As we continue to accept applications for our 2021 Bruce P. Carlson Virtual Scholarship Competition, we sat down and spoke with Miranda Kettlewell, winner of the 2019 Thelma Hunter Award. We asked about her personal experience competing, how the competition has helped further her education, and her advice for those looking to apply.
Miranda Kettlewell performing at the Ordway as part of Schubert Club’s 2019 Winner’s Recital. Photo by Galen Higgins.
What is the Bruce P. Carlson Student Scholarship Competition? Is anyone eligible to compete?
The competition is a yearly event geared towards supporting young musicians and furthering their musical education. Schubert Club awards over $50,000 annually across the whole competition! The categories included are Brass & Woodwinds, Guitar, Piano, Strings, Voice, and Organ. Within these categories there are several divisions that split up musicians by age group – from grade 7 through graduate levels. To be eligible, you must be a resident of or enrolled in a learning institution within the 5-state region of Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, North Dakota, or Iowa. For example, in 2018, I was in school for Vocal Performance at University of Wisconsin-Madison and was twenty. Therefore, that year I competed in the Voice Level I category.
What made you decide to compete in 2018? Why did you return in 2019?
I decided to compete in 2018 because my teacher had encouraged me to seek out more performance opportunities and gain new connections. I think I asked my dad for advice on which competitions to do and he suggested Schubert Club. Like most competitions, you receive comments from the judges. This was really appealing to me as they are informative and can offer sometimes much needed new perspectives. I returned in 2019 because I wanted to challenge myself to feel even better about my performance than the year before.
How did you find your pieces and pianist?
Both years, my voice teacher and I looked at three things when choosing repertoire: reliability, ease of sound, and an incredible amount of detail oriented work. My teacher described it as choosing a piece that you could wake up and sing on your worst day. Since I (like many others) tend to get nervous and struggle not to be affected by the pressure of a competition, we decided to pick pieces that I felt comfortable with rather than something new and flashy. To me, it was important to pick something that accurately portrayed where I was vocally at that time and that I’d gotten a chance to play around with acting-wise. I’ve found that sometimes the most impressive piece is the one that you really love, know inside out, and have put an incredible amount of care for detail. In the end, we picked pieces that I could also use for performance requirements at school, so I would have a chance to perform them in front of others before I sang them at the competition.
As for someone to play for me, I am fortunate that I am from the Twin Cities and therefore already had connections there. But my dad, Roderick, is a professional pianist in town and he offered his services. We’ve worked together a lot, so I trusted his artistic ability and felt safe enough to have fun as well (which is the most important thing). But, if he had not been available, I would have asked my teacher if she had any collaborative pianist connections in the Twin Cities, or I would have asked the organizers of the competition if they had a list of pianists that they could send.
How often did you rehearse in preparation for the competition? Did you know anyone else who was competing?
I think I had been working on those pieces since the previous fall. I ran through them multiple times with my pianist at school, as well as working for several months in voice lessons with my teacher. When we arrived in Minnesota the day before the competition, I got together with my dad to rehearse and coach through my pieces a bit. There’s only so much you can do in terms of adding new concepts so close to competition, but it was helpful to figure out tempo, run through tricky parts, develop the correct pacing together, etc. And yes, I knew people who competed both years! The first year, I drove to Minnesota with some singers from Madison, but they were pretty much the only people I knew. By the second year, I had competed more in the area and taken part in some shows, and therefore was able to find mutual friends among the other performers.
What was the first round like? Were there other people in the room with you besides the judge?
The first time I did the competition, I was absolutely terrified. I remember being on deck outside the competition room and recognizing the singer before me as someone who had beaten me in a previous competition that I had done. It made me feel so intimidated and discouraged. Luckily, my dad, who has known me my whole life, knew how to make me feel better. He told me to remember why I loved doing this, to commit with all that I’ve got, and to have fun. He also assured me that he would be there to catch me if I made any mistakes. So I walked into the room, stood in front of the three judges, and sang as well as I could. I still made countless mistakes, but my dad kept me going and I managed to make it through my performance without thinking about anyone else, and while I was at it, had a lot of fun!
How soon did you find out about making it to finals? How long did you have to wait to find out about finals results?
The organizers of the competition made it very accessible to find out results from the previous round. They posted everything on their social media platforms within an hour after divisions were completed. Essentially, it was a constant string of results being posted.
And to be honest, it was a few excruciating hours to wait to hear back about finals results, but I just kept refreshing Schubert Club’s Instagram page until they were posted! In 2019, however, I was only looking for my division’s results to be posted, so when they went up and I didn’t see my name, I thought that I hadn’t won anything. Later in the day, I got a text from a friend telling me congratulations. Confused, I checked back and discovered that I had won a completely different award that had been announced after my division.
What was different about finals compared to the previous rounds?
The finals were different because they had a guest judge listening, giving comments, and choosing the winners. For vocalists in 2018, the judge was baritone Nathan Gunn, and in 2019 it was bass-baritone Kelly Markgraf. Both are fabulous singers who perform at the highest level. I felt incredibly starstruck both years, but it just made me want to do the best I could in that moment. Their comments were really encouraging and exciting as well.
What is your favorite memory from the competition?
I think my favorite memory was how I felt after winning the Thelma Hunter Award. Before the competition in 2019, I had just switched teachers at school and was experiencing a crippling case of imposter syndrome. Winning the award and receiving the financial compensation was such a life-changing moment for me and gave me the confidence to believe that I belonged there.
How did the Schubert Club Competition help you advance your education in college and career moving forward?
I used the money I won from the competition to help me pay for tuition and rent during my senior year so that I didn’t have to work as much and could focus on singing. I was also able to afford to take some more coachings in my free time, which I otherwise would have had a hard time paying for.
I feel really fortunate to have been able to have my first few experiences competing in such a positive environment. Additionally, winning the Thelma Hunter Award came at the right time for me, a time where I was feeling really unsure about so much. I learned about how to be a humble winner, a gracious loser, and to interact with colleagues and myself in a healthy way in that environment. These are all things that I will be taking with me in my career.
What is one piece of advice you would give to future competitors?
Reframe how you see success. Just because the people around you are successful doesn’t mean that you can’t also be successful.
“Stop being jealous of people in their winning season. You don’t know what they lost in their losing season” – Unknown
Learn more about our annual Scholarship Competition and rules for application here.
Application Deadline: Friday, January 22, 2021
Video Submission Deadline: Friday, February 12, 2021
Winners Announced: Week of April 1, 2021