This column is devoted to sharing student and faculty input on the various majors offered at Lawrence. The goal is to highlight areas of study that are not well known and to provide undecided students an inside look at things they may want to study.
Here at Lawrence, students and faculty are encouraged to celebrate new ideas and difficult emotions through many means of expression and engagement. It would be faulty to suggest that music is not one of those means. Lawrence embraces the power of music as a function to unite individuals through a common song and through a common voice. That common voice can often be found being trained and tuned in Lawrence’s own Vocal Department.
Lawrence’s Vocal Department offers a program of vocal studies that works to equip students with the foundation they need to instill healthy and sustainable vocal technique. Vocalists can then build upon these techniques and grow as individuals. As he is nearing the end of his undergraduate education in the voice department, Senior Vocal Performance major Yonah Barany spoke to this gaining as he stated, “I’ve gained agency in my own musicianship. And I’ve learned how to advocate for myself and my personal needs in an environment that is constantly demanding more from me.”
Vocal studies encompasses a wide variety of vocal expression and training. Whether it is opera, musical theatre or choir, there are many opportunities for a person to find their musical niche in the vocal department. Freshman Music Education major Emma Milton is personally inclined towards choir. Milton stated, “I love to sing in choir. I like to experience singing with other people. That connection where you get to sing next to someone who sounds just like you is the best feeling. It is so perfect to me.”
Not only is there a wide variety of vocal expression available in Lawrence’s vocal department, but also a variety of opportunities for individual majors and areas of study. There are two avenues of celebrating and learning about the voice: vocal performance and vocal education. Both are integral to how music is understood and created.
Milton emphasized the passion she has for education as she stated, “I knew all through high school that I wanted to teach choir. My mom teaches middle school music so I helped a lot with her musicals, and it was just the best thing ever. It’s really special to help kids realize at that age that singing is what they want to do and to see them feel connected to that.”
Despite the different areas of studies vocal majors are offered, the differences don’t disallow vocal students from similar valuable experiences in their undergraduate education. “Through what I’ve experienced at Lawrence,” Milton stated, “I think there is little difference between music education and vocal performance in studying at [the conservatory] itself.”
She went on to say, “When I was considering other schools, I sometimes felt like they talked about vocal performance majors as if they will always end up getting more than music education majors, as if they’re truer musicians somehow. Here, I feel like I am getting a lot of same opportunities as all the other vocalists.”
While studying vocal technique is focused solely on training and ability the connection between one’s personal life and music is a self-lead process. Barany spoke to this as he stated, “I think vocal studies, on a superficial level, develops a particular set of skills, but it’s up to the individual to take those skills outside the practice room and into their day to day lives.”
Sophomore Vocal Performance major Meg Burroughs also spoke of this “day to day” engagement with her studies as she stated, “I really love delving into the circumstances of why the piece was written – and what emotion both the poet and the composer were likely trying to convey. There is so much history, culture and meaning hidden within songs that I love to try to figure out, and then communicate with my audience when I perform.”
There is something to be said about the power vocal music has in uniting people of all different backgrounds. With the instrument being the voice, it is an instrument that all possess. With this in mind, Milton stated, “Personally, I think that singing is something everyone can do. It’s the kind of thing you can always do, you can always be a part of, and you can always experience.”
Burroughs expanded on what she values most about singing as she stated, “I really value the relationships that learning to sing forms. You get the opportunity to take part in larger musical works where you get to form relationships with so many more people; from the conductor and orchestra, to the director. I feel like singing is an art form that inherently brings people together—and I value that I’m being trained to be a part of that.”
The Vocal Studies department here at Lawrence works to give students the tools they need to use their voice in order to help others, to tell important stories and to shed light upon the hidden commonalities that unite us through music. Whether it is in an opera, a musical number, a grand solo or a grand choral work, the power of the intentional voice has the capability to affect, to guide and to reveal the truth and light that we go about seeking.