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Photo courtesy of Sun Lu

In August 2010, James Toland conceived the idea of a Bay Area voice competition to support singers working to achieve professional success. The idea was met with considerable enthusiasm, including that of Oakland Symphony Music Director and Conductor Michael Morgan, who agreed to grant the competition winner the opportunity to perform with the Oakland Symphony. Encouraged by this initial support, a fundraising goal for competition prize money and operations was established, and efforts began in 2011 to solicit pledges toward that goal. These fundraising efforts were successful and, by June 2012, pledges had exceeded the initial goal.

With pledges secured, a board of directors was constituted and the inaugural meeting took place on July 30, 2012. The new board of directors unanimously resolved to establish a nonprofit corporation. Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of California on September 21, 2012; and federal 501(c)(3) tax exempt status was granted in June 2013.

When James Toland approached me about having a voice competition, what interested me was the fact that the competition will encourage fine singing talent across many genres. In the first competition, opera, traditional jazz and cabaret, art songs, and musical theater will all be in the mix. Future competitions will be expanded to other forms as well. There are not a lot of other contests around that seek out and promote good singing regardless of the type of music being sung. This is one thing that’s missing from our music education efforts in the Bay Area. Because the Oakland Symphony has such a variety of programs, I have no doubt that we can find an occasion to feature the winner. I hope this serves to encourage singing of all kinds and at all ages. It is the most accessible form of musical expression there is, and I am thrilled to be a part of this.
— Michael Morgan, Music Director, Oakland Symphony


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When did we start singing? It seems like forever. Maybe it got started by people just mimicking birds. When we look back at history, singing has been a part of all times, all cultures, and who can say why? I suppose it’s something we have to do. We sing little babies to sleep. We do it to send people off to war. We do it in praise of God. It’s clearly so very important to us.

The rich tapestry of song weaves back through time and connects us somehow to the distant past. Our celebrations are all suffused with singing.

Singing as art has grown like wildflowers in all the byways of our hundreds of civilizations. What king hasn’t had a singer or singers? What religion hasn’t had singers? What school is without a song?

The more we’ve sung, the more kinds of songs have been cultivated by those who study them. It’s strange that something so omnipresent and powerful, something that moves us, comforts us, and lifts us up, can seem peripheral.

My vision for JTVA is to celebrate singing and singers. I want them to be encouraged to sing and to study singing and to keep at it. We need them for all the songs in our lives.
— James Toland, Founder

Photo courtesy of Reenie Raschke

JTVA Founder and General Director James Toland has been a private voice teacher for the past thirty years, whose students have performed in major opera houses and on concert stages throughout the world. He has served in recent years as a master teacher for the prestigious San Francisco Girls Chorus, and has taught for the Piedmont Children's Chorus and Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco, as well as the choral music programs of the Acalanes School District. Currently, Mr. Toland is the director of the Pacific Masterworks Chorus.

He has been a clinician for multiple choral groups such as: the Peninsula Women's Chorus, Cantare Con Vivo, the Young Women's Choral Projects of San Francisco, the choirs of Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota as well as the University of Tennessee. He led the chorus of Festival Opera in Walnut Creek, California for seven years. In addition, he has served as the vocal coach for the musical theater productions of the Diablo Theatre Company. He has been a frequent adjudicator for numerous voice competitions, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. In the early 2000s, he served on the board of directors of Festival Opera, as well as Livermore Opera. Prior to his work in the Bay Area, he spent more than a decade as the artistic director of the Eugene Opera, where his stage direction was featured in an NPR segment of "All Things Considered." Prior to that, he was the company manager of Texas Opera Theater, the touring arm of Houston Grand Opera.

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Achieving success as a vocalist in the world of the performing arts is a complex and challenging task. JTVA broadens the search for and exposure of new voices. We provide encouragement for singers early in their careers and the opportunity for further development and promotion of singing talent.  

Our primary emphasis is on an annual vocal competition that provides exposure to expert judging, performance opportunities before a live audience, and monetary prizes. JTVA also produces or participates in auxiliary events of a related nature, such as master classes, workshops, and other training or networking opportunities.

We invite you to learn more about our organization and annual vocal competition. If you are interested in receiving occasional updates on programs and events, we would be delighted to have you follow us on Facebook and join our email list below.