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Stephen & Jeanie Foster Vocal Competition
Posted on February 8th, 2018 
Becoming a part of the National Federation of Music Clubs (NFMC) has introduced me to all kinds of new performance opportunities for young musicians. To be a member of the NFMC, you have to be a member of the State Club too, which in my case, is the Florida Federation of Music Clubs (FFMC). To be a member of that club, you have to join a Senior Club, which in my case, the closest one to me is Harmony Music Club in Jacksonville. To be a member of a Senior Club, you have to become a Junior Club. Which I did...So I am...Cadenza Music Club...So there. Like I was saying, I've been introduced to all kinds of new performance opportunities for young musicians. For instance, the Stephen & Jeanie Foster Vocal Competition.

For those of you who don't know who Stephen Foster is, don't fret because I 100% had no idea before I Googled him and read his Wikipedia. Then of course, I thought, "Oh yeah! 'The Swanee River'!" (It's actually called "Old Folks at Home" come to find out). In a nutshell, Stephen Foster was a very recognizable American songwriter. 
A collage of Stephen & Jeanie Foster
The Jeanie/Stephen Auditions originated in December, 1951 to encourage promising young Florida vocal students. It takes place at the Stephen Foster State Fold Culture Center in White Springs, Florida in conjunction with National Stephen Foster Day. Singers audition for the title of “Jeanie” and “Stephen” in a public concert before a panel of judges. It is open to female singers between the ages of 17-22, and male singers between the ages of 18-23. Contestants must sing one song composed by Stephen Foster, and a song of their choice written by an American composer. First and second place for both "Jeanie" and "Stephen" receive scholarships in the amounts of $1,000 - $1,500, to continue their vocal studies.

You should know that I stumbled across this singing competition on the Florida Federation of Music Clubs website on December 11, 2017. The next event was taking place January 19, 2018. I had been working with a student who I felt possessed the talent to enter this singing competition, and so I approached her about it. At first she wasn't so sure, but then later that day I got a text message saying that she wanted to do it. I emailed the coordinator that day to get more information on the event and the wheels started to turn.

Next thing we knew, we had a little over four weeks to learn two Stephen Foster songs (one as an audition piece and one in case she won) and another song by an American composer. This student is also participating in a singing event in February and we had already picked out a song by an American composer, so at least we had that going for us. The competition coordinator mailed us the music book to choose my student's Stephen Foster songs out of, and we were one step closer.

But wait, there's more. This isn't an ordinary singing competition. The female competitors wear antebellum ball gowns, just like from the 1800s, with hoop skirts and all. These gowns aren't in your local Target or Bealls store. Lucky for us though, the Harmony Music Club that I am a member of has a library of six antebellum gowns to choose from! So, my student and I drove to Jacksonville from our lovely Palm Coast, to get her a dress. The first one she tried on fit like a glove and looked gorgeous, so we packed it (and the hoop skirt) up and drove back home. She's the beautiful young lady on the right in the purple dress:
So with her dress and her repertoire ready to go, we got to work. We met for 45 minute lessons, three times a week. This was going to be her very first singing competition and I wanted to make sure she was fully prepared and confident. To make matters even more convenient, I convinced my mom to be her accompanist. Oh yes. My mom studied music in Latvia and has degrees in Early Childhood Education as well. She also taught piano privately for many years and just went into "retirement". She had been wanting to go to the Stephen Foster Culture Center and here was a prime opportunity for that to happen. She wasn't trained as an accompanist, but she accepted the challenge and did really well too!

We booked the hotel and packed for the weekend. My mom, dad, son Lukas and I hopped in the car and drove to White Springs for the Friday rehearsal. We met my student and her grandmother there and got to explore the museum. My student was quite nervous, but after practicing with my mom in the space she would be performing in, she started to relax. My son Lukas- who'll be two in a month- loved hearing the incredible singers and he really had a good time exploring the museum and playing with my dad outside. It's a really beautiful park. 

After rehearsal we had a nice Cracker Barrel lunch while we waited for our hotel room to be ready. We didn't get to see much of White Springs because our schedule was pretty packed, but it seemed like a nice area. The hotel was a fun adventure for my almost-two-year-old, and as we settled into our room we started to prepare for the night's Golden Gala.

The Golden Gala is a fundraiser concert to honor the Jeanie and Stephen contestants and their families. It was a beautiful affair with delicious food, good company, and gorgeous music. Of course Lukas was the life of the party and stole all the hearts of the Jeanie contestants, in his handsome little suit. 
Lala and Grandson enjoying a meal
The next morning was the main event. The Jeanie & Stephen Foster Auditions. After a yummy breakfast at the hotel, everyone headed over to the Stephen Foster Culture Center Antebellum House. It was a nice turnout with a lot of people there to listen to the singers perform. The Jeanie's and the Stephen's were so elegant in their singing and their demeanor, it was such a treat to watch. And the music! The pieces these singers chose truly showed their voices and training. It was fantastic exposure for my student to see how these singing competitions are run and to hear such talented singers. My student was actually the youngest of the female contestants, and I was thankful for that. It gave her a chance to hear what she can accomplish with a few years of training under her belt. It gave her great inspiration and ambition.

After the singers performed, we had a break for lunch while the judges went over their scores and chose the winners. When they finished, we returned to the Antebellum House for the crowning of this year's Jeanie & Stephen Foster. My student didn't win, but honestly that's okay! She did so well for her first ever singing competition, and she can re-enter this event again next year.

It really was a lovely experience. Everyone involved in planning this event is a music advocate through and through. So many patrons and members of the music clubs even put in their own money towards the winners' and participants' scholarships. If you are a music teacher and have students that would be interested in participating in this event, or if you know singers who would be interested in participating, or if you yourself would like to participate, I highly encourage it!

You can see photos of this year's 67th annual Stephen & Jeanie Foster Vocal Competition on their Facebook Page and you can even hear the singing contestants' performances on their YouTube Playlist. Enjoy! 
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By Emily Feinberg-Hosier
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3 Music Explorers performing their recital piece at Planet e Studios Winter Recital 2017.
This isn't really one of those dramatic "AND THEN YOU'LL NEVER BELIEVE WHAT HAPPENED NEXT!" stories. The whole experience was quite actually smooth sailing.
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