Fate of music student rests on recital

Vocal master’s students must perform a final recital in their two-year program in order to graduate.

Room 13E of Ferguson Hall was filled with Anna DeGraff’s nervous anticipation Tuesday morning as she neared the culmination of a two-year journey. After preparing the music for more than 10 months, DeGraff, a second-year master’s student of voice at the University of Minnesota School of Music, performed her one and only required recital in the Lloyd Ultan Recital Hall later that afternoon. Vocal master’s students must perform a final recital in their two-year program in order to graduate. If a student doesn’t perform successfully, based on a review by three professors, the student will not pass the program, said associate professor of voice Jean del Santo. The committee has failed students before, del Santo said. If this happens, the committee tells the student exactly what they need to do to remediate, and they are then given another opportunity to sing another recital for the committee. However, if the student shows no improvement, they are advised to go into a different area, said del Santo. “If you were a doctor or a lawyer or dentist,” del Santo said, “you would have to have a certain skill level to go out into the field.” In each 45-minute performance, students present a repertoire of songs in four different languages, with short breaks in between for the student to breathe and grab some water. Each student chooses their songs long in advance and must research the composer, the historical context, translation for the lyrics and correct pronunciation of each word. Del Santo said the program requires that students learn 10 songs each semester, with eight of them memorized. By the time they leave the master’s program, students like DeGraff have a repertoire of at least 40 songs. While DeGraff said she doesn’t get nervous for the operas in which she performs behind costumes and characters, being in a dress alone on stage under a spotlight is a different situation. “I’m myself interpreting this music I’m performing,” said DeGraff. “That’s kind of a scary thing because it opens you up and makes you very vulnerable; it shows people what’s inside of you.” As DeGraff buzzed through octaves and sang in almost every key with the piano during her warm-up, she seemed to be at ease. But in the green room 15 minutes before show time, in her pearl earrings and formal purple dress, she finally let out a heavy breath after applying the last of her lipstick. DeGraff said one of the most nerve-racking elements of the performance is that there are teachers specifically there to judge and grade you. “One of them is your own teacher, who wants you to succeed and knows what you are capable of. So if you mess up, it’s going to be OK,” said DeGraff. “And the other teachers want you to succeed, but if you do mess up you know that they are there, pen in hand, waiting to write down what you did wrong.” To see how DeGraff performed at her recital, watch the video at www.mndaily.com