Jewell’s Artist Diploma in Voice program prepares its students for professional careers

Artist diploma in voice program rehearsing for Cosi Fan Tutte. Photo by Catherine Dema

William Jewell College is in its inaugural year of the Artist Diploma in Voice Program – a two-year program designed for post-baccalaureate students dedicated to a career in classical vocal performance. Students will be performing the opera Cosi Fan Tutte at the Trotter Arts Plaza Oct. 2 and 4.

Danny Belcher, ‘92, is the program director and a distinguished faculty artist. He described the motivation for the program and its goals.

“My wife and I have had extensive careers in opera. She’s the director for the Metropolitan opera and this is her 20th year, and I’ve been fortunate enough to perform all over the world… We based our lives in Liberty and a number of years ago…  Dr. Ian Coleman [professor of music] said ‘You know, we’d love to find a way to utilize you. What would that look like?’

“And I knew that what I could do was really connect dots for artists into the career path. And so, the role of working with undergrads would be different because they needed a little more really steady scheduling in terms of their training. Whereas if we created something like an artist diploma, I could still perform some and be gone some and then be able to front-load and backload work with students.

“And so we just started talking and brainstorming what that would look like. Dr. MacLeod Walls [president of the College], Dr. Dema [provost] and Coleman just said put down on paper what is missing in this industry. We started asking people running artist programs, general directors and artistic directors of companies, and stage directors, conductors what was missing – and also young artists. And literally the entire curriculum is based on those conversations,” Belcher said.

Jewell started advertising the Artist Diploma in Voice Program in March and has a full inaugural class with six students. The program will have a maximum of 12 students with two cohorts. Three of the students just completed their bachelor’s degrees and three of the students have also completed higher graduate degrees.

“[The program is] designed strictly…  with one goal in mind, and that is that every single person that comes and does the artist diploma [will] go into a young arts program within an opera company [when they leave], and we [will] help launch their careers. That’s the one goal, period… The program is tailored to each individual artist’s own needs,” Belcher said. “It is geared to the artist that is serious about pursuing a career in performing, particularly classical vocal music.”

The program consists of five components. First, each student has two voice lessons a week. Second, each student works with Ellen Summers, a coach collaborator who specializes in working with students musically – on vocal technique, interpretation of their language and the musical aspects. The third component is called the singer-actor, wherein each student works one-on-one with Dr. Chris McCoy [professor of theater] and Kathleen Belcher to take their vocal product and turn it into a theatrical product. Fourth, the students have performance opportunities. Fifth is a performance seminar.

“What this is, what we felt was missing, the young artists were having problems, one, getting auditions [and two,] if they did get auditions for young artists programs, they were one of 700 singing for 24 spots. So what could we do to make it different?

“We started calling in favors to friends within the industry, some of these people we spoke to about what kind of curriculum we should look at. We have ten artists per year that will come in for three days each, [and] they’ll work with each artist in an audition, going over their publicity materials, a career Q&A and [will give] a masterclass.

“[Then] when each artist leaves, they will have made 20 connections with people that hire, and that run companies – both young artist programs, general directors, stage directors, conductors, composers [and] librettists in every aspect of the business. That’s that last component where we bring the auditions to the [students]. In particular this year, where there are zero auditions happening…  we give them this help too where [experts are] all coming to campus,” Belcher said.

Belcher was enthusiastic about the program’s start.

“[The program has gone] really well [so far]. We asked a lot of these artists – not knowing them…  All of their preparation [for the opera] was done on their own. And that actually taught us a lot about them because they each came well prepared and ready to work. Literally…  not a single one of them have been one minute late to anything. So their excitement, their passion for their art form, their excitement to be a part of this – a part of this team –  and knowing that hopefully the product we can give them will help launch their careers has been really instrumental,” Belcher said.

At 7 p.m. Oct. 2 and 4, the artist diploma in voice program will be performing Mozart and Da Ponte’s Cosi Fan Tutte outside at the Trotter Arts Plaza. The six participants in the program, in addition to several undergraduate students, will perform the opera. Tickets must be reserved beforehand in the seated areas due to an extremely limited audience of 100 people per show.

The opera will be performed in Italian with English subtitles on personal devices. The program will include instrumental accompaniment by members of the Liberty Symphony Orchestra and is being supported by Jewell Theatre.

Reservations for Oct. 2 can be made here and reservations for Oct. 4 can be made here. When reservations are made, each member of a party must submit a form. The system will automatically cut off when the attendance limit is reached. The rain delay date for the Oct. 2 performance is Oct. 3 at 7 p.m. and the rain delay date for the Oct. 4 performance is Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

The opera will be one of the first live operatic performances in the U.S. since the outbreak of COVID-19. Social distancing restrictions will be strictly enforced during the performance.

Catherine Dema

Catherine Dema is the page editor for Features & Investigations on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and physics.

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