Meet the 2015 Winners of the Classical Singer Competition

When it comes to the makings of a great artist, the process begins early, and there are numerous influences that inform ability, growth, and philosophy along the way.

The winners of the Classical Singer Competition exemplify what it means to be great singers. Here, they share what it means to them to be great artists, how they came to love and appreciate their craft, their secrets to honing their technique, what family and friend support means to them, and where they draw their inspiration within their budding careers.

Meet: Zoie Reams,
2015 Classical Young Artist Winner

What initially drew you to music?
I have always loved classical music. I danced ballet in my childhood and also played viola and piano, so classical music has always been close to me. I think I was drawn to opera through having the privilege of seeing my first few at Lyric Opera of Chicago as a child. I think I was fascinated by the power of the human voice—and since classical music was something that was already familiar to me, I think my interest sort of evolved naturally from a young age.

What inspired you to take your initial love of music to the next level by pursuing a career in voice?
My high school experience made me take music seriously. Because we worked so closely with our music teachers and performed all the time, I think it became a reality to me that people did this for a living. In college, I really began to focus and had a wonderful teacher who not only taught technique but how to present yourself as a performer and a singing actor.

Throughout your education and career, what artists have inspired you? Why?
I’m inspired by some of the first African American singers who were some of the first to sing in some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world. Singers like Mattiwilda Dobbs, Gloria Davy, and Marian Anderson are always going to inspire me to continue my path, no matter what.

How have your family and friends encouraged you? How do they play a role in your success?
My friends and family have been nothing but encouraging, which is all you could ask for in pursuit of a career like this one, with so much trial and error and uncertainty. My parents have been especially supportive and have thoroughly encouraged me to pursue this career path. I think by being my main support group, it has kept me together in times when I felt like I could fall apart at any moment.

How have other endeavors—artistic or otherwise—informed and inspired your singing?
I think merely observing is one way that I get a lot of information of singing and performance, in general. I feel lucky to have seen some great performances in my short career, which I pull from and refer to for my performing and singing.

What advice do you have for other young artists trying to start their careers?
Do as many auditions, productions, and general performing as you can, because the more you can do, the more opportunity there is for you. I would also say to be as thoroughly prepared as possible for anything and everything coming your way. People say that luck comes when preparation meets opportunity, and I think this a pretty good recipe for success.

Meet: Milla Guerra,
Musical Theatre High School Winner

What initially drew you to music?
I went to a performing arts high school in Chicago for three years and transferred into homeschooling for my senior year in order to dedicate more time to honing my craft. The most recent show I’ve been in was Les Misérables as Mme. Thénardier, and I’m going to be in a production of Bare: A Pop Opera this summer as Nadia. I can’t wait! My father was a musician and he instilled that love in me from an extremely early age. While he was more of a rock ’n’ roll kind of guy, I found my passion in musical theatre and jazz. And, while we had some artistic differences, we both could appreciate when music was written or performed with passion and talent. That’s what I strive for in my work.

What inspired you to take your initial love of music to the next level by pursuing a career in voice?
When I was in middle school, I did a few summer camp musical theatre programs, and then I just never stopped. I started taking serious voice lessons once I got to high school and, from that time onward, it became who I was as a professional and as a person.

Throughout your education and career, what artists have inspired you? Why?
All the great musical theatre women inspire me every day to hone my craft and pursue projects that I’m passionate about—Ethel Merman, Patti LuPone, Mary Martin, Judy Holliday, Betty Hutton, Judy Garland, Audra McDonald. These performers changed the game, and I admire all of their careers so much. I really aspire to have a successful career in the same vein as these masters of theater and voice.

How have your family and friends encouraged you? How do they play a role in your success?
My family has always been extremely supportive of my artistic endeavors. My mom does everything in her power to make sure I have everything I need in order to succeed, and all my friends are also performers and artists, so they understand exactly what I do. Having a strong support system of family and friends has really helped me get to where I am now.

How have other endeavors—artistic or otherwise—informed and inspired your singing?
Musical theatre is my entire life, and that has informed my vocal training a great deal. While I spend a reasonable amount of time working on classical technique and vocal pedagogy, a lot of my singing is influenced heavily by acting choices. It means I go through a different process in preparing for vocal performance than someone who studies voice as their main discipline.

What advice do you have for other young artists trying to start their careers?
Practice, practice, practice. If you’re passionate about something, work at it as much as you can. It’s the only way to find your voice. When you find something you care about and want to make a career out of it, you need to make yourself an expert in whatever you pursue. Find your passion and do everything you can to make your dreams a reality.

