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Singers from afar in art song winners circle PDF Print E-mail
Written by DAVID DUPONT Sentinel Arts & Entertainment Editor   
Friday, 26 April 2013 10:36
A head cold forced Fidelia Esther Darmahkasih to focus especially hard on her singing technique at Dr. Marjorie Conrad Art Song Competition at Bowling Green State University earlier this month.
"When you have a cold you really need to concentrate to get the sound out," the BGSU junior said.
The native of Jakarta, Indonesia, Darmahkasih credited that extra effort as well as "the prayers and support" of friends, family and teachers with helping her win the undergraduate division of the annual competition for singers and pianists.
The winners circle had an international flair with Stephanie Tokarz from Saskotoon, Saskatchewan, named the winning vocalist in the graduate division. Both shared their prizes with their collaborating pianists: Jeff Manchur, a student of Thomas Rosenkranz, performed with Darmahkasih and Peng Zhang, a student of Laura Melton, with Tokarz.
Darmahkasih is a junior in her second year at BGSU. When she first came to Northwest Ohio, she attended Owens Community College. She took her general studies courses there and worked to improve her English before transferring to BGSU.
She came to this country to study vocal performance. She'd already attended college in Indonesia as a psychology major.
That wasn't her choice, the soprano said in a telephone interview. Having taken music lessons since she was a child she wanted to study music, but the music courses were not very good, and her parents advised her to major in psychology. "I didn't like it, but I do as I'm told."
The performance opportunities are limited as well in Indonesia. "We don't have opera houses, don't have lots of opportunities to perform with orchestra. It's almost impossible to live just as a musician."
Her uncle lives in Sylvania so she came to Northwest Ohio. Her cousin who is studying piano and Christian ministry at Wheaton College in Chicago, suggested she look at BGSU.
It's been a good fit. The student of Christopher Scholl said the College of Music offers "a very supportive atmosphere for singers."
Darmahkasih dreams of being a professional singer. Though she's also studied violin and piano, she prefers singing because the words connect more directly to listeners.
Her particular interest is in religious oratorios, and she dreams of performing J.S. Bach's monumental St. Matthew's Passion.
Her voice, Darmahkasih said, is a gift from God. "As a Christian singer people can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit, the presence of God through my voice. ... to know how much God loves them."
Communicating that, she said, requires her to master proper technique.
Tokarz traces her desire to sing opera back to her childhood. "I had always kind of been that child who made a lot of noise," she said.
Singing wasn't her first career ambition though. Growing up in Ontario, she said in a recent telephone interview, she wanted to be a paleontologist, but she was told her she'd have to move to Alberta to do that.
"So I decided I would be an opera singer instead," she said. "I don't know what the correlation was, but it stuck." Maybe it was just because being an opera singer was such an "outrageous" choice.
Even now her ambition is to play "the overly dramatic, lovey, angry girls" in opera. The title role in "Salome," the opera by Richard Strauss, is a dream role.
Still, the soprano said, at 23 she has to "grow into her voice."
That probably won't happen until she's 30. If she rushes it, "I could burn it out really fast then I would have nothing."
She came to BGSU after doing her undergraduate work at Indiana University. She applied to BGSU on the advice of last year's winner of the Conrad graduate division Liz Pearse.
Tokarz is now working with her teacher Sean Cooper to apply for young artist programs offered by opera companies.
Other winners were:
• Graduate Division, second  place, Patty Kramer, mezzo-soprano, a student of Myra Merritt, and Ana Yoder, piano, a student of Robert Satterlee.
• Graduate Division, third place, LeTara Lee, soprano, a student of Merritt, and Xueli Liu, piano, a student of Satterlee.
• Undergraduate Division, second place, Patrick Scholl, tenor, a student of Christopher Scholl, and Wen Zhang, piano, a student of Solungga Fang-Tzu Liu.
• Undergraduate Division, third place, Amy Grams, soprano, a student of Merritt, and Xueli Liu, piano, a student of Satterlee.

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