Wearing a sequined red dress and radiant smile, Mizzou's Anna Bridgman anxiously awaited the results of the Music Teachers National Association Young Artist vocal competition with the five other national finalists.
After introductions and a group photo, the judges revealed the third- and second-place finishers to a packed room. Nervously looking on from the crowd were her parents, Marie and Steve Farris, who had traveled from their home in Liberty, Mo., to Chicago to see her compete. Sitting with them were MU professor Ann Harrell, who has coached three previous winners of the competition, and accompanist Rachel Aubuchon.
After an agonizing few minutes and pangs of doubt, Bridgman heard her name announced as the first-place performer. She had become a national champion.
“After they read off second, I thought, ‘Oh crap. Did I not get anything?’ but then was like, ‘Oh my God!’ after I won,” Bridgman says. “I just went out and hugged everybody, and my parents were crying, and I was just so excited.”
Climbing the Scale
Similar to an athlete fighting for a national title in his or her sport, the MTNA competition features the best young musicians across the country. Competing in categories based on medium (brass, woodwind, string, piano, vocals and composition), artists on the national stage must first win their state and regional contests.
Bridgman’s journey to becoming a national champion started in September. Along with an application fee, she had to submit the names of the pieces she would perform. Harrell, an award-winning professor with a track record of producing national champions, selected an entertaining and diverse program that showcased Bridgman’s skills.
At the state competition held in November at Washington University in St. Louis, Bridgman beat out the state’s best vocalists, including several of her peers from Mizzou. The regional competition was held at Drake University, and the win in Des Moines was the perfect end to her winter break in January.
Soon after, she found out that she would compete against five other sopranos in the vocal category.
“I was really nervous because I was like, ‘Oh great, a bunch of people like me,’” Bridgman says. “I looked them up online, and they were all really talented, which you expect from people who make it that far in a national competition. We knew it would be tough.”
Throughout the process, Bridgman worked through her pieces countless times. Her favorite of the eight was the dramatic aria “The trees on the mountain” from the opera Susannah, by Carlisle Floyd. It allowed Bridgman to show off her range as well as some of her acting skills. It also might have been the piece that won the competition for her.
“I talked to one of the judges after the award ceremony, and he said, ‘I think that was the one that sold us on you,’” Bridgman says. “They said my technical abilities in the aria were very impressive, which was great because I feel like I’ve grown the most with it, and it means a lot to me.”
The award comes in Bridgman’s final semester at Mizzou. She has stayed enrolled as a non-degree-seeking student after earning her bachelor’s degree in music this December to continue taking lessons and performing in ensembles while applying for graduate programs.
“I’m so thankful to Ms. Harrell and Rachel Aubuchon and Professor Seitz and Dr. Crabb and all of the vocal faculty because I don’t think I would have gotten this far if I didn’t have the training from all these people,” Bridgman says. “Our vocal department and opera program are things people need to get on their radar because they don’t get the credit they deserve. They have all helped me get where I am, for sure.”
Since 2000, the MU School of Music has produced five of the 14 MTNA Young Artist vocal champions.
Bridgman joins former Harrell students Molly Clodius (2010), Emily Bennett (2008) and Neal Boyd (2000). Boyd also won the $1 million prize on America's Got Talent. Kory Bickel took home the award in 2002.
Additionally, composition student John Ernst won the MTNA Young Artist composition competition in 2006.