UC San Diego's Department of Music

June 02, 2008

  Soprano Superb Emily Pelc graduates from UCSD with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in June 2008. This summer, she heads to San Francisco, where she will continue her pursuit of a career in opera at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Interview by Jennifer De La O

Q: Tell us a little about yourself: where you're from, where you went to school before UCSD.

A: I grew up in Los Altos in the Bay Area and began more seriously pursuing musical studies in middle school with private voice lessons, and in high school through involvement with an advanced travelling choir (The Main Street Singers). With that group I was able to fuse my passion for travel with my love of performing by participating in a three week international tour to Russia and the Baltics. When I got to UCSD I was not sure I would major in Music and began taking classes for a degree in Chemistry with a minor in vocal performance. By the end of my first year it was clear to me that I was more suited to follow my creative impulses than the drier academia. I switched my major to music at the beginning of my sophomore year and began taking theory classes to add to the performance classes I was already enrolled in.

Q: What are your thoughts on the Department of Music at UCSD?

A: The department is very small in comparison with most of my friends' majors here. The size creates aspects about the department I love, and others that I have learned to accommodate for. Because there are so few students in relation to the faculty, it has been relatively easy for me to build personal relationships with faculty, and to elicit the wisdom of the graduate students. I love the level of encouragement and opportunity that comes with being able to pick the brains of some of these extremely talented and experienced musicians. The downside in such a small department is there aren't enough male singers(!), which makes it impossible to do a full production (at least while I've been here - I'd told they did them in the past). To get around this, the voice department offers an Opera Workshop in which I was able to perform isolated scenes with male counterparts, and practice immersing myself entirely in an operatic role. The department is very much geared towards the study of more contemporary music, and since my area of focus is significantly earlier, I have had the opportunity here to expand my knowledge and have begun to incorporate some newer works into my repertoire.

Q: So your passion is classical music, particularly for voice. And you prefer opera over 'new,' or contemporary, music - Why?

A: What I love about opera is the ability to communicate emotion through music. