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To Carnegie and beyond

Student sings her way to national honors and a notable stage

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  • Story by Chris Blose
  • Published: May 5, 2008
Emily Bennett performing at Carnegie Hall

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Music student Emily Bennett, right, won a national vocal competition and performed at Carnegie Hall in the span of a couple of weeks, both with accompanist Rachel AuBuchon, left. Hear excerpts of Bennett's program above. Photo by Gerald Countz.

At home in Columbia on Sunday, April 13, music major Emily Bennett was thinking about the things one might expect a college senior to think about: a summer job, graduate school, finishing classes and upcoming performances.

One thought kept squeezing the others out, though: “I sang at Carnegie Hall last night.”

Bennett and six other Mizzou students and graduates performed in the College of Arts and Science’s yearly "Mizzou on Tour" concert at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall on April 12. If that wasn’t enough excitement, Bennett also had won a national championship just a couple of weeks before; she took first place in the vocal category of the Music Teachers National Association’s (MTNA) Young Artist competition.

These collegiate cappers made the months of preparation, frustration and the occasional tears worth the effort. “I’ve had a lot of fun,” Bennett says, and then jokes, “It’s going to look good on my résumé, which I really need to update.”

Singing through the brackets

Think of the MTNA competition like an NCAA tournament. Bennett had to work her way through different levels of competition to get to the end, from state to regionals and then nationals in Denver starting on March 28. By the time she got to Denver, she had been working on some of her program — a mix of art songs and operatic arias — for nearly a year.

She even scouted her competition. She had seen their long lists of arias and been a little intimidated. When time came to reveal the winners, Bennett listened as they announced that the lone baritone of the group (the rest were sopranos, like Bennett) had come in second place. Bennett had been sure he would win after watching him perform. “I thought, ‘Did I just not hear somebody?’ ”

That “somebody” was her. Bennett is now the third Mizzou vocal student to win first place in this competition since 2000. Her teacher, Associate Professor Ann Harrell, has taught two of those three champions.

“It says quite a lot about our program,” Harrell says. Still, she’s quick to give credit to Bennett’s work ethic, which she says is rare in a student who also has such natural talent.

“She also has the ability to really turn on in performance,” Harrell says. “One of the great things about this process was watching her continue to beat her own last effort.”

Carnegie awaits

By the time she got on stage, the terror had turned into something closer to euphoria.

After Bennett emerged victorious from the MTNA competition, the Carnegie performance should have been a victory lap.

However, despite having performed all of her pieces repeatedly, she was terrified before this show. She sat in the dressing room — complete with light bulbs around the mirrors and little speakers playing what was happening on stage — and thought about the prestige of Carnegie. She also thought about the intimacy of the crowd of nearly 200 Mizzou alumni. They were so close to the stage, surely they’d notice if she faltered.

Bennett knew her music, though, and by the time she got on stage, the terror had turned into something closer to euphoria.

“Even though I’m really nervous before I go on, that nervous energy turns into excitement,” Bennett says. “There’s always a moment when it clicks and I think, ‘OK, it’s time to enjoy yourself.’ ”

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Last updated: Feb. 22, 2012