MTSU has plenty of treats in store for audiences until Friday, Nov. 6, thanks to students who helped showcase the talents of young musicians from across the state in the annual Borderless Arts Tennessee Young Soloist Competition.
This year’s event, which is fully online because of the pandemic, premiered Oct. 30 at https://borderlessartstn.org.
Viewers can watch the showcase free at the Borderless Arts website and above on YouTube through 5 p.m. Central Friday, Nov. 6.
The showcase also features a special guest performance from multitalented musician Gaelynn Lea, 2016 winner of National Public Radio’s Tiny Desk Concerts, and an appearance by music icons The Oak Ridge Boys.
MTSU students once again helped coordinate the statewide event, which is open to any vocalist or instrumentalist age 14 to 25 with any form of disability.
Borderless Arts Tennessee, founded at MTSU in 2001, boosts arts programming, inclusivity and accessibility in schools and communities statewide.
The Tennessee contest is part of the annual VSA International Young Soloists Award Program sponsored by VSA, an international organization on arts and disabilities founded by the late arts education activist Jean Kennedy Smith.
That musical competition is held each spring at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., for artists from across the nation.
The young Tennessee musicians performing in the 2020 competition are:
• Memphis vocalist Austin Anthony.
• Multi-instrumentalist and composer Drew Basham of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee.
• Murfreesboro singer-songwriter Andrew Braach.
• Nashville composer Eric Mather-Burks, who plays piano and mountain dulcimer.
• Mt. Juliet vocalist and pianist Maggie Perry.
Students in MTSU Department of Communication Studies professor Lori Kissinger‘s nonprofit organizational communication courses usually handle logistics for each year’s competition. MTSU has hosted the state event inside its Tucker Theatre since 2012.
This year, however, it was up to Kissinger’s Fundamentals in Communications students to forge ahead in their online classes, turning the public speaking requirements for their speech course into another level of experiential learning via their collaboration and problem-solving work in the MT Engage and EXL programs.
“Because of COVID, at first we were thinking, ‘Well, maybe we just don’t do Young Soloist this year,’ but we certainly didn’t want to lose it,” Kissinger explained, “so we decided we were going to go ahead and do a digital show, and I’m so glad we did.
“Even though I am definitely an ‘in-person person,’ there are a lot of things that technology is making available to us that wouldn’t normally be available. For instance, we did a ‘fan favorite voting’ this year, where people have already seen our young soloists and voted on them (before the premiere).
“There were 513 people who viewed and voted on these young soloists! We have never had 500 people come to a show, so already we’ve reached more of an audience than normal.”
MTSU sophomore music business major Joy McDonald, one of Kissinger’s speech students, opened this year’s show with a song and explained the university’s longtime connections with the competition.
This semester’s students videotaped themselves reading special scripts to meet the last of four speech requirements for Kissinger’s course.
In their own “competition,” chemistry major ZaKaia Bell, advertising/public relations major Shannon Dowden, forensic science major John Hardcastle, theatre teacher licensure major Emma Hawkins and animal science and chemistry double major Susan Sylvis, all sophomores, were chosen to introduce each of the performers during the show.
The “voice of the Nashville Predators,” Pete Weber, is this year’s Young Soloist Competition host.
Members of Nashville’s OmniSound Studios served as competition judges, and Ray Boone of Nashville-based Boone Productions provided video production services.
Kissinger’s students often help with Borderless Arts events on and off campus each semester to gain practical experience outside the classroom.
They work behind the scenes for fundraising events for the organization and plan and participate in activities for the artists and the community.
“These speech students, they have been amazing, as has the work they’ve turned in,” Kissinger said. “I was hesitant because I’ve not taught this course this way (fully online) before, and … I worried how I was going to get certain things across.
“They have blown me away. Their work has been incredible. It’s going to be a great show.”
For more information about Borderless Arts Tennessee, visit https://borderlessartstn.org. For information on the programs in the Department of Communication Studies in MTSU’s College of Liberal Arts, visit www.mtsu.edu/communication.
— Gina E. Fann (firstname.lastname@example.org)