WALLA WALLA - It was a first for Walla Walla Community College, as close to 150 college students sang in Italian, German, French, Latin and English during the National Association of Teachers of Singing regional competition Friday and Saturday.
"We have been moving pianos around like crazy," college voice teacher Julie Jones said, only a few hours before the musical theater singing competition started on Friday. "We had to borrow a few (pianos) from WWVA. We got them all tuned; the last two are being tuned right now."
The yearly competition was held several years ago at Whitman College; each year it takes place at a different college.
Although it is not an official college event, most members of the association are also college voice instructors and the yearly competition is a chance for their students to compete.
This year, students came from Walla Walla, Gonzaga and Central Washington universities, University of Idaho, Whitman College and other regional colleges.
The music teachers are requirewwd to do the judging, and they are not allowed to judge their own students, Jones noted.
Among first-time competitors was Courtney Bruner, 18, of WWCC.
"I think I did well. I mean I didn't scout the competition, so I don't really know how to compare myself," Bruner said.
Then she added, "I try not to because it makes me more nervous. I have been performing all my life and I still have horrible stage fright."
The competition is broken into eight different divisions, divided by age and gender.
Friday's competition covered musical theater, while Saturday was all arias, as the best classical singers were judged.
"I found it a rather enjoyable experience. And you learn a lot from your teacher. And you learn a lot from the comments afterwards," Gonzaga law student Yvonne Carrick said.
Legal aspirations aside, Carrick studies a number of topics, including music. But if the choice ever came between whether to take a lead role with the Seattle Opera or a law firm, the law firm would most likely get cut.
"I would drop it. I would," Carrick said.
Each singer was judged by a panel of three teachers. Students were required to sing three classical songs, and most did so in Italian, German and English.
"I am usually nervous, but my teacher tells me to relax and have fun. And I did," Carrick said.
While most of the students study music in colleges, a small group of beyond-college contestants had their own division this year.
Kristi Hunziker, 54, Tanya Knicikerbocker, 38, and Nancy Byers, 58, couldn't officially compete with the other college students, so they competed amongst themselves.
"I don't feel jealous," said Hunziker, a social worker, when asked how it felt to be surrounded by so many talented youths. "I have a hard time not feeling regret. I stopped singing thinking I would go back to it. I never did."
When Hunziker did go back to singing 16 months ago, it meant having to learn to sing again because of jaw reconstruction surgery years earlier.
"I was having people telling me not to sing, and it was making me feel really bad. And I decided I wasn't going to give up without a fight," she said.
It is a fight she won on Saturday, as she sang Mozart's "Dove Sono," with only one snafu at the end.
"I want another chance to hit all those high A's because I know I can do it," she said.
For Byers, an educator, taking singing lessons was a matter of singing away the blues, which hit her one day at a concert in Vegas.
"I was at a Gladys Knight concert at Legends Casino and I couldn't stop crying. And I was wondering why. And I decided I hadn't done it yet," Byers said.
On Saturday, she did do it, as she sang "Ah! Mio Cor," an aria by George Frideric Handel.
Though the three singers didn't get the chance to compete with the college aged singers, the competition was just as important to them.
"How do I know if I am good?" asked Knicikerbocker, a chemist with a Ph.D.
Science is either right or wrong, singing is subjective, she pointed out.
"How do you know? Your voice teacher says you are good, but you are paying her. So how do you know?" Knicikerbocker said.
Judge Monica Griffin was one of the ones who knew.
A voice teacher at Whitman College, she had the chance to judge the three older singers.
"It's actually very special. It makes you realize what singing can do, and you can tell how much it means to them," Griffin said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at email@example.com or 526-8325.