Voice Program students compete for top slot in SAI Competition

Each year, the Sigma Alpha Iota Competition rotates through the three School of Music disciplines: the Instrumental, Voice and Piano Programs, and brings a winner back to perform the following summer. It’s invariably similar to the way young Chautauquans grow up and bring their own children back to the grounds.

This year, the competition will give 19 Voice Program students a chance to win a monetary award and to perform with the 2016 Music School Festival Orchestra. The event begins at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in Fletcher Music Hall and benefits the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.

Don St. Pierre, voice coach with the Voice Program, said director Marlena Malas chooses students to audition for the competition. Those who are competing this year — Amanda Bottoms, Kidon Choi, Monica Dewey, Rebecca Farley, Abigail Fischer, Vartan Gabrielian, Kathryn Henry, Evan Johnson, Dogukan Kuran, Kyuyoung Lee, Nicolette Mavroleon, Elena Perroni, Emily Pogorelc, Jean-Michel Richer, Erin Schwab, Gyuyeon Shim, Philip Stoddard Xiaomeng Zhang and Tyler Zimmerman — will each perform two contrasting pieces of any length for a panel of three judges, one of which is Malas.

“The competition is all in one day — our preliminary round is Marlena picking out students to perform,” St. Pierre said. “She’s very good at switching hats — changing from a teacher to a judge comes naturally to her.”

Stoddard, a baritone in his third summer with the Voice Program, said although the competition is certainly not a situation where students are pitted against each other, it still puts him on edge to be in it.

“It’s a nice honor, really, to be asked to participate,” Stoddard said. “But it’s nerve-wracking, too.”

Stoddard participated in the SAI Competition the last time it was the Voice Program’s turn to host in 2012, and said he has grown a lot since then.

“I didn’t advance to the winners’ round, and I was very young at the time, so it was just fun,” Stoddard said. “I feel like I’m in a very, very different place vocally from the last time I did it. I think my technical skills have improved, so its going to be very exciting.”

As for his repertoire, Stoddard will perform two arias: Mozart’s “Count’s Aria” from Le Nozze di Figaro and Wagner’s “Song of the Evening Star.”

“Two different styles, two different time periods, two different languages — they suit my voice well now with the orchestra textures,” Stoddard said. “I feel connected to these pieces.”

St. Pierre said although this competition has a monetary award and a performance with the MSFO up for grabs, it is not necessarily the most important performance of the students’ time in Chautauqua.

“I think every performance that the students do — at that time — is the most important performance,” St. Pierre said. “It’s nice that there’s money involved, and it’s really nice to sing with the orchestra as well, but it’s important — the point of them studying is to learn how to perform better. It’s the performance that matters.”