VCU Music: Out Loud

Featured profiles of the students, alumni, faculty, staff, and friends who make up VCU Music. Sign up for our mailing list to get the latest department news and information on upcoming events from VCU Music.

April 2014: Emerson and Kathy Hughes

While students at VCU Music, Emerson and Kathy Hughes’ musical friendship evolved into something more and the college sweethearts wed their senior year of college. Kathy served as accompanist for Emerson, a vocalist, and in spring 1965, the two Music Education majors graduated from VCU Music. In the past 50 years, the two have nurtured a family, a business, and their respective careers in and out of the music field. Post-graduation, the two began music education careers in Henrico County, but a new venture soon presented itself.

In 1972, after a talk with a friend and local veterinarian, the two set off like many enterprising entrepreneurs. Recognizing a need where other Richmond-area businesses were lacking, the two began Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. What began simply as a space for clients to leave their pets during vacations has now turned into a premier resort for pets. Holiday Barn has even received national notoriety from the Travel Channel as one of the “Top 10 Places to Pamper a Pooch.” Now, the couple’s quest for a family business has expanded to two locations with 125 employees and their son Michael (VCU c/o 1997, M.B.A.) at the helm. Read more »

January-February 2014: Christopher Mastromarino

Christopher Mastromarino, affectionately called “Mr. M” by the students he is leading at Matoaca Middle School in Chesterfield County, is a current undergraduate student in the Music Education program.

His musical journey began with the same tools that many others may remember fondly. The familiar story involves a second-hand piano and childhood music lessons. “When I was young,” Mastromarino reflected, “my father bought me a full-size piano.” The piano, perhaps found with the help of the local newspaper’s classified section, didn’t make lessons any easier for Mastromarino. But Elton John tunes played by ear kept his interest in piano fresh.

A native of Sterling, VA, Mastromarino’s family moved to Arundel, MD during his teenage years. Mastromarino remembers that the school’s music program was a stark cry from what he was used to in Northern Virginia. In Virginia, he was a member of several choruses and ensembles throughout the years. His new environment in Maryland, though, didn’t have as many diverse musical opportunities. As a result, students like Mastromarino took on new roles and responsibilities, even assisting with ensembles and music courses.

Read more »

November 2013: Dr. Lisa Edwards-Burrs


Not many musicians can say that they’ve performed the national anthem for the President of the United States. Nor can many musicians say that their composer brother-in-law invited them to sing on an original opera. In addition to her work as an educator, Soprano Edwards-Burrs is an accomplished performer. In articles and reviews, her voice has been praised for its “crystalline beauty,” regularly performing classical and sacred music, as well as her hallmark — opera.

Dr. Edwards-Burrs received a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Vocal Performance and a Master of Music (M.M.) in Vocal Performance from Virginia Commonwealth University. She earned her Doctorate of Music Arts (D.M.A.) in Vocal Performance from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. When asked about the experience of getting her doctorate, she relayed her experience of commuting from Richmond to D.C. several times a week for classes. Read more »

Junior Anna Moore with Ghanaian students.

September 2014: Anna Moore

As the VCU campus comes back to life with students returning, many of them will ask each other, “What did you do over the summer?”  Some will talk about summer school, beach trips or boring summer jobs. For Anna Moore, there’s an inspirational story to tell.

Moore, a junior majoring in music education, spent the month of June in the remote village of Asiafo Amanfro in eastern Ghana. As a volunteer with the Akaa Project, she taught music to over 100 students at the Asiafo Amanfro Community School.

The Akaa Project is a nonprofit that focuses on community development in eastern Ghana by promoting improved education and healthcare. Moore originally connected with the nonprofit’s founder, Lauren Grimanis, on a VCU study abroad trip to Ghana in the summer of 2012 to study tribal drumming, the African xylophone (gyil), dance and storytelling.

Since Moore had visited Ghana before, she had an idea what to expect.

“There is no running water, no electricity, and really poor cell service,” Moore said. “We collected rainwater for bathing, drank from water satchels, and used battery and solar-powered ‘torches’ after sunset.”

Read more »

October 2013: Dr. Terry Austin

Terry_AustinFor many, the thought of packing up every possession you can think of, including your family and flying 6000-plus miles away would be a daunting task. That is not quite the case for Dr. Terry Austin.

Suspicion had not yet set in when Austin received an email from a friend that mysteriously said, “Send me your current resume and a picture. Don’t ask me why.”

Initially, he “thought it was [for] something completely different.”

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September 2013: Colby Mullen, voice

Colby_MullenFor some, internships were a dreaded experience. Part of this anxiety probably stemmed from media representations of interns doing nothing but fetching lunch orders or filing decades-old dusty papers. Interns are often afraid that after weeks or months, they will have nothing to list on their resumes except “coffee order expert” or “copy machine troubleshooter.” But for some, internships are life-changing experiences. Internships can open up a wealth of information into the fields that have only been studied in the context of a classroom. Internships can provide an avenue of skills and provide a way for students to imagine their future.

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May 2013: Marla Smith, flute

MarlaSmithFlutist Marla Smith’s story is one that many VCU Music students and alumni can relate to. A native of Chesapeake, VA, she attended Hickory High School and then the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, VA, Marla came to Richmond after a long and lively familiarity with the performing arts. After her contact with classmates who attended VCU Music and were progressing well into their artistry, a lesson with assistant professor and flutist Tabatha Easley, and a guest conductor appearance by Daniel Myssyk, her decision to become part of the VCU Music family was solidified.

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April 2013: Daniel Myssyk


A good teacher doesn’t simply lecture, mark up test papers, and repeat the process endlessly for semesters; a good teacher enlightens and challenges students. To so many students, Daniel Myssyk, Assistant Professor and Director of Orchestral Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, has done just that in their lives. In the words of Justin Williams, a 2011 VCU music education graduate, Myssyk is a “master teacher.” Williams stated, “[He] focuses on the student before the music…[he] is just as focused on creating skilled people as he is focused on creating skilled musicians.” Senior flutist Marla Smith stated similarly that her experiences with Myssyk “opened up a lot of things for me.” Read more »

March 2013: Karmalita Bawar

Karmalita2VCU Music alumni have fascinating stories on their undergraduate years. Bawar, VCU Music Financial/Human Resource Assistant, (’90) is no different. With such a varied background as hers (she nearly majored in synthesizers, people!), it’s no surprise that her career has spanned from nearly every facet of music administrative support at VCU to composing and even teaching.

Bawar has worked in various support positions for the Department of Music since studying for her Bachelor of Music in Composition and Theory from VCU. She began assisting the department as a student employee as a concert hall assistant where she worked lighting and sound for concerts and box office sales. Over the years, she’s even done quite a bit of admissions, marketing, and alumni relations work for the department. Bawar is certainly a “Jane of all Trades” when it comes to music – in the department and beyond. Read more »

January 2013: Dr. Charles West

Dr. Charles West
Dr. Charles West was “blown away” when he received the VCU School of the Arts Award of Excellence in 2011. “That was really unexpected,” he said. “It’s the highest faculty honor the School gives out and to be among that elite crowd of folks who have received the award over the years — it really makes me want to go out and work hard to deserve the honor.”