen by their area of expertise, based on the com­petitors that year.

This year the judges come from the Uni­versity of Michigan, Eastern Michigan Uni­versity, and the Inter­lochen Arts Academy.

“If I know we’re going to have a large number of vocalists for a given year, I want to make sure we have a vocalist as a judge,” Holleman said. “It varies from year to year just on who we can get to come in, who we approach in a given year.”

Having outside judges allows music pro­fes­sionals to see what is hap­pening in the music department of Hillsdale College.

“That’s been a great way for us to get the word out that there’s pos­itive things going on here at Hillsdale College in the music department,” Holleman said.

Outside judges also elim­inate the chance of bias. Although Holleman listens to the dis­cussion between the judges, he does not par­tic­ipate in choosing the winners.

How many winners are chosen each year also varies by judges.

“If any given year they agree unan­i­mously on four stu­dents, but can’t agree on the fifth, well, then we pick four,” Holleman said.

The number of choices must fit with the rest of the concert pro­gramming, however.

“But that also has to be in balance with how much space we have in the con­certs for the pieces they’re playing, how dif­ficult the accom­pa­ni­ments are for us to learn, what other reper­toire are we playing on those con­certs,” said Holleman.

Still, even just par­tic­i­pating is ben­e­ficial for stu­dents.

“It’s been a really pos­itive thing, a real moti­vating factor for our stu­dents. It’s been a moti­vating factor for our faculty,” Holleman said. “It’s been a great way to bring in outside people to see the quality of the stu­dents and the quality of the teaching that’s going on in our music department.”

Results from the com­pe­tition will be announced early next week.


SOPRANO VOCALIST: Sydney Orn­dorff

Jordyn Pair | Col­legian

Sydney Orn­dorff is a sophomore majoring in English with a minor in music. She started singing around age 12, after an interest in the art prompted her parents to enroll in her lessons.

Orn­dorff will sing “So Anch’io la Virtù Magica” by Donizetti and “Addio del Passato” by Giuseppe Verdi. The two pieces con­trast, she said, describing one as an “upbeat, flirty piece,” while the other is about a young woman’s death.

Orn­dorff said she’s con­cerned about her voice acting up.

“The voice is such a fragile instrument and you have to do so much to keep it in the right state,” she said. “Espe­cially this time of year, I don’t know, I could get sick between now and Sunday.”

Regardless, she looks forward to com­peting.

“I’m nervous,” Orn­dorff said. “At this point, I’m going in to have a good time and a good expe­rience of com­peting. I’ve only com­peted in a high-caliber voice com­pe­tition once before, so it’s really good to have the per­forming expe­rience and to get up there and have a good time on the stage.”  



Courtesy Finegan

Susena Finegan is a junior majoring in music and minoring in Christian studies. She is per­forming as a vocalist.

Finegan began singing as a young girl and started com­peting in eighth grade.

“I haven’t won a con­certo yet, but I’m hoping to win this one,” she said.

Finegan is per­forming “Tornami a Vasse­shiar” by Handel and “Recitativo e Rug­giero” by Bellini.

Finegan doesn’t struggle to convey the meaning of the songs, even when she has to sing them in a dif­ferent lan­guage.

“I love to act,” she said. “I just pretend that I am Italian, that I am that char­acter.”

Despite her long career, she is still nervous about the com­pe­tition.

“I’m also very excited,” she said. “This is my passion and I want to portray it in a way that [the judges] know it’s my passion, but also that I’m doing my absolute best and giving them what they came to hear.”

TIMPANIST: John Russell

Katie Scheu | Col­legian

John Russell is a senior majoring in bio­chem­istry. He plays the timpani, an instrument similar to a kettle drum, which he started learning in his sophomore year of college.

“It’s my last chance to compete in the com­pe­tition, and I won’t have this par­ticular kind of expe­rience again.”

He is playing Timpani Con­certo for Timpani and Orchestra by Lee Actor.

Russell says com­peting is more about the expe­rience, not the win.

“If I can play the con­certo well, I will feel like it’s been good,” he said.

Still, having such a unique instrument would set a precedent, he said.

“Hope­fully there will be more [tim­panists] that will compete,” Russell said.

“It would be kind of fun to have a solo timpani player for an orchestra concert. Whether it is me or not, we will have to see.”