Lasting and Important Heart Changes : Emerging Professional Winner Joel Balzun

This is part 6 of 6 as we highlight the First Place winners of each division from the 2020 CS Music Vocal Competition.

CS Music: What is your artist level and school if applicable?

Joel Balzun: I competed in the Emerging Professional category of this year’s competition. I am currently on the voice faculty of Biola University, where I received my BMus in Music Composition. I received my MMus in Voice Performance and Literature from the Eastman School of Music. 

CS: What is your dream role?

JB: Just one dream role?! I have a full list on my computer of dream roles…I think my biggest dream role which I have yet to sing is “Scarpia” in Tosca.

CS: Name some of your favorite professional singers and why they are so impactful.

JB: There are so many singers I could list. For my own voice type, I have really been enjoying Renato Bruson and Josef Metternich. Outside of that, I continue to be in awe of Lisette Oropesa and Erin Morley, and I’ve loved the virtual offerings of Julia Bullock and Angel Blue during these strange times. 

CS: What was your experience like participating in a virtual competition and convention vs. the traditional live setting?

JB: I thought that the entirely online model worked well. Honestly, it was what allowed me to participate this year. I thought it made the competition experience much less stressful.

CS: In terms of singing and performing, what has been your biggest struggle and how have you overcome it?

JB: I think one of my biggest struggles was the fact that I came to singing a bit later…I was in my second semester of my junior year when I took my first voice lesson although I had sung in choirs and at my church (I was a pianist but injured my arm, hence the turn to singing). I had lots of catch up work to do when I unexpectedly went for my master’s in voice, but I was lucky to have an incredible team of teachers and coaches who helped me get on the same plane quickly.

CS: What advice would you give to future participants in the CS Music competition?

JB: My advice to future participants in the CS Music competition is to sing what you and your teacher genuinely feel like shows you best and represents where you are at right now. What can you sing that nobody else will sing better? I had a unique role in this year’s competition because not only was I competing in the Emerging Professional category but as a teacher I also adjudicated the first two rounds of the high school and university categories. I don’t think it’s necessary for high schoolers to sing the big arias to win competitions, as evidenced by this year’s high school classical winner who gave a lovely rendition of Fauré’s “Mandoline.” 

CS: How do you feel that singing, and music in general, can have an impact on the world?

JB: I think that the impact which music and singing can have on the world is up to each individual artist. As individuals, we each have different cares and passions which lead us to contribute to certain causes in certain ways. Is it necessary for every performance to be a benefit concert? I don’t think so – sometimes art for art’s sake is enough. But I’m a firm believer that the most meaningful musical experiences make the audience think and consider something. We cannot change the hearts of our audiences, but we can prompt the thoughts and questions which lead to lasting and important heart changes which can make our world a better place.

Watch all of the winners of the 2020 CS Vocal Competition HERE.

CS Music Staff

CS Music is THE community for singers, teachers, and pianists. CS began in 1986 with the first issue of The New York Opera Newsletter and later to the award-winning magazine Classical Singer. Since 2003 CS has expanded to included articles, audition listings, and events for both classical and musical theatre singers worldwide! Free online articles and listings are available at