Published: Jan. 28, 2019 By

Student winners of the vocal scholarship competition

The winners of the 2018 Undergraduate Vocal Scholarship Competition: Sophia Zervas, Patrick Bessenbacher and Mara Riley. This year, the three top winners take home $2,000 scholarships.

Award season may be underway, but competition season at the College of Music is just around the corner and has Imig buzzing with excitement.

After months of preparation, audience members will be able to watch College of Music students compete in the Undergraduate Vocal Scholarship Competition on Thursday, Feb. 14 at 7:30 p.m., and the Honors Competition on Sunday, Feb. 24 at 12:30 p.m.

The Honors Competition is held annually and is open to all College of Music students, awarding an undergraduate and graduate the chance to perform with the University Symphony Orchestra the following fall season.

“Students spend much of their time performing in an orchestra,” says Chair of the Competitions and Associate Professor of Collaborative Piano Margaret McDonald. “It’s hard to get opportunities where they’re able to perform as a soloist with an orchestra, so it’s an amazing opportunity to come by.”

Students prepare concertos over the course of several months, working with a pianist and their applied instructors all the while. The pieces can last up to 40 minutes, but most students only perform about 10 minutes during the competition.

The competition begins with preliminary rounds within each applied area—keyboard, strings, woodwinds, brass/percussion and voice. Three students from each group are then selected by the area faculty to continue to the final round. Departments send either two graduates and one undergraduate, or two undergraduates and one graduate student, allowing an even playing field for the competitors.

Once they reach the final round, students perform selections from their chosen concerto as selected by the jurors of the competition, this year featuring a former director of the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver Nancy Cochran.

“This competition is different from others, as students play for a bit and then are cut off by the jury and have to go to another movement,” says McDonald. “It’s fascinating to watch them play these portions, and then if they win, hearing them perform the whole piece in the fall with the orchestra is just incredible.”

“These competitions reflect the high quality of music making in the College of Music,” adds past Honors Competition winner Jonathan Morris. “Performing in these competitions gives you the confidence that you’re on the right path with your music career.”

The Undergraduate Vocal Scholarship Competition operates similarly and is open to undergraduate voice students completing their freshmen, sophomore or junior year of study. Students compete in various preliminary rounds until the final round, in which three students are awarded $2,000 scholarships.

“The competition is a unique opportunity for our strongest undergraduate voice students to work toward a specific performance goal and to showcase their talents,” says Voice and Opera Chair Jennifer Bird. “Undergraduates are also often featured in our operas, but the Undergraduate Vocal Scholarship Competition allows them to perform solely with other students at a similar level of study and for us to reward the best of the best with additional well-earned scholarship support.”

The application for the Honors Competition is due this Friday, Feb. 1. Interested students can apply here. The Honors Competition finals are Feb. 25; the Undergraduate Vocal Scholarship Competition finals are Feb. 14. For more information, visit