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Saturday, Dec 9, 2023

Songs and Arias: Showcasing vocal talent at the college

Students and faculty alike gathered in Robison Hall on March 11 to watch “Songs and Arias,” a classical vocal concert by advanced voice students at Middlebury. Sebastian Holbrook ’26, Blair Jia ’23, Rohini Prabhakar ’23 and Urian Vasquez ’25 each sang a selection of songs, arias and duets. Middlebury Affiliate Artist Cynthia Huard provided accompaniment on the piano. The concert also included performances from special guest and alumnus Tevan Goldberg ’18. 

As guests streamed through the door, they were handed programs with lyrics translated from Italian, Spanish, German and French. The concert showcased an incredible variety of emotional stories — everything from dramatic love at first sight, to a prayer to the moon goddess, to an ode to New York, was expressed through the students’ vocal performances.

The concert was the culmination of students’ work over the semester. Carol Christensen, voice teacher to the performing students, organizes the Songs and Arias concert every March, which typically involves four to eight students.

“The students chosen to sing excel in this genre and love the classical repertoire, spending many hours practicing what we call a 'set' of songs, perfecting three to four songs each for the program,” Christensen said. 

“Many of the classical songs are in foreign languages, so we spend time on proper pronunciation and the translation. At Middlebury, of course, many students are quite skilled in various languages, which is a huge plus in the study of voice,” Christensen added.

Vasquez, who has been studying vocal performance since fifth grade, highlighted the importance of telling a story with a performance rather than simply aiming for technical excellence. “It's not just about getting the notes right or making sure that you know what you're saying,” he said. “It's getting the story across. Even if your audience doesn't know the language, you want to make sure that they can get the sentiment of what you're singing through the way that you express yourself.”

In addition to his individual songs, Vasquez sang one duet with Holbrook, "We're Called Gondolieri," from Gilbert and Sullivan's “The Gondoliers.”

“Music for me has always been one of the biggest parts of my life. I started singing in a choir when I was very young, and I loved it. In high school, I realized that I wanted to refine my technique and do new solo repertoire, so I had a voice teacher through high school. When I got to Midd, I knew this was something that I wanted to continue,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook expressed appreciation for the supportive environment among voice students at Middlebury. “I think what's really special about voice lessons and music in general in college is the community around it. Me and the three other students [in the concert] — we all get along very well. We enjoy supporting each other,” Holbrook said. 

In preparing for a performance, students choose songs to learn, practice and refine. After practicing on their own, students rehearse with accompaniment and duet partners. 

“The process starts prior to the start of each semester as I go about choosing the repertoire I think will be best for each student's vocal development. Students are also welcome to bring in pieces they are interested in singing,” Christensen said. “In both the classical and ‘popular’ genres, we explore the meaning of the text, what the composer adds to it, and how to best communicate the student's interpretation of the text to an audience.”

Speaking about the role of music in his future, Vasquez mentioned wanting to compose music in addition to performing. “I’m a music and theater joint major, so I really want to write something for performance, whether or not I am a part of that performance. I'm really into more musical theater aspects — telling the story through the stage, and through music just by itself, even without the voice,” Vasquez said.

Holbrook, meanwhile, said he wouldn’t necessarily want a career in music. “Will I do [music] in some capacity? Absolutely. There's no doubt in my mind,” he said. “But it is not my goal right now to continue music as a vocation after college.”

Christensen has been teaching vocal performance at Middlebury since 1991. According to her, she has maintained close relationships with her students even after they graduate.

“I love the collaboration in making beautiful and inspiring music with them,” Christensen said. “It is really a joy. I love experiencing their progress with them.”

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