Arizona ArtBeat: Southwest Vocal Competition

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The first-ever Southwest Vocal Competition is being held at the Mayo Clinic’s Shea Campus in Scottsdale. It’s an effort to find singers with the best voices, who will be awarded a chance to perform with the Phoenix Opera Orchestra at the Orpheum Theater in Phoenix February 8. Besides the competition aspect, it’s also an education effort on the part of Mayo Clinic’s Voice Department to talk about voice health. Gail Massaro, the co-founder and creative director of the Phoenix Opera, will talk about the competition, along with Dr. David Lott from the Mayo Voice Department.

Ted Simons: Tonight's edition of "Arizona Artbeat" looks at the first-ever southwest vocal competition. It's an effort to win a chance to performance at the Orpheum theater in Phoenix. Joining us now are Gail Massaro, the cofounder and creative director of the Phoenix opera, and Dr. David Lott from the mayo voice department. Thanks for joining us.

Gail Massaro: Thank you.

Ted Simons: What are we talking about here?

Gail Massaro: I am thrilled to be here and I'm excited and exhilarated and exhausted. We had first rounds one and two this past weekend at mayo in their Taylor auditorium. We had singers from every corner of the state competing. Nothing like this has ever existed in our state. The purpose is to discover and feature and foster and nurture the talent we have here, which is extraordinary. It'll culminate in a finals concert February 8th at the Orpheum Theater with the Phoenix Opera orchestra. Three international judges are coming in. It's a little like an "American Idol" situation. Each singer will sing two arias with the orchestra on stage. Everything will be done that night and the judges are a New York agent, someone who runs one of the best opera companies in the country, and an international superstar. This is a life-changing career-launching opportunity for one of our very own right here in Arizona.

Ted Simons: Got the competition down but I've got more question for us. Where does vocal health come into all of this?

David Lott: As a physician the important part for us is not just treating problems when they arise but actually prevention. That's a big part of Mayo's program in general. Not only to take care of patients but also with preventive medicine, education and really vocal health in general. As a broadcaster, you understand the vital role your voice has in your personal life, but as your career. If you have a career as a professional singer or broadcaster or preacher, whatever the case, if your voice goes, your livelihood goes.

Ted Simons: Classical music, any form of music, broadcast, just aren't aware of some of these preventative measures.

David Lott: Absolutely. We wanted to try to get the word out that not only can we help you if you have a problem, but it's so much more important to prevent these problems before they begin.

Ted Simons: Everything from not doing this, to taking that, these sorts of things?

David Lott: Correct, exactly. Part of the competition from this weekend, we had different education sessions throughout the day at different breaks. Some of that were some of the myth busters. Do I drink honey when I have a sore throat. Some of the things we tell ourselves may or may not be true and actually can harm you.

Gail Massaro: My passion is for singing and for the voice. But this is also very important for teachers, TV personalities, anyone who uses their voice. All kinds of things can happen. Should you speak or sing when you're sick? How to handle it if you do, those topics were covered. That's the educational outreach aspect of this.

Ted Simons: Back to the competition for a second, are there age limits? Who competes? How do they get into the competition?

Gail Massaro: This is Arizona's talent, you have to be in Arizona. Ages 21 to 35. Voice has to be of a certain maturity level to sing opera and do it justice, and have the where with all to be a professional singer. We're looking for talent that we can launch and feature. You know Phoenix opera has been devoted always to not only bringing international artists here to Phoenix but also to nurturing and developing the extraordinary talent that we have right here in our state. You needed five arias. You got to pick. As a former singer, an opera singer myself, oh how much different languages and this and that, all those requirements. Show me your best stuff, strut it. So they were allowed to pick their five arias. Had to live in Arizona, the age requirements and let's hear what you got.

Ted Simons: These are accomplished singers.

Gail Massaro: The talent I've always been a strong proponent for the talent that we have in the state. But I will tell you it was spectacular. It superseded all of our expectations. I want everyone to hear this competition, it's not an opera, it's a competition. There will be arias but the point is every one of the 10 finalists is the home team. Come and root for them, make them your own.

Ted Simons: They have given their life and attention to this particular craft and art and hopefully for the winners they will go forward. Were you surprised that some didn't know certain things about their voice?

David Lott: No, unfortunately. That was a big reason we came to the Phoenix opera and reached out to begin with. We wanted this partnership because most people that use their voice professionally don't understand their instrument. At one of the lectures, it was knowing your instrument. Someone plays the clarinet, they know the pieces, they can clean it and understand how it comes together. But no one can tell me the parts of the voicebox. Understanding how the anatomy interplays with the function of the voicebox and how to best prepare that to do what it is you need to do.

Ted Simons: Common misconceptions.

David Lott: The concept that you can drink something to make your vocal chords feel better. Functionally that doesn't make any sense because their job is to make sure food or water doesn't go through your airways. If they do you cough violently. That's the only way anything ever touches your vocal chords is if it goes down the wrong way.

Gail Massaro: But also hydration is so important, especially here in Arizona. I learned it takes about an hour, you drink something about an hour before you need to be hydrated. You can inhale the steam right down into your throat. I thought that was a myth my mother used to tell me. It really is true and that's very important, as well. Did you bring your scope along? We thought you might like to have yourself scoped on camera.

Ted Simons: We'll take care of that.

Gail Massaro: We want to keep you healthy.

Ted Simons: The competition is when now for the finalists?

Gail Massaro: February 8th at the Orpheum Theater, tickets available online at That is the easiest way to get tickets. Student rush, $10. High school students, they are being underwritten and they can come for free. We have contacted all of the high school teachers in the states. General attendance, just starting at $20.

Ted Simons: As far as knowing your instrument, what information do you think all of us, whether broadcasters or singers or just out there living our lives and we want to have a healthy -- what do we need to know?

David Lott: First thing, listen to your body. If your voice starts to change, if it hurts when you speak or you're fatigued as time goes on, that's a sign that function has gone awry. It shouldn't hurt to speak or have people hear you speak. Take a step back and get in early before a problem arises.

Ted Simons: Great information there, good luck on the contest.

Gail Massaro: Come join us.

Ted Simons: We'll see who wins.

Gail Massaro: The voice of Arizona.

Ted Simons: Sounds good, thank you so much.

Ted Simons: Wednesday on "Arizona Horizon" we will hear from minority legislative leadership and get their take on the session so far. And we will look at how the Super Bowl puts a spotlight on domestic violence and human trafficking, that is at 5:30 and 10:00 on the next "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.

Gail Massaro:Co-Founder and Creative Director, Phoenix Opera; Dr. David Lott:Mayo Clinic's Voice Department;

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