Georgia on her mind

Emma Dorsch, a classically trained singer and sophomore student at Grays Harbor College, has reached the finalist stage in the Young Artist Performance category for the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA) competition.

According to Emma’s former teacher Merry Jo Zimmer, who taught Emma piano early in life, reaching this stage is definitely something to brag about.

“The MTNA competition is a big deal, on the order of the Super Bowl for young, classical music artists,” Zimmer said. “It has the potential to launch a career as a performing artist. I don’t think we’ve had anyone from Grays Harbor reach this level before.”

The competition is set to happen between March 16-20, in Atlanta. According to an MTNA news release, MTNA was founded in 1876 and is the oldest professional music association in the U.S.

It was clear to Zimmer early on that Emma, who sings soprano, would have a bright future in music.

“Emma was my piano student years ago and from the very beginning I could tell she had extraordinary musical talent,” Zimmer said. “I’ve gotten to watch her grow as a sensitive and polished singer, actress, and dancer, and I’ve seen her perform in recitals, musical theater productions and operas over the years.”

Emma has been studying “classical voice” for eight years and does so under the teaching of her parents, Ian and Joy Dorsch. The accomplished singer regularly performs with the Grays Harbor Opera Workshop, won the 2023 Grays Harbor Music Teachers Association-Grays Harbor Symphony Concerto Competition, and was a former 7th Street Theatre kid, according to a news release about Emma’s advancement to the national stage. In addition to Emma’s accomplishments in music, she was also crowned Miss Grays Harbor in 2022.

“It’s been a colossal amount of work,” Ian said. “The ‘young artist’ area of this competition is for singers ages 19 to 26, so you have to be able to hang with grad students from big fancy schools. The baseline here for all the finalists is many, many years of focused study and practice.”

Emma, now 20, is on the younger end of the age range.

In the MTNA competition, Emma will compete against singers from New York — Molly Snodgrass, Texas — Helena Losada Seabra Salles, Florida — Daniela Pepe, and Iowa — Eleni Anthan, according to the website. Emma’s mother Joy and her father Ian will join her at the MTNA competition, as will Kira Miller, a pianist from the Harbor.

“The MTNA competition at this level requires performance of an 8-song recital program with some pretty specific requirements and Emma had to learn a lot of new music in order to check all those boxes,” Ian said. “She’s been preparing the program since the end of last summer, with lots of assistance from me, Joy and Emma’s wonderful accompanist, Kira Miller, who will also be traveling to Atlanta for the competition.”

Joy said “It’s always a lot of work.”

“Emma’s program consists of several art songs and arias in four different languages,” Joy said. “It has been a massive amount of work for Emma, but such a wonderful process. These types of competitions really set young, classical singers and musicians up to build their repertoire. This music also has so much to give back. It’s very rewarding to work on and as a classical musician we are never really done working with a piece. It’s constantly evolving and changing and building and growing. So it’s been a process of growth and a very rewarding process. We are incredibly grateful to Kira Miller, who’s been such a wonderful collaborative pianist to Emma.”

Emma’s parents

Ian and Joy shared how they are “extremely proud,” of Emma. They discussed how Emma took the news too.

“Exuberant, all around,” Ian said. “We knew Emma would be competitive in the divisional round, but because that stage of the competition was video only, we really had no idea what to expect. She was thrilled to advance and we were thrilled for her.”

Joy pointed out how this is the first time Emma will compete at the national level.

“She advanced to a divisional round in a NATS (National Association of Teachers and Singing) competition once, but other than that this was the first time Emma has competed on such a broad scale,” Joy said. “It was really exciting to find out she had won and advanced to the nationals. Competition on this scale is not always accessible for young singers, so this is a wonderful opportunity. These types of competitions often can jumpstart a young artist’s career, so it’s a big deal.”

Emma was effusive in her remarks about how she hasn’t gotten to this stage alone.

“I would like to first thank my parents, they have provided me with as much guidance, vocally and otherwise, as I could ever ask for,” Emma said. “They have given so much of their time and energy to make sure I feel as prepared as I possibly can. I would not be the musician, or person I am today without their presence in my life.”

The talented musician had more people to thank as well.

“I would also like to thank Kira, the fabulous pianist, for the countless amount of hours she has given in the process of preparing for the competition,” Emma said. “Kira has accompanied me on piano since I was 12 years old. It feels very momentous to be advancing on nationally with her by my side.”

Not a vacation

“The day after we fly in, Emma and Kira will have an opportunity to rehearse together and run the program in the performance space,” Ian said. “The following day is the actual competition, when she will perform all of her music for a panel of adjudicators. The next day is the Young Artist Winner’s Concert, where winners will perform and all finalists will be recognized.”

In addition to singing for the judges, Joy added more detail on what Emma will have to do.

“The singer will pick their first piece and then the panel will choose the order of the rest of the program,” Joy said. “It’s not that often that young artists get the opportunity to sing a program of this length, especially in a competition setting. It’s more common that you compete with a couple songs or several arias, so this is a unique opportunity for her. It also requires Emma to be flexible and be able to adapt to the program order the judges request.”

Getting there

To get there, the Dorsch family is raising money. They’re trying to cover their family’s expense to get there, as well as Miller’s travel expenses. And cross-country traveling isn’t cheap.

With that in mind, the St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church — 400 E. 1st St., in Aberdeen — will host a fundraiser recital for the Dorsch family at 7 p.m. on Sunday night.

“We’re raising money to cover as much of ours and Kira’s travel expenses as possible,” Ian said. “Our initial goal was to raise around $2,000. So far we’ve raised close to half that. The overall cost of the trip will be a fair amount more than that, so any donations beyond that will still go directly toward covering airfare, lodging and meals.”

Words from the artist

“I am thrilled to go compete in Atlanta,” Emma said. “I have never had an opportunity to compete on a national level before and it feels like quite a significant moment for me and my career as a singer.”

A proud Harborite, Emma also thanked her local community.

“My final thanks is to the Grays Harbor community,” Emma said. “Thank you for your support of the performing arts in Grays Harbor and for creating an environment where I have been able to become the performer I am today.”

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at

Keith Krueger
Emma Dorsch performs at the 2023 Grays Harbor College Honors Recital.

Keith Krueger Emma Dorsch performs at the 2023 Grays Harbor College Honors Recital.

Keith Krueger
Emma and family at the 2023 Miss Grays Harbor Dessert Auction.

Keith Krueger Emma and family at the 2023 Miss Grays Harbor Dessert Auction.