This series features the quick-hit successes of VCU Music students, alumni, and faculty and staff. Sign up for our mailing list to get the latest department news and information on upcoming events from VCU Music.

Summer Spotlight: Jasmine Harris, Viola

Violist Jasmine Harris

Violist Jasmine Harris spent two weeks this summer at the Hot Springs Music Festival in the Ouachita mountains of central Arkansas, and five weeks at the Eastern Music Festival in Greensboro, N.C.

The Hot Springs Festival ran from June 3-16 and was orchestrally focused, with rehearsals every day and a full program concert every four days. Harris also had the opportunity to play and perform in a chamber group, attend masterclasses and receive private lessons.

The Eastern Music Festival (EMF) was a more intensive orchestra program with a full program orchestra concert every week, plus chamber performances. Her chamber group learned and performed Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8, which required rehearsals every day and two scheduled coachings per week. There was also a scheduled studio class once a week, where Harris and the other viola participants studied with six viola faculty members. She also had the opportunity to see the EMF faculty perform in their own orchestra. Read more »

Summer Spotlight: Shyheim Hinnant, Bass-baritone

Bass-baritone Shyheim Hinnant could be found anywhere but home this summer. He attended the Classical Singer Convention and Competition in Chicago, the Harrower Summer Opera Workshop in Atlanta, the Wintergreen Summer Music Academy in Nellysford, Va., and the German Vocal Arts Institute’s Summer Opera Program in Seattle.

Shyheim Hinnant performing role of Zuniga, the Lieutenant of Dragoons, in Bizet’s opera, Carmen.

Hinnant spent May 25-28 in Chicago for the Classical Singer Competition and Conference. He passed the first round of the competition this spring at George Mason University, and was invited to Chicago for the regional round where he continued to the second and semifinal rounds. This competition gave Hinnant a full scholarship to attend the German Vocal Arts Institute’s Summer Opera Program in Seattle. He also performed in masterclasses for Robert Swensen from the Eastman School of Music and Juliana Gondek from the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music.

Next, Hinnant visited Atlanta for the Harrower Summer Opera Workshop, which ran from June 5-25. This workshop included daily movement classes and had a strong focus on French diction. He performed the role of Zuniga, the Lieutenant of Dragoons, in Bizet’s opera, Carmen. This was his first opera performance outside of VCU. Hinnant was also chosen to sing in a recital with American mezzo-soprano Jennifer Laramore.

“I grew tremendously as a singing-actor and made some amazing friends that only this business can provide,” said Hinnant. Read more »

Summer Spotlight: Hamed Barbarji, Trumpet

Hamed Barbarji spent his summer traveling Europe, trumpet in hand. He first went to Switzerland for two weeks to visit family and attend the Montreux Jazz Festival, then attended Italian Brass Week in Florence, Italy, and then returned to Switzerland for another week before returning home.

Hamed Barbarji performing at the Montreux Jazz Club in Switzerland.

While at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, Barbarji got the opportunity to see live performances of great jazz legends, including Herbie Hancock.

“It was absolutely the best concert I have ever been to,” said Barbarji. “Herbie is obviously an amazing musician, but he’s also just an incredible creator. I love what he writes.”

Barbarji was invited on stage to play with the band in the Montreaux Jazz Club and later found out that the legendary Quincy Jones, who took a video of Barbarji’s performance and shared it on his Instagram story, was in the audience.

“It was really awesome to be able to go up to the stage in front of 2,000 people and just call out a tune and have everything work,” said Barbarji. Read more »

Summer Spotlight: Emily Nesbitt, Soprano

Emily Nesbitt performing at La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy

Soprano Emily Nesbitt has returned to VCU Music this semester with an even stronger love for opera than she had before. She spent five weeks this summer at the prestigious La Musica Lirica in Novafeltria, Italy, as the youngest singer in the Young Artist program. She performed the role of Maestra delle Novizie in Puccini’s “Suor Angelica” and covered the lead role of Mimi in Puccini’s “La Bohème.”

“This trip was one of the most important experiences I have had as a performer,” said Nesbitt. “I feel a lot stronger with my Italian, I feel like a different singer.”

The program was intensive, with rehearsals consuming most of her time every day. In addition to rehearsals, Nesbit studied Italian for up to 15 hours per week. She attended weekly coaching sessions with Rossini Opera Festival coaches twice a week and two voice lessons per week. This was her first experience in a touring show and she had the opportunity to perform throughout Italy, including the areas of Rimini,Talamello and Novafeltria.

Nesbitt described the performance experience in Italy as like no other.

“People love opera in Italy,” said Nesbitt. “Getting to perform for such enthusiastic audiences who could understand the text we were singing was incredible.”

Summer Spotlight: Alexandra Mattson, horn

Alexandra Mattson performing in a masterclass for Richard “Gus” Sebring

French horn player Alexandra Mattson was invited to attend the Atlantic Brass Quintet Seminar on scholarship this summer. The seminar ran from July 9-21, and was held at Tufts University in Somerville, Mass. The event included coaching, masterclasses, private lessons, and public performances in the university’s concert hall.

Mattson was assigned to a brass quintet for the two-week seminar and had a performance each week with her quintet. The seminar participants ranged from high schoolers to middle-aged musicians, and the faculty included members of the Atlantic Brass Quintet as well as Triton Brass. Mattson had the opportunity to perform in a masterclass for Richard “Gus” Sebring, associate principal horn of the Boston Symphony Orchestra and principal horn of the Boston Pops Orchestra.

“Performing at the seminar was probably one of the greatest experiences I’ve had personally and musically,” said Mattson.

