Several Bienen School of Music faculty and alumni recently took part in the 54th national conference of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS). Held in downtown Chicago, the conference was the largest in NATS history with 1,322 participants.

Karen Brunssen, associate professor of voice at the Bienen School, served as program chair for the conference. Brunssen said several people have told her that, in addition to it being the largest, this was also the most successful conference to date.

“The presence of so many of our faculty and alumni in leadership positions and as presenters, volunteers and honored guests of the conference is a testament to the ongoing legacy of excellence at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University,” Brunssen said.

Master classes, breakout sessions, and workshops covered a wide range of topics, from repertoire in recitals and auditions to the aging voice and vocal health.

W. Stephen Smith, professor of voice and opera, led the first plenary session of the conference – a vocal master class featuring undergraduate, graduate and young professional singers. Smith addressed specific technical issues at various stages of vocal development.

Professor Donald Nally, John W. Beattie Chair of Music and director of choral organizations, joined other distinguished choral conductors to discuss various perspectives about singers and singing in choirs. The session covered such topics as the role of choirs within curriculum and vocal concerns and expectations.

For the first year, the conference schedule included “Late Night NATS,” an idea Brunssen suggested to further engage conference participants with local artists in Chicago. Bienen School alumni featured in “Late Night” programming included Oliver Camacho (97) in “Liederstube” and Henry Pleas, III (G96) and Marcia Porter (91, G93) in “Walk Together Children: A Great NATS Camp Meeting.”

Actor, singer, popular recording artist and School of Music alumnus Bill Hayes (G49) was recognized at the NATS conference with a prize named in his honor. Other alumni appearances included Melissa Foster (96, G01), who presented “Rocking the Traditional Singing Boat: How to Make the Transition from Classical to Contemporary Musical Theatre and Beyond”; Aaron Johnson (95, G99), who spoke on a voice science panel for the pre-conference session “The Aging Voice”; and Melissa Malde (G87, c88) who presented “Let’s Get Moving! Body Mapping Activities for4 School and Studio.”

On the NATS national conference committee, Victoria Holland (G95, G04) served as coordinator of guest artists and Donald Simonson (G87), past-president of NATS, served as coordinator of the National Music Theater Competition.

Following the conference, Karen Brunssen was installed for a two-year term as the national president-elect for NATS, where she will serve as president starting in July 2018. She previously served as governor of the NATS Central Region and is past president of the Chicago Chapter of NATS.

The 55th NATS National Conference will take place in Las Vegas June 22-26, 2018.

  • Karen Brunssen
  • W. Stephen Smith
  • Donald Nally