Being a part of the Donald W. Wood Sr. Vocal Competition of the New Orleans Opera Association was, at once, the most intimidating and exhilarating moment of my life.
It’s sometimes a very isolating experience being an operatic singer as a high school student. While there are opportunities to display your vocal range and abilities, very often you are working with only a handful of people who understand or attempt to partner with you in the same style you are used to singing. However, in this competition, suddenly I was against other vocalists, singing in my style, who were all fiercely vying for the same first prize.
One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the competition was just making it in. There were only 26 spaces available, so everyone applying for the competition had to send in a 2 1/2-minute audition track sampling three songs from standard classical literature.
To get a track that we thought would best showcase my vocal range, my mother, my director (Genesians’ Carol Eshleman), my vocal coach of five years (Alan Payne) and I spent 1 1/2 hours in Archbishop Rummel’s theater. Even then, I was extremely nervous; I was not at all confident that my audition track was going to be good enough to make it.
When I got my acceptance email from the opera association to participate in the competition held at the Freda Lupin Memorial Hall at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, I was thrilled! I felt like I had jumped the biggest hurdle in the process, but I had really just started.
Poring over the fine print
Over the next several weeks, coach Payne and I worked extremely hard on my selections for the competition. Vocal performance is all about the little details – knowing when to breathe in the right space to maximize your lung capacity when hitting certain notes, pronouncing certain words in particular ways to minimize air loss, making sure you’re allowing the right amount of space with your jaw so that the sound echoes the right way, etc. Going into the competition, I knew that no matter what happened, I had certainly done the work!
The day of the competition, my nerves were at their peak. I was questioning everything from my song selection to my shoes. The other competitors didn’t take the stress level down at all. It was both terrifying and awe-inspiring to see the talent that had been selected. There were competitors from all over the state, from Lockport to Shreveport. I was also one of the younger contestants. The competition was for sophomores, juniors and seniors; many of the vocalists were seniors.
Because my performance slot was 20, my spot was toward the end of the program. By the time it was my turn, I knew that nothing short of my absolute best would put me in the running. When I was looking out at the audience, though, and saw my friends and family out there supporting me, it made me strong enough to get up there and do what I had to do.
To be honest, I remember very little about the song itself. I was so focused on producing each note that I can only say I made each breath count. When they announced the nine finalists at the end and I was not one of them, I was disappointed, but I knew that I had done my best. The vocalists who won were seniors and had been absolute joys to hear. To be selected among them in this competition was truly an honor.
I am inspired and encouraged by what I learned singing in the Wood Opera Competition. One of the biggest things I learned was that there are lots of students out there like me who find their joy in song. I was paying extremely close attention to the pieces that moved and engaged the audience and the judges, and I can’t wait until next year to try my hand at it again!
The competition is a collaborative effort with Loyola University New Orleans – College of Music and Fine Arts Preparatory Program, Newcomb Department of Music, Tulane University, and the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts.
Abigail Markey is a sophomore at Cabrini High School in New Orleans.