BW Vocal Studies Program has Big IDEAS

The IDEA Series, which stands for Inclusion Diversity Equity Access, was created for this school year for BW vocal performance majors in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The IDEA Series is a series of masterclasses with its purpose being to bring in professional clinicians who are at the top of the classical voice industry to work with students. These clinicians are representative of either underrepresented demographics, minorities or somehow give the students a more diverse version of the classical voice industry. The IDEA Series was created by Scott Skiba, the director of opera studies.

Masterclasses have always made up a part of the learning opportunities that BW vocal performance majors receive. However, since singing is a potential virus-spreading activity, the faculty had to reposition its existing efforts and devise ways to make activities safe and “virus-proof” — which led to scheduling these masterclasses online.

Some of the guest artists were Lawrence Brownlee and Jamie Barton, who are world-renowned opera singers. They largely worked on vocal and interpretive skills with the students.

Nancy Maultsby, professor of voice, said, “I think that whenever you have somebody from the outside who is not your voice teacher, director or coach, it is always valuable because you’re getting a different perspective from somebody who has never heard you sing and doesn’t know you. They all, in some way, bring all their knowledge and all their experience which is huge.”

Matthew Ozawa, an opera director who has worked all over the world, worked on interpretation and presentation of a character. Arts administrators, Ana de Archuleta and Priti Gandhi, are masters of the arts business and were able to address issues from the business aspect of being a young, professional singer along with how to navigate that world.

“I love the fact that our students got to work with a director, someone in arts management and a singer,” said Maultsby. “Another thing that’s really cool is that you see these people who are so accomplished in their fields and they’re wonderful teachers in their own way. The thing that struck me most is how I think they were so impressed by our students and their preparation.”

Vocal performance majors are not the only ones who have been able to attend these master classes. All the classes are also open  to prospective students who are interested in joining the vocal performance program. This was done to help bolster recruitment for the vocal performance major and to help the program stand out amongst others.

Vocal Studies Chair Marc Weagraff said, “This is one of the many things that BW is doing that makes us unique. We are hoping that as students are looking at their various options for their undergraduate experience, they’ll see that here is this undergraduate-only conservatory that is really breaking the mold as far as what it is offering its students.”

By inviting prospective students to join these master classes, it allows them to hear current students and to get an inside look at the work that goes into the vocal performance major. They are also able to receive the same learning experiences from these guest artists that current students are also receiving.

The IDEA Series is a program that Weagraff sees being continued in the vocal studies department. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we continued it in some sort of hybridized format. We will still have in-person masterclasses, but we can also do this as well. Even if the students are all in one room and the clinician is working with them through a screen — it’s still an incredibly effective class,” he said.