Hope and Healing at the Competition

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “It is not the critic who counts . . . the credit belongs to the man who is in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again . . . who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly.”

Those words ring true for singers who dare to put themselves and their work on display at a competition, an audition or a performance. Singers risk failing or not meeting up to their standards or not getting the role they want. But they would risk so much more by not trying.

Credit goes to them—the singer, the performer. Countless are the stories of someone who found success in the face of criticism and doubt.

One such story come 2017 CS Vocal Competition participant Elisabeth Mies. Here is her story in the words of her mother, Renee Mies:

“I hope the New Year finds you both well and gearing up for this year’s convention! Since the close of last year’s convention I have thought often that I should write you and tell you about how much our lives have been enriched by Classical Singer and CS Music. In order to fully understand the impact of the Classical Singer Competition and Convention, you have to first have a frame of reference to how we entered the scene last May. For the sake of Elisabeth’s privacy, I will be very general. The 2-3 years prior had been some of the worst years imaginable. Elisabeth had some major traumas that resulted in widespread loss. She was anxious, depressed and grieving. Throughout this time, Elisabeth continued to perform, never losing that drive and ability. In fact, some of her finest performances came out of intense times of stress and anguish. But another trauma, the worst yet, presented itself about a week before your convention.

Elisabeth was very depressed. So was I and I was really worried about her. I kept telling Elisabeth to channel her energy into the upcoming competition. For her entire junior year, Elisabeth was not planning to go to college. She was too anxious. Too afraid of everything. When her voice teacher told us about your convention, the main reason we wanted to go was for the college fair. I thought it would be great for her to be able to interact with some schools who had programs and she could ask her questions and get information for later. We fully supported her taking a gap year. She has a lot to heal from. She told me one day “I feel like I’ve lost a year of my life, maybe two.” In many ways, she did, and they were important high school years.

We were fortunate that the convention was in Chicago last year; we live in Chicagoland. A few of her friends from our area were also competing. From the point of arrival on Thursday evening, the experience was excellent. We had dinner and conversation with friends and Elisabeth had her second round in both categories. We went to bed that first night, after possibly the worst week of our lives, feeling a little more content, a little more hopeful and just so very thankful for a great opportunity and diversion from the current circumstances. The next morning was such fun going to the feedback box to get her feedback sheets. We spent many hours in the college fair, which of course, was our main goal. All the colleges were so great, taking lots of time to talk to us, get to know her, and some of them had heard her sing and started saying things like “We hope you apply.” We also attended workshops and later that day found out she made it to the semifinals in Musical Theatre. Our Classical road ended, but that’s ok. After she sang her semifinal round, people started coming up to her in the halls, in the restaurants, etc. to offer praise and encouragement. By Saturday, she started saying “Maybe I could go to college.”  Even if our journey would have ended there, the Classical Singer Convention would have been, by far, the most productive thing we had done all year.

Saturday and Sunday were such mix of emotions and we often think back on it like our own “American Idol” type experience. We waited for the results to be posted on the board or online while our stomachs did flip/flops. Then to find out she made it to the next round made us giddy,  Quickly we tried to study and internalize the feedback from the previous round, then back to getting nervous before the next round. It was an exhilarating roller coaster ride! When she made it to finals, I was shocked. This was not even in my realm of thinking the whole time as we were originally just coming for the college fair. And then the top three! Elisabeth was incredibly honored, and humbled and in awe of the incredible talent that was there, that she should be recognized. When she got off the stage for the last time after pictures, she had a line of colleges waiting to talk to her and press their card into her hand. What a surreal experience for someone who, up until the day before was not even thinking of going to college next year. She had not even taken the ACT or SAT!

Well since then, Elisabeth came home and took the SAT, twice, applied to 15 programs for 2018 and thus far, has been on 5 auditions, with 10 more coming. She’s had two acceptances. She has had non stop offers from colleges and summer programs for fee waivers, audition waivers, and scholarship money just because of her performance at the CS Vocal Competition. One school offered her $25,000 without even seeing an application or test scores.  World renowned summer programs have offered her a scholarship for this summer based on a successful audition.

There are just not enough ways to say thank you. CS Music gave us hope when we were hopeless, a fresh start when life was falling apart and an open door to unprecedented opportunities that we would have never had. Of course as a parent paying for college, I’m excited about the scholarship offers, but mostly, I’m just so thankful for the transformation that happened in my daughter during our long weekend with you last spring. You will forever hold a special place in my heart.”

Elisabeth did a workshop with Jennifer Johns from BAA. She was also one of her adjudicators in one of the rounds.

For me, the moral of the story is – keep at it.  Keep trying and keep moving forward. I heard a saying the other day, “If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me.” Don’t let others dictate your future and your happiness. Obviously you can’t control everything—in fact, we can control very little. But we can control our attitude and our effort. If we do our best we can lay down at the end of the day with peace in our hearts and minds, no matter the outcome.

Thank you Elisabeth for sharing your story and good luck to all of the participants of the 2018 CS Vocal Competition!

Alex Stoddard

Alex Stoddard is the President and CEO of CS Music and Classical Singer magazine. Since 2003 Alex has been involved heavily with CS in advertising sales, the CS Vocal Competition, the CS Convention, and the development of the website www.csmusic.net. Alex graduated with a B.A. from Brigham Young University and a M.S. from Utah State University. He currently lives in Lehi, UT with his wife Becky and their 6 children and is a high school basketball coach on the side.