Johns Hopkins Gazette: January 29, 1996

The Sylvia L. Green Voice Competition -- Peabody Students Get Vocal

Mike Field
Staff Writer

     Beth Green Pierce sits quietly at the back of the Friedberg
Concert Hall as tears run down her cheeks.

     Onstage, Peabody undergraduate Mark Tevis, a 20-year-old
baritone with a voice as rich as mocha ice cream, is singing the
last phrases of Gustav Mahler's "Leider eines fahrenden
Gesellen"--the Songs of the Wayfarer. The music is slow,
mournful, almost elegiac. Even without an understanding of German
you can hear the sadness in the singer's voice.

     Pierce says this song cycle always makes her cry. "I love
vocal music more than anything. It really is an emotional
experience," she says. She pauses to wipe her eyes, then smiles
at her own reaction. "Good singing can do that to you."

     Today there has been a lot of good singing. The second day
of the Sylvia L. Green Voice Competition for Peabody students,
Tevis is one of eight finalists selected from 21 entrants the day
before. In the initial round, each singer, accompanied by a
pianist, performed a 15-minute selection for the Peabody's voice
faculty, whose job it was to select the eight best out of many
capable voices.

     Today, by tradition, the faculty are nowhere in sight.
Instead, three judges have been brought in from other
institutions. They sit in the audience and grade the singers on
voice production, language, stage presence and all the other
elements that go into making a great performance. To ensure
impartiality, the out-of-town judges are given only the singers'
repertoire and a number to designate each student. The first
place prize of $1,000 and the $500 second are to be granted
purely on the basis of artistic achievement.

     Entrant's selections--which must last not longer than 20
minutes--are limited to classical pieces composed for voice and
orchestra. Opera is not allowed. One of the purposes of the
competition, said Pierce, who endowed the prizes in honor of her
mother, is to encourage voice students to sing from the wide
selection of classical vocal music that is only infrequently
performed in this country.

     The competition, which was established by Pierce a decade
ago when her then-husband was director of the Peabody, runs in
two-year cycles. The year after the award is made the first place
winner is expected to return to the Peabody to perform the
winning work with full orchestral accompaniment. 

     "I thought this was something the Peabody needed because it
never had a voice competition before," Pierce says. "I believe
the students benefit from the experience of competing, especially
in competing with their peers.  To know what you're capable of,
and just as importantly, to know what your classmates are capable
of, is an important part of professional development."

     Students work with their vocal instructors and piano
accompanists--sometimes for many months--rehearsing evenings and
between classes and whenever they can find the time. "I started
working on the pieces last year," said Tevis of the Mahler songs
he sang so affectingly. "It takes about a year or so to really
get a work into your voice, to where you're completely
comfortable with it."

     Yet the competition is fierce. In the 10 years since the
prize was established the quality of the singing has consistently
improved, according to Pierce. "The caliber of the competitors
has grown considerably," she says. "I don't know if it's like the
four-minute mile, where performance gets better and better
overall. I suspect not. I think it has something to do with the
reputation of the voice department, which has become more
prestigious, which means we simply attract better and better

     The final round of the competition lasts from 10 in the
morning until almost one o'clock. After a short break, the judges
retire to a nearby lounge to compare notes and come up with a
winner. Usually, it takes about 10 minutes for the decision to be

     At the back of the concert hall, the students gather in a
tight knot, waiting for the announcement. Time passes: 10, 15, 20
minutes. The contestants--many of them still in the formal attire
of their presentations--joke and laugh nervously among
themselves. For the moment they are competitors, but only for the
moment. First and foremost they are classmates and friends,
sharing the same challenges, dreams and frustrations inherent in
a conservatory training program. Their easy familiarity--there
are plenty of hugs and congratulations even before the
announcement is made--speaks to the sense of fraternity that
singers share. Still, everyone keeps a wary eye to the door,
waiting for associate dean Steven Baxter to bring word of the
judges' decision.

     Afterward, mezzo-soprano Carole Tracie Luck will confide
that the waiting is the most terrible part. "I don't get nervous
when I sing, but afterwards I become especially nervous," says
the poised and confident 21-year-old senior, a student of Ruth
Drucker. "This time it was even more difficult because these are
my peers and my good friends as well." 

     No stranger to competitions, Luck was the gold medal
finalist of the 1993 Rosa Ponselle All-Marylanders competition. A
commanding presence in a red dress, when she opened her mouth to
sing Mahler's "Songs of the Wayfarer" at the Sylvia Green
Competition (the only instance this year of the same piece
performed by two different singers), the first note of her voice
rolled across the auditorium like a wave. Judges sat up straight.
Observers sucked in their breath. Beth Pierce took out her
handkerchief. It was one of those performances, and it won Luck
the second place prize.

     First place went to Richard Crawley, the 26-year-old tenor
and student of Stanley Cornett in the Graduate Performance
Diploma program. Singing Benjamin Britten's "Serenade for Tenor,
Horn and Strings" with what one judge later remarked was
"unerring accuracy and grace," he projected the poise and bearing
of an accomplished performer.

     "I think the key to competitions is that you have to feel
very certain of where you are vocally and artistically," says
Crawley of his presentation. "I like performing Britten because
he has his own harmonic language which is very sensitive to the
text he's setting. He doesn't ignore the words and indulge the
music. I would say he's a master of expressing what the words

     Crawley credits his accompanist, Kathryn Ananda-Owens, and
Peabody conducting student Jeffery Pollock, with whom he had
previously performed the Britten piece, with helping him sharpen
his performance to a competition-winning edge. "They enabled me
to go to a deeper level with the piece," he says. "Singing is so
much a matter of who you work with."

     After the announcement is made, there are handshakes and
congratulations all around. One by one, the students slip away to
class or rehearsal or further study. Later, Crawley and his
accompanist will go out to lunch; the majority of the prize, he
says, is going in the bank, "to pay the rent." School is both
financially and artistically demanding, and time presses upon all
the singers, anxious to get on with their careers. A competition
offers the chance to reflect where those careers might one day

     "We all dream of one day singing at the Met," says Crawley
afterwards. "I've always had that dream. But now I am more
concerned with singing with as many talented artists as possible.
Where I sing is not really an issue anymore; it's not as
important as the quality of the work I'm involved in. That's
really what singing is all about."

     Richard Crawley will perform the part of Gonzalve, and
Carole Tracie Luck will perform the part of Conception in the
Ravel opera "L'Heure Espagnole," to be performed at the Peabody,
March 14, 15, 16. Call (410) 659-8124 for details.

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