Meet: Anastasiia Sidorova,
Classical University Winner

What initially drew you to music?
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia. In 2014, I moved to Philadelphia to pursue my dream of becoming an opera singer at the Curtis Institute of Music under the renowned instructors Mikael Eliasen and Julia Faulkner. I think patriotic war songs drew me to music. I remember singing those songs at my kindergarten and after at my school every year for the May 9 [Victory Day]. I loved that those songs could bring us (me and the audience) together, regardless of age and experience, and that sometimes my singing could make them cry.

What inspired you to take your initial love of music to the next level by pursuing a career in voice?
It was the concert of Luciano Pavarotti in 2004. My family and I attended that concert in St. Petersburg, and it had a tremendous impact on me. Even though I was already studying at the music school as a pianist and was singing in a choir, that concert was the moment I said, “I want to sing for the rest of my life.”

Throughout your education and career, what artists have inspired you? Why?
There are two great singers who inspired me: German mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig and Russian mezzo-soprano Irina Arkhipova. Besides having dark, rich voices that I admire, their singing is coming from the soul, and their sound goes straight into your heart. For me, the recordings of those singers became a tool in finding my inner voice as an artist.

How have your family and friends encouraged you? How do they play a role in your success?
I was raised in a family where classical music, literature, theater, and art in general were well respected. My grandmother always bought me tickets to operas and invited me to all of the art events in St. Petersburg. Ever since I was a little girl, I was encouraged to become an opera singer by the whole family because they loved when I sang. My mom always told me that God gave me something very special, and I can’t waste it.

Today, living far away from my family, I get a text message almost every day from my mom asking me when am I becoming a great opera singer. It is just a kind reminder that they all have faith in me.

What advice do you have for other young artists trying to start their careers?
Master your instrument to the point when you don’t have to do anything except enjoy the process.

Meet: Virginia Mims,
Classical High School Winner

What initially drew you to music?
I didn’t have to be drawn to music because it was already all around me. I grew up around classical singing because both of my parents were (and are) classical singers and voice teachers. After realizing what classical music was and how much I loved it, too, it was a clear choice for me to pursue.

What inspired you to take your initial love of music to the next level by pursuing a career in voice?
After sitting in on countless lessons and performances, I can pin the moment I decided that I was going to pursue this career to a day. It was “take your kid to work” day, and I sat in with my mom on some collegiate juries. At the end of the day, all of the teachers were exhausted, but I was charged and wanted to sing a jury of my own. My immense passion and drive for the art was almost physically pulling me to the stage on that day and from then on.

Throughout your education and career, what artists have inspired you? Why?
My mother is my biggest inspiration by far. Going back and listening to her old recordings gives me chills and inspires me to be just like her. Seeing that a normal human that taught me how to tie my shoes could create such superhuman sounds and artistic notions with her voice makes me believe in myself and other singers. Other than her, my current voice teacher, Alice Hopper, has inspired me to approach new music with gusto and confidence, while also being one of the sweetest ladies I know.

How have your family and friends encouraged you? How do they play a role in your success?
I am constantly surrounded with such encouragement and assurance from my family and friends. Just recently, one of my friends saw my picture on the back of Classical Singer magazine in the Metropolitan Opera Gift Shop and posted on her Facebook, “Virginia made it to the Met as a 19-year-old!” To know that I have the ability to make my friends and family proud is very gratifying and also inspires me to continue to make them proud with everything I do.

How have other endeavors—artistic or otherwise—informed and inspired your singing?
My inspiration for singing is drawn from all facets of my life. After every experience I live, I have a better understanding of what a poem or a musical phrase is trying to convey because I understand it more. The older I get and the more experiences I live, the more inspired my singing will be. Also, dancing has taught me to use my whole body to convey a certain idea—and with singing, I can take what I’ve learned about using my body and translate the same feeling to my singing.

What advice do you have for other young artists trying to start their careers?
I have the same advice that my mother gives me all the time: To be a great singer, you also have to be a great person. Spend time on yourself. Personal development is a huge investment in your singing. Taking care of your body and your soul with things like working out and figuring out what kinds of hobbies you have other than music help each one of us understand ourselves and our bodies more. Also, being the best colleague, no matter what the setting is, will always go a long way. Take the time to be friendly, to open the door for someone, and to share a laugh. Be the best person you can be.

Megan Gloss

Megan Gloss is a classical singer and journalist based in the Midwest.