WOOSTER, Ohio – Eli Culley, a junior at The College of Wooster, attained a first-place prize at this fall’s Ohio Chapter of the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) student auditions, sharing top honors in his category (third-year college/independent studio men) at the voice competition, held at Cedarville University.
Singers ranged from students at liberal arts colleges to large universities to professional conservatories to independent studios, and each participant in Culley’s category had 10 minutes to perform in at least three different languages while being evaluated by a group of judges.
A classical studies major from Nashville, Tenn., Culley and his voice teacher, Carrie deLapp-Culver, associate professor of music at Wooster, elected to perform four songs. They were “My Lovely Celia” in English, “Coplas Para Tus Ojos (Couplets for Your Eyes)” in Spanish, “Spirate, Pur Spirate (Breathe, Still Breathe) in Italian, and “En Fermant Les Jeux (By Closing the Games)” in French.
Culley’s win was all the more impressive considering some of those selections didn’t match his strengths. “Dr. Culver chose songs that pushed me out of my comfort zone, particularly the French opera song. Going in, I felt that was my weakest song … but it went really well,” he remarked.
Culley did not discover what he describes as a “natural gift” for classical singing until just recently. He had been an all-state clarinet player and also dabbled with the tenor saxophone while at Hume-Fogg High School, then as a junior, started doing vocals with a jazz band – his first solo singing experience.
Culley went on to explore his new-found passion with the Vanderbilt University Young Men’s Chorus and Nashville Jazz Workshop, but he credits Wooster’s music program for taking his talent to a whole new level. “I’ve learned a lot under Dr. Culver and Dr. (Lisa) Wong. I’ve learned actual singing technique. This was the first time I’ve taken voice lessons, so I didn’t know how to sing efficiently and really develop my voice into a coherent sound,” he said.
It appears that this is the beginning of a fruitful career path for Culley. This fall’s statewide NATS audition was only his second formal competition, and he “wasn’t really expecting to place at all,” but “mostly thinking about getting feedback” for further development.
By winning the statewide competition, Culley has the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to the American Institute of Musical Studies’ 2019 summer program in Graz, Austria. Culley is “really considering” trying out for the intensive six-week program, in which participants train, study opera and lieder repertoire, and perform with European conductors.
“We couldn’t be more pleased with (Eli’s) progress and are excited to see what new opportunities and experiences he will pursue as a musician over the course of the next couple of years with us,” said deLapp-Culver.