Competitions a chance to push limits

Young Dunedin singer Amelia Warlow (then 16), pictured singing last year, is one of many local...
Young Dunedin singer Amelia Warlow (then 16), pictured singing last year, is one of many local singers preparing for the Green Island Junior Vocal Competition in June. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
When a young Claire Barton first stood on a stage to sing in a competition, she had a limited knowledge of music.

“I knew about Judy Garland, pop music and I’d gone to see the musical Evita,” Barton recalls.

“I walked into that competition and it opened up a whole new world to me across a range of musical styles.”

Musical theatre, action songs in character, national and folk songs, sacred music, test songs set by an adjudicator and contemporary songs — she had to sing them all.

Along the way, Barton learned which styles and which songs best suited her emerging voice.

For her, it was classical music and a career as a mezzo-soprano soloist and teacher.

For many of her fellow competitors, it was musical theatre and other genres.

What mattered was that they all broadened their knowledge of music and discovered their passion for singing in a very supportive environment.

“A competition is a really awesome way to get lots of things from a single event," she said.

"It’s a place to make friends who really get what you’re doing, who also love to sing. It’s a great place to get the feedback you need to become a better singer.

“It’s also place to experience success and failure in a safe environment, and to learn how to perform under pressure.

"I can honestly say that everything I’ve done since then has been easier because of what I learned at the vocal competitions,” Barton said.

But Covid has had a big impact on singing opportunities for young people in Dunedin.

School productions have been cancelled, shows postponed, concerts limited and choirs muted.

One of Dunedin’s venerable competitions, the Green Island Junior Vocal Competition, has had fewer entries this year than at any other time in its 74 years’ existence.

Traditionally held in mid-May, the competition’s organisers have decided to re-schedule the event for June 17, 18 and 19 to give young people and their teachers more time to prepare.

Committee chairman Peter Thomson said many singers had not been able to meet their teachers one on one, and "Zoom lessons just don’t cut it for everyone”.

“Teachers tell me there’s more anxiety, mask fatigue and lots of sickness,” he said.

Local singing teacher and musical theatre doyenne Patricia Scally Richardson has been involved with the vocal competition scene for the past 56 years.

“It’s a fabulous opportunity, especially right now when most other performances have been cancelled due to Covid,” she said.

"And you don’t have to be an opera diva to enter."

For contemporary singers, there are three non-classical categories — popular song, musical theatre song and song in character.

There is a novice class for singers new to competitions, and even a class in which singers are not judged — they just “sing for the joy of it” and yet still receive valuable written feedback from the judge.

“Singing to a supportive audience is so empowering," Scally Richardson said.

"The happy chemicals kick in, so it’s a tremendous thing for our mental health”

To enter, visit

Entries close on Wednesday, April 13.

- By Jill Rutherford 





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