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Training for MTNA nationals akin to Olympics for local teen

Nancy Burman, a private vocal coach for 30 years in Hudson, works with her student, Dana Carlson, 18, at the piano in the Carlson's Somerset home. Carlson has studied with Burman for four years and will compete at the MTNA national competition this March in Albuquerque, N.M.

Like an athlete for the Olympics, Dana Carlson is preparing herself for the most important competition in her life so far.

The goal: To become the national winner of the Music Teachers National Association and earn $2,000 in prize money to help pay for college.

Carlson, a senior at Somerset High School, has been preparing for this competition for two years - at least, that is how long she has been working on the four songs she'll perform.

"It really is like an athlete," Carlson said, "the training is similar just different parts of the body."

She is no stranger to competition. As a classical singer, she has been singing with Somerset school choirs but she also has been taking private instruction with Nancy Burman of Hudson for the past four years.

To earn her way to this contest, Carlson won the state competition and then advanced to the regional (five state area) in January. Having won that, she now qualifies to advance to the national competition in Albuquerque, N.M. on March 20-24.

"I'm a member of MTNA so my students can compete," Burman explained. "This is classical, so the competition is tough and requires a lot of practice. You have to be better than the average kid coming out of a school choir."

Each student is required to perform four pieces of music, approximately two to three minutes each. They must choose a song in Italian, German or French, English and one song of their own choosing.

Carlson's selections are "Danza Fanciulla Gentile" by Francesco Durante, "Die Nacht" by Richard Strauss, "Silent Noon" by Ralph Vaughan Williams and "Must Winter Come So Soon?" by Samuel Barber, from the opera "Vanessa."

In addition to singing with the Somerset High School choir and show choir, Carlson practices on her own an hour each day, including warmups and vocal exercises.

Her training regimen includes getting a good night's sleep, eating well and drinking lots of water.

"I'm really lucky that I haven't been sick at a competition," Carlson said. "I always make sure I drink lots of water for about a week beforehand."

"If you get sick, it affects your resonance and diction gets more difficult," Burman said. "If the vocal cords are swollen, you ideally should not sing."

Carlson said that she learned that lesson the hard way when she was younger.

"I went to a football game here at Somerset High School and cheered them on," Carlson said with a resigned smile. "I had a four-hour rehearsal the next morning and it was bad."

She also avoids diary products before singing, as well as sugar and caffeine. However, she admits that the caffeine can be hard to resist especially if she is scheduled to sing in the morning.

As a senior, Carlson has also been using these selections to audition for colleges. She plans to study vocal performance and music education.

She's been accepted to two of the four colleges she favors: Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., and Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. She is also looking at St. Olaf in Northfield, Minn., and Lawrence University in Appleton. She will audition for them in the near future.

Carlson has earned several accolades in her singing career, most notably singing for the Wisconsin State Inauguration Assembly last January. Most recently, she has been selected to perform with the National Choral Directors Association Choir in March at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

For the national MTNA contest, Carlson will be flying out to New Mexico a week early with her parents to take a family vacation. Burman will join them closer to the contest date.

"This is not something everyone enters; this is a competition for top-notch students to do the best they can," Burman commented.

"I'm really kicking up my dedication to this," Carlson added. "I push myself to what I know I'm capable of."

"I am thrilled to work with Dana," Burman continued. "When I get a student who works as hard as she does, I consider it an honor to be her teacher. I'm extremely proud and excited."