Faculty Kudos

Wells Hanley received an Adjunct Faculty Research grant from the School of the Arts in support of the upcoming release of his new album Outside Inside.

Cheryl Van Ornam performed an organ recital on the historic Flentrop Organ at Adolphus Busch Hall, one of Harvard University’s Art Museums. The program of Dutch music honored the native country of the builder (Dirk. A. Flentrop) and memorialized her own studies at the Haarlem Summer Organ Academy in the Netherlands.

Charles West published a new book, Woodwind Instruments (Meredith Music). This publication comes on the heels of his Woodwind Methods book last year.

Dr. Terry Austin Named as Honorary Faculty Member for 2016-17 at Guang Dong University

In the summer of 2015, Dr. Terry Austin was invited to come to the Guang Dong University of Technology to serve as a guest conductor on campus. VCU Music faculty member Rex Richardson had previously played at the university, and had maintained a relationship with the band director, Ming Hui Liao. Western-style band music is still very new in China, and Liao knew he wanted his students to have the opportunity to work on their technique. He contacted Austin and asked him to come over and work with his students.

“I was there for a week, and I was stunned at the passion these students had for band music,” Austin noted. Read more »



Dr. Zheng led another successful Global Summer Institute of Music the first week in August at VCU. A group of more than 70 musicians, students and parents from around the globe spent an enriching week at VCU presenting  concerts and being immersed in a variety of both artistically and culturally inspiring events such as lectures, masterclasses, workshops, English conversations, and excursions to the VMFA and the nation’s Capitol.


Horn student Gloria Ramirez played an outstanding mock audition with members of the USMC President’s Own Band horn section in May. The reviewing committee remarked at Gloria’s positive energy and level of preparation.

Richmond Music Teachers Association (RMTA) awarded Jordyn Burton an RMTA Collegiate scholarship in recognition of her strong work.

Supported by a Department of Music Student Research Grant, Emory Freeman attended the Buffet Clarinet Academy this past summer and writes about his experience at his blog.

Trevor White was profiled in the VCU News story “Rising Freshman Finds His Voice Through Vocal Arts Project.”


Stephanie Barrett is attending the Lynn Conservatory to pursue graduate work with David Cole.

Jack Flores received a full tuition + stipend Graduate Assistantship at Florida State University to pursue his graduate work with Greg Sauer.

Lanjiabao Ge accepted a full teaching assistantship and living stipend to attend the University of Miami Frost School of Music for fall 2016.

Malcolm Jones is attending San Jose State with a scholarship and a waiver of out-of-state tuition. He is studying vocal performance and choral conducting.

Hannah Standiford’s project, “Shadow Ballads,” was performed at the University of Richmond, and was profiled in the Richmond Times Dispatch.

Eric Jacobs is tenured in the Seattle Symphony, and performed a series of concerts to bring music to those behind bars.

Rustin “Cetch” Waters has accepted the position of Band Director at Kempsville High School in Virginia Beach.

Anna Bishop is beginning her second season as a violinist with the Richmond Symphony.

Aaron Jones is attending graduate school at Arizona State University.

VCU Jazz Alumni in Turkey

Alumnus/Prof. Taylor Barnett starts the summer off with a ten-day performance tour of Turkey sponsored by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, joining American and Turkish musicians in performances of traditional Turkish folk melodies, arranged to incorporate elements of American jazz improvisation. VCU Jazz Drum alumnus Emre Kartari wrote the grant that funded the trip. Sax alumnus Kevin Simpson was also a member of the ensemble.

VCU Music pilots Lullaby Project with Carnegie Hall

Through a partnership with Carnegie Hall’s Lullaby Project, VCU musicians, are working with researchers and health care providers from across the university on an intervention for new or expectant mothers facing the hardships of parenting in challenging settings such as correctional facilities, group homes for teenagers and hospitals. Such settings often hinder mothers from bonding with their newborns. The Lullaby Project aims to increase the mother-child bond through language that is universal: music.

Read the full article by Leila Ugincius at VCU News…

It’s All in the Game

Doug Richards’ CD documenting his Great American Music Ensemble is released March 4. Says JazzTimes online in February: “The album – which delivers 15 cuts! – is a musical marvel in every regard…. In the shrewdest of ways, Richards shows he knows the fine line between creative experimentation and jejune jive (of which there’s none). The ensemble is admirably and swingingly up to the task. They cover the challenging material with flair and precision.” Almost every regular member of The Great American Music Ensemble on this disc has ties to VCU Jazz as an alumnus or former or current faculty member.

Read VCU News article by Leila Ugincius

Professor uses sports method in the studio

One thing that most highly successful athletes have in common: They watch themselves over and over again — and then just once more — to figure out why they aren’t performing the way they want…By incorporating the time-honored athletic ritual of “watching film,” violin professor Susanna Klein has students analyze video recordings of themselves performing as part of a more effective, real-world, student-centered learning model. The model has been adopted using the School of the Arts state-of-the-art motion capture lab at The Depot and supported by a grant from ALT Lab.

