Pegasus Players’ new singing contest offers a ‘Battle of the voices’

The light hit the stage as the Norwich University student walked up to the microphone. Katie Whitney sat in the audience waiting to hear whether the nervous student had what it took to be a part of Battle of the Voices.

Approximately 31 students waited their turn to audition. One after the other, they took the stage, and eventually only 16 remained. Whitney, the musical director for Battle of the Voices, who also works in the Office of Strategic Partnerships at NU, had the difficulty task deciding which students would be able to go on and perform in front of the rest of the NU student body.

Though the Pegasus Players, the theater troupe at NU, has two performances each year, Whitney decided to stray from a “traditional play or traditional musical review,” and gave the Pegasus Players a chance to show off their singing abilities.

“I wanted to give the students a chance to do something new and competitive. Battle of the Voices is the first of its kind, a singing competition performed by the Pegasus Players,” Whitney said.

Joining Whitney as technical director for the show is Prof. Jeanne Beckwith, and the producer, Prof. Helen Caudill. Besides being the musical director for Battle of the Voices, Whitney is also the director of the Pegasus Players with Caudill.

Battle of the Voices will take place Thursday, April 3 and Friday, April 4 at 7 p.m. in the Dole Auditorium. There is no entrance fee and all Norwich students, as well as those living in the community, are invited.

There will be four duet performances and eight soloists. “The students have also prepared some group arrangements for both nights. All of the students will sing the first night, but only the students with the most votes will perform the second night,” Whitney said.

The audience will be able to participate by voting on their favorite acts on the first night, but the panel of judges will crown the winner the second night.

Whitney explained that she wanted the audience to be more interactive with the decision process of determining which singers would make it through to the next night.

“I have noticed the shows haven’t been as successful in the past years and the numbers for student participation has decreased for Pegasus Players as well. I think this is due, in part, to a lack of advertising and stepping out of our normal comfort zones,” Whitney said. She added, “My goal for this show was to do something I knew the students would be interested in, and adding a component of participation from the audience.”

The audience can expect a wide range of musical genres, including pop, rock, classical, folk, and even some Disney songs. Those participating in the competition have widely ranging experience from novice to long-time performer.

Stephanie Shatney, 20, a sophomore majoring in nursing from Cornish, N.H. is used to the pressures of being on stage.

“Ever since elementary school I have had in interest in chorus and theater,” Shatney said. She added, “I’ve been in musicals, one act plays, choirs, cabarets, talent shows. Anything my friends and I could do together that involved music and theater.”

Unlike the other talent shows Shatney has participated in, this is the first competitive show she will be involved in. “I have been in talent shows before but they were never competition based, and it was just more a variety show. Battle of the Voices is much more intense, since the audience and judges all have a part in who moves forward to the second show,” Shatney said.

Though Shatney has her songs picked out for the competition, she doesn’t plan on giving them away. “I have picked songs to perform that show a piece of myself in them, feelings that I really have, or stories I can relate to,” Shatney said.

Jordan Miller, 20, a junior majoring in business management from Prince George, Va., has a good amount of experience with singing and performing. Before living in Virginia, Miller lived in Jamaica where she auditioned for the Digicel Rising Star in 2009, which is Jamaica’s version of American Idol.

“I made it to the studio audition, but never made it to the live show. Also I entered a few talent contests in high school, and I won one and came in second in the other,” Miller said.

All the students participating in Battle of the Voices have been practicing since the middle of February, and they get one individual and two group sessions each week. Yet, others also find time to practice on their own, including Cody Gladstone, 21, a junior majoring in environmental science from Merrimack, N.H.

Gladstone will be performing with his roommate Dave Pinto, who got Gladstone into singing last year. “I didn’t really start singing or practice singing until last year when Dave Pinto forced me into it. This is the first singing competition I’ve ever been part of,” Gladstone said.

According to Whitney, some students, which include Gladstone and Pinto, plan on singing with their own instruments, which might give them an edge over the other competitors.

“I have encouraged the students who do play an instrument to perform with it. We have some guitarists, pianists and even a ukulele player. Other students will be singing with a prepared instrumental track,” Whitney said.

Kelsie Hancock, 21, a junior majoring in international studies from Chesapeake Beach, MD., has been in music since the second grade, starting with the piano. But it was not until high school that Hancock participated in her first singing competition.

“I did a competition in high school three years in a row. I picked decent audition pieces, but the performance songs weren’t so great for my voice,” Hancock said. She added, “[Whitney] has helped us with choosing songs that fit our vocal range and style. I have thoroughly enjoyed the coaching, which I lacked in high school.”

Though Hancock finds it to be nerve-wracking at times when performing in front of people, encouragement from others, and hearing people sing, gives her the motivation to do it. “I love hearing people sing because it makes them so extremely vulnerable to criticism. The fact that they still decide to do it inspires me so much. What other people think doesn’t matter, especially in music,” Hancock said.

On the other hand, when it comes to nerves, some competitors do not think about it too much once they hit the stage.

“I love getting on stage, and the feeling and energy between the audience and yourself as you give them a presentation of what you’ve worked on for weeks, a piece of yourself that you wanted to share in such a vulnerable way. There’s nothing like it,” Shatney said.

Whitney herself has been surprised by the amount of talent NU students have to offer. “I honestly wasn’t expecting the turnout and quality of musical talent in the students. They can really sing,” Whitney said. She added that, “the students in Pegasus Players have been working hard, and have stayed very dedicated to developing their acts and their voices. I am impressed by their growth since we first started practicing.”


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