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Emerging Voices: A Life-changing Opportunity

In August, two faculty from the University of South Carolina School of Music fulfilled a goal — to offer a small group of students a life-changing, week-long singing intensive at Castleton.

Set in a rural area of Virginia, Castleton was originally a musical festival started by the late Maestro Lorin Maazel and his wife Dietlinde Turban Maazel, a noted actress and director. Castleton Festival’s classical music, theatre and opera performances still take place in a European-style theatre converted from a former chicken coop for 15,000 hens.

USC Assistant Professor of Voice Rachel Calloway knows Castleton well. Both she and USC Assistant Professor of Voice Dominic Armstrong sang there quite often after graduate school. Calloway says part of the attraction of Castleton’s theatre is, “it is really easy to sing in for anyone, but especially for young singers.”

Castleton is a beautiful bucolic farm with a jewel box theater that has the most marvelous acoustics. It offers a nice, small and very intimate experience for the audience.

– Rachel Calloway, Assistant Professor of Voice, UofSC School of Music

The road to Castleton began two years ago when Calloway and Armstrong had an idea to perform a Czech opera by Leoš Janáček, “The Diary of One Who Disappeared” singing the principal roles and students singing the secondary roles. The duo thought the project would be a wonderful way to work a fellow colleague from their past. 

“We enjoy working with our friend and colleague Joel Harder, a pianist who teaches at Binghamton University, and thought the opera would a great project to work on together,” says Armstrong. “The idea being we would go there, do this with his students, and then Joel would come here and perform it with us and our students.” 

Elated with the success of the collaboration between the two universities, Calloway and Armstrong began to think of other exchange opportunities for their students.

“After Binghamton, I started thinking we're all Castleton people,” says Armstrong. “What would happen if I reached out to Dietlinde Maazel and said, ‘would you be willing to put on a production that we'd already organized?’”

“Castleton had been a little bit quiet due to the pandemic and Maestro Maazel’s death a few years ago. We reached out to Dietlinde and she was really intrigued by the idea,” says Calloway.

Castleton memoriesThe duo began planning the trip for January 2022. A spike in Covid cases put a halt to the trip.

Coincidentally, Opera at USC director Ellen Schlaefer had chosen the Czech opera for its Spring 2022 one-act series. One of Armstrong’s students was cast for the lead role, giving him an opportunity to teach it. He immediately saw the need for a Czech language expert. 

“It turned out to be one of those ‘blessings in disguise’ type of moments,” Calloway says. 

To pay for Czech voice coaching for the students, the duo applied for a Creativity in Teaching grant through Spark: Music Leadership at Carolina. After being awarded a grant, Calloway and Armstrong rescheduled the Castleton immersion trip with Castleton director Dietlinde Maazel and Joel Harder.

Four students from Opera at USC’s production of “The Diary of One Who Disappeared” were invited to Castleton, including singers Brittany Martin, Daisy Lawrence and LaDejia Tenille Bittle. Pianist Jiamo Zhang rounded out the group.

Armstrong and Calloway agree the trip was a unique opportunity for the students to get close to one another while seeing their faculty in a new light. The group spent each day singing, eating homemade meals prepared by Maazel and staying together on-site. The lack of cell coverage added to the group focusing only on each other and their craft.

“Among the rolling hills and expansive Virginia sky, we explored Czech poetry, coached with incredible artists and mentors, and shared in delicious meals and wonderful conversation. It was such a gift to spend time at Castleton, and I returned to Columbia refreshed, inspired, and energized for all the singing ahead,” says Brittany Martin.

Martin, Lawrence and Bittle also worked closely with Harder and Maazel during the week, receiving lessons and coaching; Maazel also directed the production of “The Diary of One Who Disappeared” at Castleton.

“Dietlinde did in-depth text and dramatic work with them. Also, German diction, coaching and masterclasses. The students sang in front of each other every single day. The confidence and the growth that each of them made within just a week was monumental really,” says Calloway. “We were blown away by their work. The students said that the sense of togetherness that they felt with each other and with us and the whole experience was totally overwhelming. No one wanted to leave.”

Student Daisy Lawrence says Maazel’s German diction coaching was especially valuable. 

“A highlight of my visit was working with Dietlinde Maazel on German Diction and on interpreting the text of my repertoire! I also really enjoyed working closely with professors and colleagues in such a peaceful environment,” she says.  “It was truly an experience I'll never forget.”

“Offering students opportunities like this Castleton voice intensive is a great way for us to differentiate ourselves from other music schools,” says Armstrong.

It’s hugely important for a student’s education to have opportunities like this to get out of the classroom, perform with smaller groups and work with professionals other than faculty. 

– Dominic Armstrong, Assistant Professor of Voice, USC School of Music

About the School of Music

The USC School of Music believes music is an essential component of the human experience. Our mission is to prepare our students to be skilled music leaders to ensure that they advance the quality of life in their communities by helping to make others happier, healthier, more hopeful and more fulfilled through the power of music. We do this not only by advancing musical instruction at the highest level for students' professional preparation, but also by leveraging the actual daily work done by students and faculty in the teaching and learning of music to unlock music’s unlimited potential to improve lives throughout the Midlands and beyond. 

Topics: Voice Department, Rachel Calloway, Dominic Armstrong, Opera at USC, Castleton

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