York singers clean up at Newmarket Voice Festival

Young singers in the Department of Music’s classical vocal studies program have once again captured a large portion of the scholarships at the Newmarket Voice Festival and a number of prizes in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Ontario Chapter auditions.

As many as 20 York singers participated in the Newmarket festival, which took place from Nov. 2 to 7. “Each student represented themselves, their teachers and our University extremely well and took many prizes in their individual classes,” says Professor Catherine Robbin, an internationally renowned mezzo-soprano who heads the program. “They all benefited, too, from the performing experience and the constructive comments of Dr. Darryl Edwards in the adjudication of each class.”

After the competition, Edwards, who teaches voice at the University of Toronto, sent Robbin a note congratulating her on the fine work done by York students.

Left: From left, Jessica Scarlato and Catherine Robbin

“I would like to congratulate you again for the substantial success of the program you have built and are building,” Edwards wrote. “We both know what it takes to put such a level of training, stimulation and internalization in place.” 

The festival culminated with the Concert of Stars Nov. 13 featuring the top performances plus awards presentations. York students won a total of $2,950 in scholarships, and five of the award-winners were invited to sing in the final concert.

The festival’s largest scholarship – $1,500 for best female vocalist – was won by Suzanne Schaafsma, a fourth-year student studying with Robbin. During the adjudication class, Edwards complimented Schaafsma on her “engaging and animated” presentation and “sublime” sound.

Right: Suzanne Schaafsma. Photo by Andréa de Keijzer

The York other winners were Athina Babayan, Joyce Goh, Felicia Mittica, Ellen MacDonald-Kramer, Tyana O’Connor and Jessica Scarlato.

Notwithstanding all the brilliant performances, accolades and positive feedback from the festival, Robbin’s most cherished memory of the concert is a conversation she had with the parent of a student from another school.

“The mother of one of the other scholarship winners remarked to me that she has seen York voice students now in various settings – performances, competitions and auditions – and she always notices how supportive they are of one another,” says Robbin. “I just love that about our students. It’s not universally found in other programs. This is not the first time I’ve heard that comment, and that makes me most proud of all.”

The NATS Ontario Chapter auditions were held at York Nov. 21. Robbin was pleased to arrange the event on home turf as an opportunity to showcase the state-of-the-art music facilities in the Accolade East Building, including the Tribute Communities Recital Hall.

Right: From left, Jessica Scarlato, Stephanie Bogle and Diego Catala

York students took two of the top honours in the auditions. Scarlato placed first in the fourth-year women’s category and was chosen as the most promising senior college singer. Diego Catala placed first in the first-year men’s category and was selected as the most promising junior college singer. 

“Jessica is a beautiful talent, with an operatic voice of tremendous potential,” says Robbin. “And Diego is one to watch. He’s a fourth-year health science student who just started singing this year in the studio of (York faculty member) Stephanie Bogle. He’s indeed very promising.”

Other York award winners at the NATS auditions included Schaafsma (second place in fourth-year women), Jillian Applewhite (third place in third-year women), Phillip Rego (second place in second-year men), Jennifer Fletcher (third place in second-year women) and Kaili Kinnon (second place in first-year women).