Isabelle Kosempa, a UNC junior vocal performance major, won first place in the Lower Classical Treble Voices division of a national singing competition on July 2.
The 57th National Association of Teachers of Singing competition took place from July 1-6 in Chicago, Illinois, with 250 high school and college vocalists from the U.S. and Canada participating.
14 singers from each of the 18 categories were selected to attend the national semifinals in Chicago this year, including four from UNC.
From there, the top three performers from each category continued on to compete in the finals of the competition.
“Finding out that I was a finalist was a huge deal for me already," Kosempa said. "It was just a huge inspiration just to keep going, but I think placing first just really made me feel like I belonged there and just gave me a sense that my hard work is really paying off.”
Kosempa said every young musician struggles with wanting to belong and wanting to pursue a career that's so hard to get into. However, she said the NATS competition was a good inspiration for her to keep going.
Each first-place prize came with over $13,000 in cash and prizes.
This included $5,000 in cash, a $4,000 scholarship to the American Institute of Musical Studies in Austria and a $1,000 gift certificate to the Hal Leonard Corporation.
Additionally, winners received a solo debut sponsored by Distinguished Concerts International New York and a solo recital at the competition.
“I’m thrilled for Izzy,” Jeanne Fischer, Kosempa’s UNC voice teacher, said. "It’s a really big accomplishment and it’s affirmation of all the hard work she has put in."
Kosempa said that she feels much more confident going into a career in performance after winning her division of the NATS competition and that when people ask her what she wants to do when she is older, she now feels proud that the answer is a life of vocal performance.
At both stages of the competition, Kosempa credited much of her musical success to her grandmother, Susan Kosempa, who was a piano teacher for 40 years.
Kosempa learned how to play the piano with her grandmother beginning at age five. Before starting school, her grandmother would take care of her during the day and teach her how to sing.
It was there that she first discovered Kosempa’s perfect pitch, a rare ability where a person can identify or re-create a pitch without a previous reference point.
“It’s quite an accomplishment I think for her and of course, I’m her grandma, so I would definitely feel that way, but I’m just really, really proud of her for accomplishing this," Susan Kosempa said. "She’s worked hard and done her best and that’s all we ever expect of her."
This summer, Kosempa also attended SongFest at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.
Through a series of master classes, concerts and one-on-one teaching sessions, the students at SongFest become stronger and more inspired singers.
Kosempa said she took what she learned at SongFest and applied it to the NATS competition in Chicago.
When Kosempa arrived at UNC in her first year, she said classes were all online and she was very shy. She added that she was nervous to perform around her peers in every studio class.
However, she noted that winning this competition will make it easier for her to perform in future classes, recitals and operas.
“I think having my stage presence improved and also just knowing that I am able to perform in front of a huge group of people like I did, and do well, I think will just make all of my UNC performances better and make me more excited,” she said.
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