Read the full story by Blake Birdwell at VCU News…

Welcoming Erin Freeman as VCU Music Director of Choral Activities & Director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus

The Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts and the Richmond Symphony have announced the creation of the new joint position of director of choral activities at VCU and director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus. The position is being piloted as a one-year, non-tenured faculty appointment for the 2014-2015 academic year.

Pending final approval, Erin R. Freeman, D.M.A., current director of the Richmond Symphony Chorus and holder of the James Erb Choral Chair at the Richmond Symphony, will be named initially to the new joint position, which carries a faculty rank of assistant professor in the VCU School of the Arts Department of Music.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the VCU music department,” Freeman said. “Through my work with the Richmond Symphony, I have had the honor of getting to know and work with the faculty on several occasions. I am pleased to become their academic colleague in the fall.”

The VCU School of the Arts is consistently ranked as one of the top graduate arts schools in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Darryl V. Harper, chair of the Department of Music in the VCU School of the Arts, said he’s excited about the possibilities created by the new position.

“We are delighted that Dr. Freeman will be lending her formidable talents to the VCU community, and we are excited about the potential of this new collaboration with RSO,” Harper said.

Following Freeman’s tenure as associate conductor of the Richmond Symphony, the new position allows her to continue to contribute significantly to the musical life of the region and to play a major role in the education of young singers in the commonwealth.

“I am thrilled that Erin will be continuing her exceptionally fine work with the RSO Chorus, as well as becoming a leader in this heightened collaboration with VCU,” said RSO Music Director Steven Smith.

RSO Executive Director David Fisk said the partnership marks an important milestone in the long relationship between VCU School of the Arts and the Richmond Symphony, and Freeman’s participation offers both organizations an opportunity to do more together than either institution could accomplish alone.

“We are excited that Erin has agreed to accept this position and continue her commitment to building community and inspiring audiences in Richmond and beyond,” Fisk said.

Summer 2014 VCU Music Programs and Upcoming Events

Orchestra Project
June 22-27, 2014

The VCU Orchestra Project, a joint venture between VCU Music and the Richmond Symphony, is a unique orchestra camp. Staffed entirely by some of the most talented players and teachers in Richmond — VCU professors and full-time musicians from the Richmond Symphony — it is designed to immerse young players in the magic of great music making. The mission of the VCU Orchestra Project is to bring about transformative growth in young musicians in one week’s time.

Vocal Arts Project
July 7 – 11, 2014

Join VCU Music for the Vocal Arts Project — a summer music camp designed for singers entering grades 6 through 12 in fall 2014. This week-long camp provides singers with a comprehensive choral experience. Singers will be placed in choirs according to voicing and ability level.  Throughout the week they have classes in theory & sight-singing (by level), drama, vocal technique and world drumming.

Guitar & Other Strings Series

Stephen Bennet to perform on 2014 Guitar & Other Strings Series

Stephen Bennet to perform on 2014 Guitar & Other Strings Series

The Guitar and Other Strings Series, held every July, features all styles of music — jazz, bluegrass, folk, Celtic, flamenco, classical and blues.

Begun in 1992, the series has presented nationally and internationally acclaimed artists in concerts and workshops. Artists who have performed on this series include Leo Kottke, Mark O’Connor, John Hartford, John Jackson, the Washington Guitar Quintet, Charlie Byrd, the Tony Rice Unit, the Del McCoury Band, the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Pierre Bensusan and Stephen Bennett. The VCU Community Guitar Ensemble also performs annually on this series.

July 11: Banjo Masters featuring Tony Trischka, John Bullard, and Adam Larrabee
July 18: Quatro na Bossa
July 25: Stephen Bennett
July 27: VCU Community Guitar Ensemble

Purchase tickets here

Summer at CenterStage

Summer Series at CenterStage.

Summer Series at CenterStage.


In partnership with CenterStage and University of Richmond, VCU Music presents a new summer concert series starting in July 2014. In its inaugural season, the eight one-hour long recital style concerts will feature the complete sonatas of Johannes Brahms as well as other works for piano and solo instrument.  Summer at CenterStage is perfect for those new to the classical music experience, as well as for the most die-hard listeners and offers fantastic music in a relaxed environment.

Learn more here


Music Education Graduate Studies Programs

The summer masters in Music Education is intended to be completed in three consecutive summer sessions and is structured into three cognate areas: Music Education, Music Pedagogy and Professional Education. The structure of a summer-only program presents a challenge to the creation of a tradition learning community of scholars.

