Senior Vocal Performance major Stephanie Auld hasn’t had the most direct path through her degree program at VCU, but the journey has been full of life lessons and opportunities.
Stephanie transferred to VCU after one semester at George Washington University in the spring of 2007 and began as a part-time student with a full schedule of music and general education classes. She began full-time study the next fall and immersed herself in classes, ensembles, and additional singing and teaching opportunities in Richmond.
Three semesters later, she lost her in-state residency status due to her parents’ move to North Carolina. “The best thing I ever did was to take a break from school, become financially independent, and grow up,” Stephanie said. “It made me take school much more seriously.”
Now, with her senior recital only days away, Stephanie looks back on her journey so far and is thankful for those people who have supported her and opportunities that have shaped her as a singer and a person. Here she discusses a few of those; there are certainly many more who have helped her along her way!
Michelle Harman-Gulick and Melanie Day: “My voice teacher, Michelle Harman-Gulick, and coach, Melanie Day, have been the most influential in shaping my vocal and personal development at VCU. They have helped me to become a confident person on stage and off. ‘Diva’ isn’t about arrogance – it’s about taking care of yourself, behaving professionally, and believing in yourself. I feel I have a solid musical and dramatic foundation thanks to their patience, challenges, and constant encouragement. I am thankful that every voice faculty member at VCU has provided me with constructive criticism and support throughout my undergraduate career.”
John Guthmiller: Stephanie sang in Commonwealth Singers under John Guthmiller’s baton for seven semesters. “He is so intensely passionate and made me want to work really hard; to be prepared and challenge myself.”
Daniel Myssyk: “I’ve learned so much from Mr. Myssyk in conducting class and singing under his baton with VCU Opera. Seeing things from the conductor’s perspective is so helpful in my own performance with a pianist or instrumental ensemble!”
Sonia Vlahcevic: “I had Dr. V for Aural Skills V and VI, which is divided into atonal sight-singing and rhythm-reading. When Dr. V teaches, she gives clear, specific tools to help you accomplish great things out of these crazy, crazy rhythms! It’s been so helpful in my own repertoire and in sight-singing. Plus she has a great attitude!”
Doug Richards: “I was privileged to take his Topics class on Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony and I was exposed to so much more music than I would have ordinarily studied. He is so passionate about the music that is in our lives and he made it clear to me that as a musician I have a duty to prepare so much for this class and for all my other musical endeavors.”
James Wiznerowicz: “Dr. Wiznerowicz made theory accessible and showed me how it related to my own performance. I think my time in his classes really helped me to get a better understanding of a composer’s intention. So often the character, and the drama, and the story come from the music, in the way that chords create tension and resolve — so it’s important to understand the construction of the music. I wish I had taken more Theory classes!”
Working alongside VCU faculty: For more than four years, Stephanie has been a soloist and section leader in the St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church’s choir; singing for the Celtic service and for Compline (which features Renaissance polyphony, and Gregorian chant). She also teaches piano and voice lessons at local music store Key Signatures.
“My work at St. Stephen’s has helped my sight-singing tenfold. [Vocal faculty members] Jim Smith-Parham and Cynthia Donnell are soloists there too, and it is such a pleasure to be there with them in that context. It’s like going to another voice lesson! I look over and think ‘I’m going to correct my alignment!’ because they are so good at demonstrating what they teach.”
Sassy Chambermaids and other characters: “This past May I was Laetitia in VCU Opera’s production of The Old Maid and the Thief by Gian Carlo Menotti. The character is such a sassy lady — so much sassier than I am! It’s so much fun to play someone on stage that you’re not. For my senior recital, I’m singing some art songs by Poulenc that are actually lusty 1940 gypsy bar songs. I love that I get to go places on stage that make me think “Oh my God, my parents are in the audience!” But I just remind myself that it’s not me, it’s the character!”
Spacebomb Records: Stephanie was part of the Spacebomb Choir that sang on fellow VCU Music alum Matthew E. White’s debut album Big Inner, which received excellent reviews from media outlets large and small. “I became invested in it because everyone in that band was so excited about it and the music that Matt wrote and [VCU alum] Trey Pollard orchestrated was so complex and beautiful. And I’d never sang anything that people danced to before!”
Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival: “This summer, I sang at the Buck Hill-Skytop Music Festival. The Opera Masterclass Series was run by Peter Mark, founder of VA Opera and Lyric Opera of Virginia. He and Ben Spierman [of the Bronx Opera] led a week of master classes and concerts. It was fantastic to sing with other young artists and mid-career singers!”
Stephanie’s journey is really just beginning. She is applying to graduate school for a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and hopes to pursue dual career in opera/classical singing and teaching voice/diction.
She will check off one of the last items on her VCU Music to-do list when she presents her senior recital on Friday, October 12 at 8 p.m. in the James W. Black Music Center Recital Hall. She is excited to present the repertoire that she’s worked on for so long, but most of all, she is pleased to dedicate her recital to her mother, whose strength and encouragement in the midst of cancer treatment, has been inspiring.
–Tiffanie S. Chan