The 2015 American Traditions Competition won't be until Feb. 23-27, but why wait?
ATC organizers are going to lauch the 2015 season Aug. 17 with a summer soiree at Savannah Coffee Roasters. This comes on the heels of the 2014 Savannah VOICE Festival, which comes to a close Aug. 16.
The ATC will celebrate its 22nd year with a performance by Mikki Sodergren, the reigning ATC champion. She will perform a range of opera and musical theater music, including "Batti, Batti o bel Masetto" from "Don Giovanni," "A Wonderful Guy" from "South Pacific," "I'll be Here" from "Ordinary Days" and Johnny Mercer's "Skylark."
Admission to the soiree is free, but an invitation is required.
"We encourage people to contact us to request an invitation for what promises to be a very special event, which will give people the opportunity to meet Mikki and hear her exceptional voice once again," says ATC president Susan Kleine.
"We are hoping to raise awareness of the fact that it is now time for singers to apply for our 2015 competition, which has a prize fund of $40,000," says ATC artistic consultant Vale Rideout. "Mikki has set a very high standard. but we know that with all the talent out there, Savannah will once again be singing."
Singers wishing to apply for the 2015 competition can do so at www.americantraditionscompetition.com.
Sodergren is now performing as a festival artist for the 2014 Savannah VOICE Festival. That included her role as Zerlina in Mozart's "Don Giovanni," plus participation in several concerts and events.
Savannah audiences already knew Sodergren from her award-winning performances at the 2013 and 2014 American Traditions Competition. In 2013, she came in second place overall, but in 2014, she virtually swept the competition by winning the Courtney Knight Gaines Gold Medal, the inaugural Ben Tucker Jazz Award and the Johnny Mercer Award.
"It was pretty incredible," Sodergren says. "In 2013, the Courtney Knight Gaines Medal was second prize, and in 2014, it was first prize. I have a lot of affection for the Courtney Knight Gaines Foundation."
In April, Sodergren will make her debut with the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra. Originally from Minnesota, she is now a resident of New York City, and says she enjoys the food, culture and residents of Savannah.
"People here are so appreciative," she says. "They've developed individual relationships with all of us and are considered friends and mentors. They are amazing people."
Sodergren has always been a singer.
"My father started his career as a band teacher," she says. "My mother was a piano teacher and church choir director. I've been singing forever.
"I think that talent is something you're not aware of as a child. I was always interested in performing.
"At some point, I wanted to see how far I could start pushing myself," Sodergren says. "I started competing when I was 14."
At 14, Sodergren won the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition, or NATS contest.
"It was the first time I'd ever won," she says. "The following year, my hometown had a competition and I won that, as well.
"It was really a big thing for me. I was contracted to do a concert for the following year. That's when I thought maybe I could do this for a career."
In college, Sodergren played Ilse in "Spring Awakening," her favorite role.
"It was the first time I felt at home during a musical performance," Sodergren says. "It changed my perspective."
Wanting to go someplace exotic, Sodergren studied in Israel for a time. After learning about VOICExperience, which produces the Savannah VOICE Festival, Sodergren attended classes and worked with Maria Zouves, director of both VOICExperience and the VOICE Festival with her husband, Sherrill Milnes.
"She helped me find a great singing sound for musical theater," Sodergren says. "She's a very smart musician and a great teacher.
"I have also had the opportunity to work with Sherrill, in addition to Maria. I consider them both very influential on my musical development.
"I would really love to get into more musical theater, regional theater and New York theater," Sodergren says. "I had the great opportunity to play the role of Louisa in 'Nine' in Manhattan. What I would really love to do is sing with orchestras."
Winning the ATC and its accompanying cash prize was a critical boost to Sodergren's career.
"It's a fantastic organization that helps launch singers' careers," she says. "With my money, I was able to find a team of people who really helped me bring my career to a higher level in New York. I was able to get an agent and become part of a very special musical environment."
Zouves and Milnes have done more than teach singers and organize musical events, Sodergren says.
"I think the work that they are doing together in the community is incredible. They have really created a wonderful festival with a very nice range of music in different styles, languages and settings."
Zouves and Milnes have done more than teach music and organize events like the festival, Sodergren says.
"I think the way they have immersed themselves into the community is fantastic, and it seems that the community agrees because we have really sensed an overwhelming level of support," she says. "It's really a great pleasure of mine to be involved in the music environment of Savannah in so many ways, because I feel like I am part of something really special here."