Global Summer Piano Institute
August 3-10, 2014

GSPI is an intensive program that is specifically tailored to talented young Chinese-speaking pianists who are curious about being exposed to a unique set of hybrid Eastern and Western cultural learning. The institute provides valuable feedback from multiple faculty while simultaneously allowing for immersive instrumental experiences in a supportive environment. Participants enroll in activities such as daily piano lessons, master classes, workshops, concerts, English language groups and an excursion to Washington, D.C., the nation’s capitol.

A “work” of art: VCU Opera & VCU Symphony present The Merry Widow


Backstage, students assemble parts for the upcoming opera.


Students practice care measuring and cutting parts for The Merry Widow’s scenery.

It’s no surprise that the origin of the word “opera” in Italian is “work.” Planning a full-scale opera production for VCU Music is, in fact, a lot of “work.” Melanie Day and Kenneth Wood, Co-Directors of VCU Opera, face considerable challenges that could easily keep opera from being part of VCU’s artistic heritage. But each year, the directors prevail. For two days, the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall is transformed into a Richmond opera house where undergraduate instrumentalists and singers move into the spotlight as virtuosos, charming audiences with delightful drama and music.

Unlike some institutions, many students come to VCU Music with no previous exposure to opera. To audiences and aspiring performers, the art form can be a mystery with its ascending arias, complex costumes, and showy scenery. Opera’s origins are traced back to great composers like Mozart, Rossini, and Strauss who wrote for professional performers of the time. “Opera was not written for amateurs,” quipped Kenneth Wood. As a result, vocal students must undergo a theatrical journey learning stage movements, advancing their acting skills, and refining their own singing abilities.

Students in the orchestra must quickly adapt to “life in the pit” and challenge themselves to follow a series of dramatic, vocal, and conducting cues while carefully counting measures as Daniel Myssyk, Director of VCU Symphony, conducts for both the orchestra and singers on stage. Even those who aren’t performing in the opera are challenged, assisting with demanding behind-the-scenes roles including scenery design, set building, lighting, choreography, costuming, makeup and hair application, and stage management. For all students involved, their “opera journey” comes in tandem with learning music for other ensembles and recitals, and balancing classes and jobs.

“That’s one of the reasons our students aren’t divas,” Day said. From being involved in all aspects of the more than 60 year-old opera company, students have learned to respect the hard work it takes to put together such a monumental production. “[VCU Opera] has tremendously enhanced their understanding of what it takes to put it all together,” Day continued.

So, why The Merry Widow? Franz Lehar’s hit take on a rich widow inspired seductive corsets, glamorous hats – even cocktails and cigarettes. As the 20th century’s most famous widow, Hollywood made three films about the lead Sonia Glawari and Broadway couldn’t get enough. Flirtation, glamour, and high finance are featured as Prince Danilo is ordered to marry the rich young widow or risk the country’s bankruptcy. Audiences will enjoy as the ever-familiar plot, For love or money?, is tested.


Quiet contemplation. A student reads a score during the first day of “Tech Week.”

In taking consideration of students’ vocal range, Day noticed the puzzle pieces of a perfect production fitting together in her search of this year’s opera. “Our singers had the vocal range available to sing these parts. [There were] a lot of a medium-sized parts,” she said, allowing many students to share the spotlight. Day also pointed out that an opera like The Merry Widow “gives singers the chance to learn how to do dialogue,” offering a specific type of training for the ambitious performer. In the case of this spring’s opera, The Merry Widow, students must stretch their usual performance boundaries, learning dance moves like the Viennese waltz and the Can Can!

About eight years ago, members of VCU Opera performed The Merry Widow in Rome as part of Operafestival di Roma, a nonprofit summer opera program in Italy, where Day served as Principal Coach and Artistic Director. Because of that, many of the costumes were available in VCU Opera’s extensive collection. Luck prevailed and the Department already had access to orchestral parts, cutting one of the many fees. Between the basics of royalty and costuming fees, financing an opera is expensive.

Not mentioned yet are the technical, stage demands of the show. As many know, VCU Music’s concert space, the Sonia Vlahcevic Concert Hall is technically not a theatre. Switching from an embassy ball to a garden party to a ballroom might be “par for the course” for an opera or theatre company, but these maneuvers push VCU Opera to its limits. Simply building on campus can be difficult because of storage, sound, and space issues. Technical Director Roland Karnatz has to envision building scenery in small, storable components that can be put together in one day with minimal access to tools. Whew!

With all these pieces in mind, the research process is lengthy. Day and Wood spend the summer researching all of these financial aspects and considering the “big picture” of VCU Opera. “A lot of schools select the show they’re going to do the spring before,” Day said. Day and Wood elect to do their process differently, allowing many students a chance to be involved and holding auditions in the fall.

“We go through all types of effort to do our best,” said Day. And audiences are glad they do. The Merry Widow opens Friday, April 25, with a second performance on Sunday, April 27.

Friday, April 25 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 27 at 4 p.m.

General admission tickets are $10 in advance and $15 on the day of the performance. VCU students with ID are free.

View more backstage photos on our Facebook page!