NMHU Music Student Wins Prestigious Vocal Competition

Eliza Woodyard hardly knew she would be a celebrity when she started as a music student at New Mexico Highlands University this fall. She and three other Highlands music students, Devin Barad, Christee Meleski and Joseph Chavez, all entered the Vocal Artistry Art Song Competition in Albuquerque this past week.  Open to all students of music living in the state of New Mexico, the winners are chosen based on talent and artistic achievement. “It was quite exciting!” said 18-year-old Woodyard. “I didn’t expect to win because the other people were so good and so much older than me.” In spite of her youth, Woodyard came out the winner of the competition, which included a large monetary award.  Sponsored by University of New Mexico faculty member Jacqueline Zander-Wall, the contest had several distinguished judges including John Kennedy, a composer and conductor, and Grace Jacobson, of the University of Michigan. Eliza, the youngest competitor in the Emerging Artist portion of the competition, said the scariest moment was backstage.  “Those other singers, some of them have been overseas,” she said. Woodyard started singing classical and church music in Catholic school when she was only 8 years old.  “I sang the Psalms at mass,” She said, “but went to singing opera when I was 12.”  No stranger to singing overseas herself, Woodyard traveled to Russia, Prague and Finland at age 12 to sing in a choir.  “I had a little solo,” she said, “it was no big deal.”For this competition, Woodyard performed “Les filles des Cadix” by Delibes.  “The song is in French and Spanish and has a gypsy sort of feeling about it,” Woodyard said.  One of the competition judges complimented her on her French. “Both my parents speak French, so I’ve heard it all my life.” Woodyard said. But she credits her voice teacher, Regina Rickless, for helping her pronounce the words properly. “Mrs. Rickless is so intense,” Woodyard said. “I feel like she stepped out of the Metropolitan Opera House to work with me. She’s like so many famous people of their day, like Maria Callas, incredibly passionate and intelligent.”     It is not unusual for Andre Garcia-Nuthmann, music coordinator and vocal program professor at Highlands, to send worthy vocal students to Rickless, his own voice teacher.  “We’re probably the best kept secret in New Mexico,” he said. “I get them vocally prepared and she takes them to the next level.” Rickless, a mezzo-soprano, was a student of Florence Page Kimball at the Julliard School. Her long and distinguished career centered in Europe and the Metropolitan Opera. Rickless teaches voice in the Santa Fe Opera apprentice program.  “Working with Regina Rickless is well worth the cost,” said Highlands music student Devin Barad. “Through her training, I learned where to place my voice and gain confidence as a singer.”  About the contest, Barad said, “UNM had a lot of its own students participating in this competition, but considering the fact that one-fourth of the semifinalists were Highlands students, that’s pretty good!”  “Andre is amazing,” Woodyard said.  Slated to start the Boston Conservatory, which only takes 12 students a year, but unable to, Eliza was hesitant about coming to New Mexico and starting at Highlands. “At first I didn’t think I’d like it here, but my dad kept telling me about Andre and the vocal program,” Woodyard said. “Andre bends over backwards to help his students out. I got more positive feedback in an hour and a half from him than I ever did from my judges in the Midwest.”