Summer Spotlight: Caleb Paxton, Viola

Violist Caleb Paxton attended his third year at the Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival in Burlington, Vt. from June 25 to July 23. Paxton served as a resident assistant at the event this year, which included a scholarship. Festival participants ranged in age from as young as 13 years old, to older than 30. The festival included faculty and student performances, masterclasses, private lessons, and more. The intensive program required four mandatory hours of practice each morning, and three hours of rehearsal in the evening.

“The trip helped me stay focused on maintaining a certain level of playing,” said Paxton. “Being surrounded by people who are better than you is just the best thing, and that’s what happens to me every year at this festival.”

Alumni Kudos | Achievers and adventurers abroad

Alden Bean Blevins received the Phi Kappa Phi 2017 Love of Learning Award. One hundred of these awards are announced twice a year, and each carries a $500 scholarship for professional development.

Jared Broussard has accepted a full-time position as Lecturer in Trumpet at the University of Texas Rio Grand Valley.

Jonathan Forbes has accepted a high school music teacher position at Saigon South International School in Saigon, Vietnam. He will direct the band, orchestra, and jazz band, as well as teach IB Music.

Robert “Scot” Mitchell has accepted a full-time job at Forest Hills Elementary in Danville, Va. He’s will direct the fifth-grade band, chorus, and an Orff ensemble, and is also teaching general music.

No BS! Brass Band was named the top “Next local band that should be on late-night television” by Richmond Magazine as part of the 2017 Best & Worst poll.

Trey Pollard was featured in Style Weekly for his arrangements written for local musicians Matthew E. White, Natalie Prass, Tim Barry and Clair Morgan to perform with the Richmond Symphony.

Jon Schoepflin and Madeline Barker‘s chapter of Tri-M Music Honor Society at Elizabeth Davis Middle School in Chester, Va. was awarded 2017 Chapter of the Year by the National Association for Music Education.

Samson Trinh was featured in the Richmond Times-Dispatch for his Hamilton-inspired concert at Dogwood Dell in June. Trinh transcribed and arranged all the parts to fit his 26-member orchestra.


Faculty Kudos | Suzuki success and voted the best

Justin Alexander ‘s percussion duo Novus Percutere (with Dr. Luis Rivera, University of South Alabama) was recently featured on the debut album from the Music And / As Process Society on the UK-based Reductive Music Label.

Paul Bakeman was named by Richmond Magazine as “Best school art or music teacher” for the Hanover region as part of the 2017 “Best & Worst” poll.

Karmalita Bawar was accepted as a researcher for the International Suzuki Piano Workshop in Philadelphia and unanimously voted as Secretary to the Suzuki Piano Basics Foundation. This fall, Bawar will lead a Master Class Workshop hosted by the Atlanta Area Suzuki Piano Association (AASPA).

Steven Cunningham earned an endorsement with Cannonball Musical Instruments as a trumpet artist.

Erin Freeman and the Richmond Symphony Chorus were recognized by Richmond Magazine as the Best Community Band/Orchestra/Choir as part of the 2017 “Best & Worst” poll.

Sandy Goldie has published a new book, “String Instruments: Purchasing, Maintenance, Troubleshooting and More” through Meredith Music Publications/Hal Leonard. She will also present at the upcoming 2017 Society for Music Teacher Education Conference where she will discuss school-university teaching partnerships and highlight VCU Music’s partnership with St. Andrew’s School.

Alice Hammel has published a new book, “Teaching Music To Students With Special Needs: A Practical Resource” through Oxford University Press.


Student Kudos | A scholar and a delegate

Christine Hilbert was awarded the Richmond Music Teachers Association (RMTA) Collegiate Scholarship for the 2017-2018 school year. As part of the award, Hilbert has been invited to perform in recital at this year’s Playathon.

Robert Williamson III was named a delegate for the Australasian Trumpet Academy.

Alumni Kudos | Gamelan and Bang on a Can

Hannah Standiford was awarded a Fulbright scholarship to further study keroncong music in Indonesia. She spent the 2014-15 school year studying gamelan and keroncong under the Darmasiswa scholarship after first participating in Gamelan Raga Kusuma, a community Balinese gamelan group based in Richmond. After returning to Richmond from Indonesia, Hannah founded Rumput, a folk group that mixes keroncong and Appalachian music. Learn more by watching her TEDxRVAWomen talk:

Natalie Quick, also a member of Rumput and Gamelan Raga Kusama, was awarded the Darmasiswa scholarship to study gamelan in Indonesia for the 2017-2018 academic year.

Michael Hearst was invited to give the keynote address at VCUarts commencement, and was profiled in the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Richmond Magazine. Read his commencement speech transcript here.

Robert Andrew Scott was selected to participate in the 16th annual Bang on a Can Summer Festival at at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Mass. The selection process is extremely rigorous with fewer than ten composers awarded acceptance.

Chris Johnston has been working in the film industry as a music consultant. He hires musicians, writes/records music, trains actors to play instruments and researches period music and instruments for scenes. Some of his recent credits include HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries, Spielberg’s “Lincoln” (Look for Dr. West in the beginning of the movie!) and AMC’s “TURN: Washington’s Spies.” Johnston is also director of orchestras at Thomas Dale High School Center for the Arts.

Brianna Sklute earned a Master of Music in Conducting from University of Louisville and was named band director of Clover Hill High School.

Denver Walker earned a Master of Music from Shenandoah Conservatory of Music.

Jacob Devol was recognized by Patrick Henry High School as Beginning Teacher of the Year.

Kevin Estes became the new Personnel Manager of the Richmond Symphony Orchestra. He had most recently served as the Program Coordinator for the Performing Arts at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, coordinating and expanding the live music and performing arts offerings within the hospital facilities.

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