Published: Nov. 15, 2016 By

singer on stage during schmidt competition

The Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition comes to the College of Music on Saturday, Dec. 10. Photo courtesy Schmidt Foundation.

The College of Music is opening Grusin Music Hall to the top high school vocalists in the region.

On Saturday, Dec. 10, the voice department hosts the Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition, one of the nation’s largest singing contests for high school students.

Organized by the William E. Schmidt Foundation and named for longtime Indiana arts supporter Bill Schmidt, the competition is held in 15 different locales around the country and offers more than $200,000 in prize money to young singers every year.

“It’s a big deal to host it because it gives us a chance to meet these talented singers and showcase the strengths of our voice department,” says tenor and Assistant Professor of Voice Matthew Chellis, who helped bring the event to Boulder this year.

In past years, the competition has been held at places like the New England Conservatory and Seattle Opera. The winning singer receives $2,500 in prize money. Ben Smolder, director of the Schmidt Foundation and the director of the opera program at Miami University of Ohio, says the decision to bring the event to Colorado for the first time had a lot to do with geography—and the standing of the vocal program at CU.

“I knew about the great reputation of the school, and we also were interested in coming to an area that would capture some of the students we haven’t worked with before,” Smolder explains. “The goal of the competition is to encourage and nurture young people in the arts, and it was important to get into this region.”

At a time when competitiveness with peer institutions is steep, Chellis says he and his colleagues are thrilled to be able to interact closely with the brightest talent in the West.

“We’ve tried to let every high school in the area know we were hosting. The pool of people pursuing voice degrees keeps getting smaller and at this level, we’re competing for the same young freshmen.”

One perk of hosting the day-long event is the brief presentation the voice department will give to contestants while the judges are tallying their votes.

“We’ll be speaking about some of the unique opportunities our students have—full opera productions, CU NOW and the close mentorship they get with faculty professionals who are known around the world,” says Chellis. “We’ll also have some of our undergrads come on stage and present some of the scenes they’re working on.”

Chellis will serve as adjudicator, along with William Florescu from the Florentine Opera Company. Dana Brown from Roosevelt University will play piano.

In addition to the competition, which is open to high school sophomores, juniors and seniors, the Schmidt Foundation will host a master class with the judges and offer the winner a chance to participate in the organization’s summer music program.

“The foundation runs a summer institute for almost free tuition. It’s a wonderful pre-college experience that includes instruction from Juilliard professors, renowned composers and other professionals,” Smolder explains.

And perhaps the biggest incentive for CU Boulder to play host: the Schmidt Foundation offers a $2,000 matching scholarship for one of the contestants to attend school whichever music program hosts the event.

“That’s why we try to come to institutions that will benefit from the undergraduate recruiting opportunity,” Smolder says.

“It’s important for us to bring prospective students to our facilities and show them what we offer that maybe they haven’t seen elsewhere, whether it’s performance opportunities or the collaborative teaching atmosphere,” Chellis adds.

More than 5,000 young singers have participated in the competition over the past 30 years, including many who have gone on to do big things—such as the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. The Schmidt Foundation partners with the Kennedy Center, the National Opera Center, Cincinnati Opera and others.

Students interested in entering the competition must submit an application by Nov. 28. Only 35 singers will be accepted into the Boulder event; for more information on rules and to apply, visit the competition website.