A lifelong singer, Kara Smith fell in love with music because of her parents. By the time she arrived as a music education major at Baker University, she had developed a vocal array.
“I am passionate about music, and I try to carry that passion into my singing and performances,” said Smith, recognized three years as the university’s outstanding performer. “Along with this, I have always had a desire to improve. I don’t want my voice or my musicianship to be stagnant. It is important to me to grow and challenge myself.”
Challenge accepted. The Baker senior from Lawrence, Kansas, recently advanced to the finals in three categories at the National Association of Teachers of Singing West Central Region Auditions and was awarded first place on Dec. 7 in the American Negro Spiritual event. She also finished fourth in two other categories: Upper College Musical Theatre and Senior Classical.
For nearly the entire fall semester, Smith memorized and recorded 12 selections in the three categories—four each in classical, music theatre, and gospel. More than 500 videos submitted from student vocalists at large and small universities in Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and Wyoming were evaluated by judges. Marci Ziegler, associate professor of music (voice) at Baker, recorded Smith’s performances.
“She is a very gifted singer and performer and worked very hard this fall to learn 12 new songs in three different styles,” Ziegler said. “Kara is a very versatile singer with a big range and lots of different vocal colors. Jazz, gospel, and musical theatre come very naturally for her, and though classical singing is a little more challenging, the growth she’s made in this genre, especially this year, is impressive.”
Smith appreciated Ziegler’s role, guiding her through the process of preparing, practicing, memorizing, and fine-tuning her selections.
“I felt very grateful and blessed,” said Smith, a finalist every year she has performed at the regional contest. “I’m grateful for my voice teacher and her encouragement, commitment, and teachings. I am grateful for my music educators and accompanist at Baker University and lastly, grateful for my family and their support.”
Smith credits a lot of her success to her mother, Vanessa Thomas.
“My primary inspiration is and always has been my mother,” Smith said. “She was my first voice teacher and has always been one of my greatest supporters. My mother is such a talented musician, and I hope to one day reach her level of musicianship and work ethic.”
Originally scheduled to occur at Colorado State in early November, the regional NATS audition shifted to a virtual format because of the pandemic. The altered setup posed new challenges because of the lack of audience engagement.
“The energy is different when performing virtually,” said Smith, who qualified for nationals in April because of her top placing. “You have to find more ways to visually create story and setting. You don’t want to be boring or look like you don’t know what you’re singing about.
“I find it easier to perform and tell a story when you have an audience or people to react to or with. The most challenging thing about the virtual format was that you only got to submit ‘one take’ per song. The take that you submit as your No. 1 pick would be the first judged performance for each round until the finals. Once you reach the finals, your No. 1 pick is the only performance judged. There is a lot of pressure to get a quality take. Whereas live you get a chance to see your feedback from judges, make adjustments, and pick the best or most comfortable song as you progress. I missed having a chance to make micro-improvements, get a fresh slate each round, and better your performances as you go.”
As for plans after Baker, Smith is interested in pursuing performance or attend graduate school in vocal performance.
“She is a lovely, open, and caring person and always respectful and polite to others, so whether it’s performing or teaching, she’ll be a success,” Ziegler said.
Also at the regional auditions, Baker senior Kaeli Whitener advanced to the semifinals in senior classical. Other competitors from Baker were Rose Uhrich, senior, upper musical theatre; Kristina Taylor, senior, upper college musical theatre; and Maxwell Dutton, sophomore, lower college musical theatre.
The following are the selections Kara Smith performed.
American Negro Spiritual
- “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” by H.T. Burleigh
- “Every Time I Feel Da Spirit” by H.T. Burleigh
- “Little David Play on Your Harp” by H.T. Burleigh
- “Ride on King Jesus: by H.T. Burleigh
- “Find Your Grail” from Monty Python’s Spamalot by Eric Idle and John Du Prey
- “Too Beautiful for Words” from “The Color Purple” by Allee Willis, Brenda Russell, and Stephen Bray
- “Not for the Life of Me” from Thoroughly Modern Millie by Jeanine Tesori
- “The Life of the Party” from The Wild Party by Andrew Lippa
- “Una voce poco fa” from The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini
- “Allerseelen” by Richard Strauss
- “The Grass” by Vincent Persichetti
- “I Have a Dream” by Phyllis Luidens Reeds
Learn more about Baker University’s music education program.