Vocalists will strike chord at arts festival By Patrick Morrison
Yankton Media, Inc. The Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts will be abuzz with young talent as the inaugural South Dakota Vocal Arts Festival gets underway July 22. USD Assistant Voice Professors Tracelyn Gesteland and Rick Piersall, who laid the framework for the Vocal Arts Festival last year, will serve as co-directors of the 10-day program. Fifteen high school, undergraduate and graduate students from the quad-state area will be participating in the festival, Gesteland said. Students will take private lessons with Piersall and Gesteland, receive music coaching from staff pianists, work on scenes from various operas and participate in workshops on acting and movement. The program will conclude with recitals on July 31 and August 1 at 2 p.m. in the Colton Recital Hall. Both Piersall and Gesteland joined the music faculty at USD following the completion of their studies in Houston, TX. Upon arrival in Vermillion, they said they wanted to create a program that would educate area high school and college students about opera and musical theater. "We saw a need for it because South Dakota is the only state without an opera company, and a lot of times the training programs are done through the opera companies," Gesteland said. "Since nothing like that really existed here, we thought that we should start our own and try and build it into a professional company down the road." Piersall said they wanted to start a program that focused on young artists with a desire to enter a future career as a professional opera or musical theater artist. "Between the two us, we have done quite a few apprentice and young artist programs over the years, and there really isn't anything like that in this part of the country," Piersall said. "The high school, college and graduate students who will participate in this program will have a real apprentice program with hands-on experience in what it's like in the professional world of opera before they enter the field." Piersall said participants were selected based on their resumes and recorded performances, and then cast in one or more of 11 scenes that will be performed at the recitals. "We have some of the high school and undergraduate students branching out into something more challenging than their used to, but we have them doing something that is appropriate for their skill sets," Piersall said. In addition to performing new operatic works, participants may perform on-stage in ways they many not be accustomed to, Gesteland said. "A lot of our participants have experience in a choral setting, but not necessarily as a soloist or in musical theater," she said. "This program will be invaluable thanks to the skills it provides to help the students become all around performers." Piersall agreed. "They're going to learn a lot in the staging and the voice lessons, but it will be getting on stage that gives them the extra little thrill that has drawn them to this business," Piersall said. "I think some light bulbs will come on in their heads as they get to perform onstage for the first time." While Piersall and Gesteland will act as the co-directors of the festival, they will be joined by Elizabeth Grayson, a professional opera singer, and Jim Schaeffer, executive director of the Center for Contemporary Opera in New York City. "These are people who are going to give students another perspective to opera," Piersall said. "Jim in particular will be able to provide participants with information about what kinds of relationships they should build and who the important contacts are within the field, which is something we are excited about." As well as providing a deeper insight of opera to participants, Gesteland said she hopes the Vocal Arts Festival will make opera more visible within the Vermillion community. "I think this is also important for the community because this provides the opportunity for them to hear opera in a state where there isn't a lot of opera," she said. "Our Friday show is geared towards children, so hopefully we are building opera in the next generation."