Isabella Jenney ’25 and Olivia Brand ’23, both sopranos who had little singing experience before coming to Union and taking voice lessons with Professor Shou Ping Liu, have placed second and third, respectively, in the Musical Theater Competition of the National Association of Teachers of Singing.
“This is thrilling. I think both of these students have a bright future in singing,” said Liu, the Department of Music’s director of performance and a lecturer in choral and orchestral conducting.
NATS is the nation’s largest organization for singers. The competition, held by the Eastern New York Chapter, gives emerging professional musical theater soloists important connections to singers who have been successful on Broadway and other venues.
For Jenney, of Phoenixville, Pa., taking part “was an enriching and exciting experience because I have never sung in a competition before. Yet growing up, I loved to sing and watch musical theater for fun.”
A biochemistry major with a minor in music, Jenney is a member of the Union College Choir. She is also involved in chemistry research, and she tutors psychology and biology as part of the College’s Supplemental Instruction program. She began taking singing and musical theater more seriously in the last year, “and it has been a light in my life ever since. Studying with Professor Liu has been wonderful, and I look forward to my future endeavors.”
Brand, of Dorset, Vt., is a psychology major and music minor, and a member of the Union College Choir and the Omicron Delta Kappa and Psi Chi Psychology honor societies. She is also a peer mentor in the campus Body Project, which promotes body positivity, and is lead singer in a student-led band called Common Interest.
“Placing in this competition was very meaningful because it was the first singing competition I have entered,” she said. “I have always had a passion for singing, but I didn’t get involved in performance or voice lessons until my junior year. This has been the highlight of my Union experience. I am so grateful for all the opportunities the Music Department has offered me.”
Last year marked the first time Union students entered the NATS competition. Unlike this year, the 2021 winners – Paige Kent ’23 (first prize) and Helen Smith ’22 (third prize) – had substantial singing experience.
Liu is impressed with this year’s winners’ dedication and hard work. For her submission, Jenney sang “Breathe” from Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights,” a song about a first-generation college student. Jenney herself is the first in her family to go to college.
“She didn’t take voice lessons growing up, and she is determined to take advantage of what we offer in the Music Department,” Liu said.
When Brand first came to Union, she was on the track team, including as captain for more than two years, until a leg injury sidelined her and gave her more time to try new things.
“Olivia brought the athletic side of herself to music by practicing every day as if she were on a sports team,” Liu said. “She improved at the speed of light even though she had to be taught from scratch. If it weren’t for that injury that kept her from playing, I might have never discovered her talent.”