Build It, and They Will Sing!

July 26, 2014

As I sit in Denver International Airport awaiting my flight to Tokyo and my next work assignment; I am reflecting upon the past four weeks of intense work at Land of Enchantment Opera Institute (LOEOI).

There are more summer vocal study programs out there than you can shake a stick at these days…with everyone, in any exotic locale, trying to get in on the act. It is a full-court press of sharp marketing and big names, all in an attempt to lure young singers to their special program… always for a fee.

Italy, Germany, Sicily, France, Prague, Austria…the list goes on and on. Not to mention the plethora of such programs to be found in the sexiest of American cities such as New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Gallup… WAIT A MINUTE… WHERE??… GALLUP? (As in, New Mexico?)

Please allow me to continue.

These programs usually proclaim “intensive” language study, voice lessons, and vocal coaching with some of the world’s finest practitioners. They produce concerts and operas; often at little or no cost to the public (but often at a large cost as well). Several of them deliver the goods as advertised, while others leave participants disappointed… and broke!!

Gallup, New Mexico may seem an odd location to house a summer opera institute, and I would agree. Nestled amongst the Navajo Nation, with glorious mesas on one side, Indian casinos on the other side, and Historic Route 66 slicing it all in half; it would hardly seem to be the place where artists of renown would gather to teach the classical vocal arts. I would have agreed whole-heartedly, until I accepted an invitation to teach for four of its five weeks at the behest of my friend and colleague Peter Strummer, basso par excellence.

His mission: Teach the next generation the rudiments of true classical opera and voice.

His vessels: Active, world-class colleagues.

The results: Amazing.

The grounds aren’t fancy, the accommodations are only basic, the main building creaks (but not from old age), and there is no air conditioning. But the students who come are some of the finest and most talented I have ever had the pleasure (and challenge) to instruct. Jaw-dropping young talent that made me wonder what irradiated agriculture field their vegetables came from in their youth. But there they were, in Gallup, NM singing and studying their heart’s out.

Were there frustrations? You bet!

Were there tears? Guaranteed!

Were there defaults? Absolutely!

Were their breakthroughs?? You better believe it!!

Will more come next year? You can bet the farm on it!

Overall, this is a low-cost program when you add it all up. But no matter what these students have paid; they got their money’s worth and a whole lot more! I know this because I was one of their instructors and Master-class teachers; and I don’t allow much sway. Neither did the other outstanding instructors/mentors that were brought in to pass their knowledge along. There is a lot of great young talent out there, and many of them found their way to Gallup, NM this summer. I eagerly promoted this program, because I knew I was going to be there. But more importantly, I knew every OTHER faculty member that was going to be there as well.

I was challenged, and I was fulfilled. But most of all I was impressed with the level of dedication and drive that thankfully still exists out there for the classical vocal arts.

I run my own small vocal institute in Montgomery, Alabama (The Vann Vocal Institute) whose faculty has boasted some of the world’s finest; therefore, I know the challenges that my colleague Peter faces with his extended program of five full weeks that is packed with concerts, recitals, fully staged operas, and lots and lots of instruction.

But in the end it’s fairly simple:

Build it, and they will sing!!