Exploring the Broad World of Vocal Styles

This weekend, we held our last studio recital before we head off on our Florida Adventure! It was so exciting to see all of our students up there performing with all of their hearts. They worked so hard to prepare the duets and group numbers, which was the theme for this recital. We love seeing how much they enjoy sharing their music and progress with their friends and family. In our studio, we teach classical music, musical theatre, jazz, whatever our students bring to work on. We encourage them to try different kinds of music because we learn so much from each style. Not only do we teach this to our students, but we also live it as performers!

Griffiths Music Studio Final Recital!
I just graduated with a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Utah. Throughout my life I have made a music career for myself as a classical soloist, choral singer, accompanist, composer, conductor, actor, adjudicator/clinician, music tutor, private voice teacher, choir teacher, and music theory teacher. The music world has been a vast and exciting one for me. I find I have a never-ending curiosity of what musical endeavors I can find next. Specifically as a singer, I’ve found success in the versatility in my vocal abilities and interests. One day I’ll sing an operatic aria with an orchestra, and the next you may find me wailing as a gospel singer. In today’s market a person needs to show an ability to adapt to any given performance situation. Allow me to tell you how I got started and have learned what I have about the crazy world of being a vocalist.
American Traditions Vocal Competition. Photo Credit: John Carrington
One classic family home video is of me singing “Under the Sea” as a three-year-old, which was mostly the words, “under the sea, under the sea, nah nah dah dah…” Or there’s another gem of me singing a child’s church song while my family is swatting my hand away from me picking my nose. This is where it all started.

In 8th grade I joined my school choir, and I stayed in choir all the way until I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Choral Music Education from the University of Utah in 2013. Right after graduating, I started teaching choir at a local high school. I wanted to instill my love of music with my students. I was always sure to program a variety of music, and we often had themed concerts like Broadway, Movies, Pop, and International music. I always loved finding new music for my students that would be challenging and enjoyable for them and for the audience. I’m sure many of you reading this have been to a fair share of boring choir concerts of all slow music. You wouldn’t have had that experience coming to my concerts!

King Kaspar in
“Amahl and the Night Visitors”
at the U of U
After three years of teaching at the school, I decided that I wanted to dedicate myself to more singing, so I started my Master’s degree in Vocal Performance. In my first week in the program, my voice teacher asked me what my goals were. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I wanted to learn to sing all kinds of music. Maybe I could be a professional musical theatre performer, choral singer, opera performer, etc. While classical singing is mostly emphasized in a Vocal Performance program, I found that I couldn’t commit myself to only one style. For me, each style of singing evokes a different energy inside of me. For example, Jazz allows me to play around with subtle vocal nuances; Musical Theatre helps me to better convey a character’s story; Opera allows me to explore the power potential of my voice; and Gospel music allows me to let loose entirely and let my voice go wild!

A highlight during my degree was competing in the American Traditions Vocal Competition in Savannah, Georgia. This competition was very unique and didn’t focus on exclusively operatic singing like most other competitions. The competition was music by exclusively American composers, but each of the contestant’s nine songs must be in a different genre, including Opera, Musical Theatre, Jazz, Country, Singer-songwriter, Hollywood, Gospel, etc. When I read about this competition I thought, “FINALLY! A competition that celebrates vocal performance the way I do!”

The results of the competition were incredible. I saw a huge range of performers singing all kinds of music, all so talented and unique, and singing with their whole hearts. The competition encouraged a spirit of friendship and support and I felt like these strangers were becoming some of my dearest friends. It celebrated the love of music in such a deep way, and the audience was so supportive of everyone. While I didn’t advance past my first round, I felt so fortunate to just hear these performances. I felt like I should have paid a large admission just to be in the presence of such talent!

This competition opened my eyes and confirmed to me what I’ve felt all along about vocal performance: It is a giant world that is far too fun to be a part of to isolate it into a single box. I respect anyone who only feels comfortable singing in one style, but for me, my voice longs to explore all of it! What I found is that instead of imposing a song on my voice, I need to find songs that speak to me, regardless of where I find them. If we don’t find something that speaks to us, how could we possibly communicate it with our audiences? I’ve found that opera is still enjoyable for me, but not what I want to do all the time. I’ve expressed this to some people who say, “But you got a Master’s degree in it!,” to which I respond, “No. I got a degree in Vocal Performance.

In the vast world of performing, we must never forget to have fun! I know some performers who have the most fun performing in very dramatic productions, while others prefer working more in comedy. I think all of it can be fun if it speaks to you. A few months ago I was in New York and saw “SpongeBob Squarepants: The Musical,” and it was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had in a theater. (Seriously, if you get a chance, go see it). I’ve also been moved deeply in productions like “Next to Normal” that explores mental health. There’s so much music and art that can highlight and explore the complexity of the human experience. We should seek out the kind of art that gives us permission to embrace the highs and lows of our own humanity.

Whatever your passion, whether it’s music, art, athletics, writing, or something else entirely, always look for ways to keep it as your passion, not as a chore. There will always be naysayers, but who cares? I think we spend far too much time trying to find a path of belonging in society rather than finding a place within ourselves. One of my largest performance goals is finding the songs that allow me to communicate in a way that I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. The best performers I’ve observed are the ones who are honest and that the audience can understand and connect with.

One of my big career goals is to be a professional performer with Disney! Dream gigs are playing “Crush” in Finding Nemo: The Musical at Animal Kingdom, singing with the Voices of Liberty at the American Pavilion in Epcot, and, the big one, singing as lead tenor with the Dapper Dans in Magic Kingdom.

What are some of your passions? What’s holding you back from going forward with your goals? We would love to hear your story as well! Please comment and tell us more about you!

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