Hitting the High Notes

by Kristyn Pankiw '14

Students go to NAT's.

“Practice is disciplined and deliberate,” explains Associate Professor of Music Lynn Helding (seated) who prepared students Laeli Sharifi, Frederick Schlick (center) and Michael Hoke for their successful performance at the National Association of Teachers of Singing regional auditions. Photo by Carl Socolow '77.

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Dickinson’s voice department was pitch perfect on Nov. 5, when Michael Hoke ’12, Laeli Sharifi ’12 and Frederick Schlick ’14 sang in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Allegheny Mountain Chapter Voice Auditions.

After the department’s success last year with two students placing in the winner’s circle, this year’s trio took on the challenge against fellow singers from various colleges and universities, including Penn State and Gettysburg College. Sharifi placed in the top three in the Freshman College Women division and Schlick was one of three winners in the Freshman College Men division.

“Laeli and Fred surely have the vocal talent to achieve any singing or performance goals they set for themselves,” says voice instructor and Associate Professor of Music Lynn Helding. “At Dickinson, we teach them how to practice effectively, how to think deeply about what they are doing and how to stand up in front of an audience and announce their selections clearly. All of this translates into a confident comportment that is, in more ways than one, quite ‘winning.’ ”

Fine tuning

The largest association of voice teachers in the world, NATS is an international nonprofit that promotes vocal education and research at all levels. The local chapter, Allegheny Mountain, held the student auditions at Penn State University in State College.

Before a panel of three judges, Hoke, Sharifi and Schlick sang three prepared songs and arias in a mix of English, Italian, French or German languages. Eun Ae Baik-Kim, collaborative pianist and instructor at Dickinson, accompanied the students on piano.

The students met individually with Helding to prepare a new song, in addition to managing their full schedule of classes, rehearsals and lessons. “In the voice curriculum, students are required to practice a minimum of five times per week, keep a practice journal and post weekly lesson summaries on the studio blog,” says Helding. “Before the auditions, they performed for each other and received critiques from me and their fellow singers.”

Striking a chord

The auditions offer students a chance to receive constructive feedback from experienced instructors and to witness what singers at other colleges and universities are achieving.

“Reading the judge's comments was probably the most rewarding part of the experience because it really gave me an outside perspective on what I was doing well and what needed improvement,” says Michael Hoke, a senior Russian and music major from Richmond, Va. “We learn a lot in the studio, but when you have to perform in front of people who aren't familiar with your voice at all it's a totally different experience.”

Sharifi, a psychology major from York, Pa., previously studied with renowned mezzo-soprano Marietta Simpson and returned to formal voice lessons this fall.

“It had been a long time since I had done a competition and it was great to jump back in the ring and come out on top,” says Sharifi. “It was really great to get feedback from the judges, hear the other winners and learn from their technique.  I learned how to improve my breathing, diction and performance.”  

Schlick, a music major from Pottstown, Pa., with a concentration in vocal performance, says his involvement at Dickinson has helped improve his singing abilities.

“Professors Helding and Kim are amazing and have made me grow as a singer in a short period of time due to great coaching and hours of practice,” he says. “I am a member of the Dickinson choir and Collegium. Both of these groups give me a chance to hone my singing ability outside of practice and allow me to practice technique on the fly.”

Schlick is a choir singer for performances of Mozart’s Requiem and Handel’s Messiah and has held multiple roles in Dickinson theatre productions, including The Caucasian Chalk Circle and most recently, Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing.

Singing praises

All three students note that the individual attention they receive from their vocal instructors at Dickinson has significantly aided in their success. The small classes and personalized attention generate a rewarding educational experience not only for students but for faculty as well.

“It’s very rewarding, of course,” Helding says. “They are learning that even if one is blessed with above average vocal equipment, you still need to work at vocal technique, language diction and expressiveness. I try inculcating in all my students that, regardless of one's fundamental talent, training is necessary to reveal it and effort is necessary to sustain it.”

Published November 19, 2011