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Four UNC voice students selected to compete in national performance semifinals


Isabelle Kosempa is a semifinalist in the 2022 National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition. Photo courtesy of David Holoman.

Four UNC voice students were invited to compete in the semifinals of their categories of the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition, which will take place this July in Chicago. 

Isabelle Kosempa, Julia Holoman, Mackenzie Smith and Kennedy Miller were chosen to attend the national level of NATS, a series of competitions and performances of talented singers, performers and composers. 

This year's event is the first in-person NATS National Conference since 2018. Because the conference is biennial, the last one was held virtually in 2020 due to the pandemic. 

The semifinalists, as well as everyone involved with NATS, have felt the impact of COVID-19 over the past few years. However, the four students also cited examples of how quarantine in the early months of the pandemic allowed them more time to dedicate to their craft.

Kosempa, a rising junior music major and one of the NATS semi-finalists this year, will compete in the Lower College Classical Treble category of the competition.

She said she has been participating in NATS since she was in high school. 

Kosempa has received professional training since she was 10 years old and credits much of her musical success and inspiration to her grandmother. 

She added that although COVID-19 was difficult on the artistic communities, she continued her involvement.

“It was people in my life like my grandma who was a musician for 40 years that really pushed me to keep going and keep trying,” Kosempa said. 

Miller also graduated from the University in May, with a degree in music and English. Miller will be competing in the Upper College Classical Treble competition category.

Coming to the University, Miller originally thought she would go to law school, but quickly realized that she wanted to pursue music as a career. 

“I can't imagine doing anything else and I don’t think it makes sense for me to do anything else, so I kept my same two majors but really poured into music a lot more,” Miller said. 

Miller participated in NATS as a first-year student and traveled to Baltimore. There, she received first place in the mid-Atlantic regionals competition.

She said COVID-19 grounded her in her craft and made her realize that she doesn’t just perform for the applause. She said she does it because she loves the technique.

“I’m very excited to go and to be able to sing," Miller said. "It will be my first in-person competition since February 2020, so it will just be great to be making music live again in a competition setting.”

Holoman, a rising senior at the University, is a music major and was invited to compete alongside Miller in the Upper College Classical Treble category. 

She said in her junior year of high school she began competing in NATS and also advanced to the national level that year. 

Holoman noted that when COVID-19 first began in March 2020, quarantine allowed her more free time. Prior to COVID-19, she wanted to watch as many operas as she could but she had been putting it off. When she, like the rest of the world, was at home, she got a subscription to the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD and was finally able to watch them. 

“That was a really big thing for me — being inspired and just hearing really well-trained voices — and using that to make me want to practice so that I could get better,” Holoman said. 

Holoman said consuming these operas allowed her to become more familiar with what the classical repertoire had to offer, and see different forms of the art she hadn't seen before as she aims to sing opera professionally in the future.

“I’m really excited about the prospect of going to Chicago and I’m excited to be returning to the national level because there hasn’t been an in-person conference in so long,” Holoman said. 

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Unfortunately, due to an eight-week music program in Colorado in which Holoman is participating, she will not be able to attend the NATS National Conference. 

Smith graduated with a bachelor of music from the University in May and was invited to compete in the Upper College Musical Theater Treble NATS category. Smith began participating in NATS in tenth grade.

Smith said that although voice lessons were online during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, she was much more relaxed being in her own space. This led to vocal breakthroughs for her. 

“I have been playing piano since first grade and was very active in my church and I was in youth band in middle school singing and I was getting acquainted with worship music,” Smith said. “I think it's more oriented toward worship music is where I started really wanting to think maybe I can make a career out of this.” 

Smith will also be unable to attend the competition due to her summer job. She said she is still proud to have made it this far.