Claflin University rising seniors Dorian Dillard and Corinthia Sims will compete in the National Association of Teachers of Singing’s inaugural National Student Auditions on Sunday, July 6, in Boston, Mass.
Dillard, a music education major, and Sims, a music major concentrating in voice, will compete against 13 other singers in their divisions – upper college/private men and upper college/private women, respectively – during the NATS 53rd National Conference, which will be held this year on July 5-9. In addition to receiving feedback from the judges, Dillard and Sims will be competing for $30,000 in prizes.
Claflin senior Brandon Spencer, 2014 graduate Rod Hines, junior Darshaya Oden, and senior and Miss Claflin 2014-2015 Lia Holman also took part in this year’s National Student Auditions regional competition in Greensboro, N.C.
Dillard and Sims, both Detroit, Mich., natives, have known each other since before they came to Claflin University. They initially met in January 2011 at the inaugural George Shirley African-American Art Song and Operatic Aria Competition in Detroit. Sims won that first festival, and Dillard came in second.
“He’s been such a blessing to me, as my friend,” Sims said of the connection she and Dillard have had since then. “We may not agree on everything all of the time, but we know we will be there for each other.”
Both singers – who performed the soprano and tenor solos in Claflin University Concert Choir’s most recent production of Handel’s “Messiah” – were very young when they began performing gospel music at church, but once they were introduced in high school to classical and operatic music, Dillard and Sims say they were hooked.
“It pretty much opened the door for me and helped me develop a passion for a whole new genre of music,” Dillard, a tenor, said of his alma mater, Detroit School of the Arts. “When I was little, I would bang on pots and pans, soda bottles – I would make music with anything and everything.”
Sims, a soprano, grew up singing alto. But after hearing her sing, Sims’ music teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School in Detroit encouraged her to aim higher.
“He told me, ‘I really feel like you have a higher range than what you are singing now. … You could do some classical music,’” Sims recalled. It wasn’t long before he was entering her in competitions, and she was receiving high marks and winning them.
“I may have hard times sometimes in school, but singing is the one thing I really love and really cherish,” she said. “I really thank God for the many blessings he has bestowed upon me.”
Dillard and Sims are excited to be representing Claflin in the competition. To prepare, they have been taking care of their voices by eating right, getting enough rest and not straining their vocal cords.
“To make a career, you’re going to have to use that same voice your whole life. That’s a scary thought,” said Dillard, son of Dorian and Angelette Dillard. “I make sure I stay well-rested and practice all of the common sense things about voice that I have learned during my matriculation at Claflin.
“I do a lot of practicing, but I make sure that I don’t over-practice. When you practice, you don’t want to leave it in the practice room. … Practice until you can’t make mistakes. The correct way has become natural to you, because you have practiced it right.”
Sims, the daughter of Corneilius and Stacey Sims, said practice isn’t just about singing. Much of her time is spent on vocal rest, so she prepares for competition by going over the diction and language of a song, listening to others perform it, and practicing pitches and rhythm – all of the touches that Claflin’s voice professor Dr. Lori Hicks has instilled in Dillard and Sims.
“Along with working hard, I’ve got to pray,” Sims continued. “I just want to make sure I do my best. … If you’re not prepared, nothing’s going to happen.”
She and Dillard both hope to make their name on the world opera stage one day. And they hope to pass their passion and love of music on to generations to come through their own music schools.
“My passion is singing. It’s something that I love to do,” Sims said.
Founded in 1944, NATS is the largest professional association of teachers of singing in the world with more than 7,000 members in the United States, Canada and nearly 30 other countries. Its mission is to encourage the highest standards of vocal art and ethical principles in the teaching of singing, and to promote vocal education and research on all levers for the enrichment of the general public and the professional advancement of the talented. NATS offers workshops, internships, master classes and conferences on chapter and national levels. Students of NATS members gain access to audition opportunities and the chance to compete on the national level among some of the best in their division.