BRIARCLIFF, N.Y. -- For both students and judges, the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) competition in the spring can be a tense experience. Emily Hardman, a Briarcliff opera singer, has seen both sides.
Growing up performing in Long Island, Hardman was a regular at NYSSMA, which features more than 100,000 students competing throughout the state each spring. Now as a voice teacher, she helps train kids for the event and also judges competitions.
"I've always enjoyed singing," Hardman said "I appreciate classical music, and my voice was better suited for opera rather than musical theater. My voice just went there."
Hardman, who later attended the New England Conservatory of Music and was one of the resident artists at the Tri-Cities Opera in Binghamton, said learning to sing for an opera is a lot like learning to figure skate.
"There's a lot of technical training involved," Hardman said. "It's a lot of practicing and building your muscles. You refine your technique over years and years."
Opera singing has allowed Hardman to travel the world. She's performed everywhere from Germany to Mississippi.
"I really enjoyed performing in Mississippi," Hardman said. "The south is so much different than Westchester. It's culturally very different. I love meeting different types of people."
Having recently moved to Briarcliff from New York City, Hardman opened her studio where she helps make her students voices better.
"It's really rewarding when you see someone's hard work really pay off," Hardman said. "The ones that work hard and really want to improve end up improving the most."
As a judge at NYSSMA, Hardman said she always tries to keep the singers at ease, remembering how nerve-wracking it can be.
"I try to smile the entire time as they are leaving," Hardman said. "It's a big responsibility. Every comment needs to be helpful. You always want to approach criticism in a positive way. You have to write everything as clearly as possible. Keep things general and positive."
The best advice Hardman said she can give to students is to overprepare as much as possible.
"The more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be," Hardman said. "Know your song backward and forward. Practice singing from memory. I'm always surprised when it's very clear this is the first time someone has a sung from beginning to end. Practice singing out loud and have someone record you and then objectively watch it. And remember to have fun."