Powerful Voices Connect with Aspiring Singers

New MSU Vocal Arts faculty initiate outreach and mentoring program with Michigan schools.

MSU launched a vocal arts initiative that involves coaching, mentoring and performances with vocal arts graduate students from the College of Music. Left to right: Brian Major, Jenna Washburn, Jonathan Walker-Van Kuren and Laura Broscow.
MSU voice students taking part in the “Vocal Arts Cabaret” include Brian Major, Laura Broscow, Jonathan Walker-VanKuren, and Jenna Washburn.
The Cabaret singers and members of the CMS-D Gospel Choir applaud their harmony after a combined performance.
CMS-D Gospel Choir Director Jessica Clements (second from left) poses with MSU vocal arts graduate students.
Dean James Forger, MSU Vocal Arts Outreach Coordinator Sadie Rucker, and Community Music School-Director Jill Woodward.

Hailing from the world of New York and international opera, Mark and Sadie Rucker arrived in East Lansing in August 2016, ready to mentor, teach and recruit students alongside their vocal arts colleagues in the MSU College of Music. But the two vocal artists were so captivated by the depth of talent they saw in students and faculty that they decided to reach beyond MSU to spread the news.

Beginning Fall Semester, Sadie, assisted by Mark, launched a vocal arts initiative that involves coaching, mentoring and performances led by MSU graduate students within Michigan high schools. Mark—a professor of voice and pre-eminent baritone—and Sadie—an accompanist, lesson pianist and vocal arts outreach coordinator—have identified a half-dozen schools and academies statewide for specially-tailored enrichment programs.

“The idea is simple,” says Sadie. “It’s to let people in Michigan know about the wonderful vocal arts area here at MSU by sharing that talent in schools.”

In October, the Ruckers piloted the concept at the MSU Community Music School in Detroit (CMS-D). Accompanied by four MSU vocal arts graduate students identified by College of Music leadership, the Ruckers staged a “Vocal Arts Cabaret.” The cabaret consisted of live performances of opera and Broadway selections, as well as performances by the CMS-D Gospel Choir directed by Jessica Clements. More than 75 students and community members attended from CMS-D programs as well as from the Detroit School of Arts, the Detroit Academy of Arts and Sciences, Cass Technical High School and Detroit Renaissance High School.

Director of CMS-D Jill Woodward helped coordinate the experience and says she, her staff, and Detroit area music teachers were thrilled to have the Ruckers and MSU students make the trip and put on a fantastic, intimate show. Many students, she said, had never heard live opera, or voices in the operatic tradition, and literally “rushed the stage” after the last number to talk to the MSU student performers.

“It was an amazing introduction to the amazing personnel and students that MSU has attracted,” she says. “Our hope is that our students see a little bit of themselves in these great artists, and they realize that they, too, can aspire to professional voice careers or go to college to study music.”

Both the Ruckers are intent on helping motivate young students to get the most from school, to find hidden talents, and to realize possible careers in music.

“I’ve always been interested in working with young people because I believe the arts need to have new people and new ideas in order to survive,” says Mark. “And while we may not necessarily find the next great opera singer through these performances and classes, we might inspire future musicians, opera fans and business people who will go on to successful careers and support the arts.”

The Ruckers’ resolve for mentoring is also evident through their work and leadership with the Martina Arroyo Foundation of New York City. In 2005, the two helped propel the newly founded young artist program “Prelude to Performance” from a pay-to-sing format into a fully funded program.

In Michigan, the Ruckers aspire to develop programs for K-12 schools that motivate students and align with the needs of existing music curriculum. Those programs may include master classes, performances like the Vocal Arts Cabaret, or opportunities for students to participate in opera and vocal recitals. Schools and academies identified for the outreach initiative include those in Charlotte, Detroit, Haslett, Jackson and Flint, as well as return visits to CMS-D. As an extension of the outreach program, Mark will present a master class at the Detroit School of the Arts in December to work with vocal students considering performance as a career.

“The teachers we’ve met and the people involved in music are very dedicated and doing enormous work with wonderfully talented kids,” Sadie says. “Our hope is to develop this initiative into meaningful opportunities for K-12 schools to showcase their students, as well as our students here at MSU.”

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