Shared Voices Program Aims to Help HBCU Student Performers Grow

Opera song

Opera star Denyce Graves was in his first year teaching at Johns Hopkins University’s Peabody Institute when he says he met a graduate student with a beautiful voice.

The student was a hard worker, Graves said, but didn’t have the opportunities to perform that she felt she should have. She did not participate in the opera program and was upset and disillusioned.

Graves says she sat with the student and cried and hugged her. This led her to want to do more to help other students.

“How do we prepare [students] to succeed in the world when they have no background, no connection to the industry and no opportunity? said Graves. “It became so clear. It was clear something had to be done about it.”

The experience led to the creation of Shared Voices, an effort launched by the Denyce Graves Foundation that brings together students from four historically black colleges and universities, four music conservatories and the Metropolitan Opera. The cohort includes students from Howard, Fisk and Morgan State universities and Morehouse College.

The program kicked off Friday in DC at Howard’s Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts with a reception that included the 16 members of the inaugural cohort and performances by the college choir. During the ceremony, Graves received a Presidential Award for Voluntary Service and greetings from the office of Vice President Harris, an alumnus of Howard’s.

Other institutions participating in the program are the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, Oberlin Conservatory of Music and Johns Hopkins Peabody Institute.

“The Shared Voices program will give them access,” Graves said. “They have the opportunity through the program to get the most out of all the institutions.”

Ava Paul, an inaugural cohort participant and a sophomore in vocal performance and politics at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, said Graves emphasized to her that there is nothing in the world without a connection. It is a fundamental element of flourishing in the world of performance.

“We have to think of ourselves as much more than singers,” Paul said. “We have to be, you know, entrepreneurs and especially for me, champions of social justice, because I think there’s so much representation that’s just not being realized and not being celebrated for the excellence that she is.”

After a morning reception on Friday, there was a panel discussion and concerts. The foundation also hosted breakout sessions for students, including a meet-and-greet with the cohort and start-up training. an artistic career.

Simone Brown, social media manager for the Denyce Graves Foundation, performed “Take My Mother Home”, by Andrè Previn, during a recital.

“I haven’t sung in front of Denyce for about two years. I did my master’s degree with her and she was my teacher,” Brown said. “I still get to study with her from time to time, but this was the first time she heard from me in a long time. So it was special for me.

The Shared Voices program will give participants the opportunity to have individual coaching, lessons, rehearsals, performances and other activities at partner universities. The Metropolitan Opera will also be offering masterclasses as part of the program.

“The students, they’re the ones who really birthed this, because when I sat in my sessions and in my lessons with them, they would tell me what was going on and what was needed,” Graves said.

Cohort participant Travis Guillory said the world of classical voice “can be very overwhelming for marginalized groups”. “This program makes me really excited because I know there are people out there who look like me and kinda look like me,” Guillory said. “I hoped that through this program, I would have a sense of community. And that I can have the resources to do whatever I want to do in the classical arts world.

“I’m so honored to be in this. I’m just going to absorb it all,” said cohort participant Hannah Jeané Jones. “I hope to get a sense of where I stand in this industry. I will learn more about myself and I will learn more about my people.