The music department announced seven winners of the Concerto/Aria competition on Monday.
Out of the 26 students who auditioned on Sunday, there were seven winners: sophomore violist Ethan Tong, senior soprano Emma Dawe, senior violinist Ellie Fishlock, senior pianist Anne Ziegler, senior mezzo Caroline Lively, senior soprano Zsanna Bodor, and senior soprano Michaela Stiles.
Students were tasked with memorizing and performing 10 minute pieces in front of three guest judges: Clayton Parr, voice professor and director of choirs at Albion College, David Abbot, piano professor and music department chair at Albion College, and Alicia Valoti, viola professor at Central Michigan University. Audiences were not permitted in the audition room.
James Holleman, professor of music and director of orchestras and choirs at Hillsdale College, said that the judges individually critiqued each performance and then discussed their results and decided the top group of students.
Tong, a first time participant, expressed his gratitude for being chosen as one of the winners.
“A lot of people deserve to place in this competition and I feel very humbled that I was chosen,” Tong said. “There’s a lot of talent within our department.”
Beginning his preparation in the spring of 2020, Tong started learning his piece, the first movement of “Der Schwanendreher” by Hindemith, 10 months ago.
“I chose it because it was really hard and really fun to play. This piece is definitely harder to get used to because it’s by a modern composer; it doesn’t sound like your typical Mozart or Brahms,” Tong said.
Tong prepared by practicing for 30 – 40 minutes three to four times a week and listening to other player’s interpretation of the piece. When it came time to audition, he said he was nervous.
“The hardest part was the nerves, as with every competition,” Tong said. “The opening part of my piece is me playing by myself, without the piano, and I was very scared because my fingers were trembling before I put them on the strings. But it had become muscle memory and it felt very natural playing the piece.”
Fishlock, having competed for the past three years in a row, described her intensive process for memorizing her 10 minute long piece.
“I would listen to my piece everywhere I went, in my car, while I was walking to classes, and that helped me learn it,” Fishlock said. “I would usually just practice by myself for half an hour, but I began performing it for other people in the orchestra during the few weeks leading up to the competition.”
Due to COVID-19, no audience members were allowed to be in attendance during the auditions, which presented a difficulty for the players.
“I am a much better performer when I’m playing for people that I know, so having an audience is always very helpful because I can play to them, not the judges, and that inspires me a lot more,” Fishlock said.
Dawe also believed that the lack of community involvement took an element away from the competition, but made her even more excited to perform her piece in the spring.
“I hadn’t participated in the competition before, but I always attended because I had friends performing, so it was always a community event. As a singer myself, it’s just more fun when you’re singing for your friends and the people supporting you,” Dawe said. “But I’m excited to sing in front of an audience. I have friends in the orchestra and who have their solos as well, so I’m looking forward to participating in this group.”
As a singer, Dawe explained that there were challenges with preparing her piece since she wasn’t using an instrument.
“I know instrumentalists practiced a lot more than I did, but it’s harder for the voice because it’s a part of your body that you can’t overwork. Playing an instrument is different; you can’t tire out a violin,” Dawe said.
Through all of their hard work, preparation, and dedication, Dawe said that the participants and winners of the competition were given an opportunity that most people don’t have.
“I’m very glad we did it. I didn’t realize until this week, but not many schools are able to do anything like this, so I was grateful that we were able to compete, even though it might’ve been a bit different this year,” Dawe said.