Hungry for More: Winning the CS Vocal Competition

A whirlwind weekend packed with multiple rounds of singing. Connecting with hundreds of anxious singers and receiving written feedback from judges. Winning it all and ready for more. Gillian Hollis, 1st Place Winner of the Graduate Division, tells her story of last month’s CS Convention. Watch her performance and all the other finalists of all the divisions at

My recent experience at the Classical Singer Competition was a whirlwind weekend. Every audition has its challenges; the hotel was an hour drive from my home in Evanston, every room was freezing while it was 90+ degrees outside, and my dress already reeked to high heaven after my first round. Fun fact: there are no overnight drycleaners open on Friday night where I live.

So I got out my Febreze, grabbed a fluffy sweater, and went back the next day for the Second Round. The voices only got better. Wafting through the doors you hear these paint-pealing, wide-open, gorgeous voices, with soaring high notes and flying coloratura. Add to that the fact that the waiting area fairly buzzes with tension and it’s easy to get psyched out before you even sign in. What got me through it was chatting with my fellow singers. We realized we were all in the same boat, so we swapped stories about other auditions, ridiculous repertoire choices, and bizarre outfits we’d seen. Remembering that my golden-voiced opponents were human and capable of getting runs in their pantyhose did a lot to put me at ease.

Gillian Hollis, 1st Place Winner of the Graduate Division

We were all there for one thing: to be judged. Something that CSC does that makes my singer psyche go all warm and fuzzy is to provide the judges’ comments after each round. These judges have some of the sharpest ears in the business, not to mention mountains of experience performing and listening. I’m learning what to listen for myself: Is the repertoire appropriate? Do I hear tension? Do they know what they are saying? Watching singers all weekend made my inner track star want to run right out and practice, but not until I collected the cornucopia of comments from every round of judges.
I wanted them to hear what I was doing wrong. I wanted them to tell me what it was and how to fix it. I wanted to do the things I do well the best I had ever done them, so that those steel-trap ears could move right past them into what I could improve. And do you know what? They did exactly that. Even the judges that awarded me First Place in the finals had plenty to say. Their praise was brief and to the point, which was nice, but many of them wrote novels about my technique, possible repertoire choices, and where to go from here. They were spot on. I was in hog heaven.
This competition only fortified for me what I try to keep in my heart all the time: I am not in this for moments of glory or to be told that I am perfect. I am in this for the love of the craft. Standing among singers with focus in their eyes and music in their hearts was a thrilling experience that felt like home. Singing for judges at the top of the field didn’t make me nervous; it made me hungry. That is what this competition did for me, and what I hope it did for the thousands of singers at all levels that sang right alongside me.

Winners of the 2012 CS Vocal Competition


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