Geoffrey Schmelzer, Class of May 2021
- College of Fine and Applied Arts
I majored in Voice while at Illinois, and I chose that path based on my love for music and performance. I was involved with the Lyric Theatre department and their Opera Scenes courses, and was a member of the Chamber Singers, which is one of Illinois’ choirs. Being a part of the Chamber Singers prepared me for the intense choral work I’m doing in my graduate program at Northwestern University.
While in the program, I worked closely with Jerold Siena, who was my applied voice teacher. He really fostered my love of singing and of languages. I learned a lot from him about vocal literature in general. He is incredibly knowledgeable about opera and art songs in addition to being a great vocal pedagogue.
My vocal coach was Dr. Casey Robards, who joined the faculty my sophomore year. Coaching with her was fabulous for both art songs and opera. I even had the fantastic experience of collaborating with her on my senior recital. I also got to work with Julie and Nathan Gunn, who are prominent in the world of opera and really have a finger on the pulse of the industry. The advice we received from them was indispensable. They incorporated student workshops of new operas into our seasons. This was amazing because we were able to work with prominent opera composers. Workshopping their new ideas and developing their works provided an excellent glimpse into the contemporary opera world.
I applied widely for graduate school and decided on Northwestern’s program because I was excited to work with a very respected voice teacher who is on the faculty. I had taken a few lessons with him and really admired his teaching style, so Northwestern had long been one of my top choices for graduate school.
The choral department was also a huge draw. The director of choirs has won several Grammys with his professional group, and the choir I sing with is actually modeled after this ensemble. In addition to these factors, I knew that the music program at Northwestern had a long history of excellence, not only in musicianship, but in music scholarship.
From the moment I came to Northwestern, every single faculty member I interacted with felt like a perfect fit. Everyone is on the same page in terms of the artistic values they’re trying to instill in the school’s young musicians. Because of this, you never feel overwhelmed by conflicting ideas from different professors; everyone is truly unified. I think that’s what is really beautiful about this school.
There is a small group of about fifteen master’s students in my class. We have many different classes together, including opera rehearsals and workshops in which we study acting. We are all truly in this together, and we have a great sense of community in our vocal development. I’m really looking forward to the rest of my time here. I’m in a two-year program and I want to make the absolute most of that time.
This summer I’ll be singing professionally in an opera company’s young artist program, which a lot of singers do each summer. After I graduate, I’ll hopefully work in year-long programs along with summer programs. In five years, I would ideally like to be working in young artist programs with opera companies, along with concert, recital, and even choral work .
My advice would be to really make the most of what you have at the University of Illinois, especially the faculty members. You’re so incredibly lucky to be on close terms with these very prominent individuals. Additionally, take advantage of the amazing libraries and other buildings. The Krannert Center for Performing Arts, for example, is a place which we often take for granted as Illinois students. It may feel normal when we are there all the time, but having five different theaters under one roof, where all the artistic events in the community are concentrated – that’s really a one-of-a-kind experience. Our university is a hub for so many intellectual and artistic fields; it’s kind of like an oasis in the middle of the state. So, really take advantage of how everything is so concentrated here, and of all the incredible resources and people who come to Champaign-Urbana.
(Last updated: February 24, 2022)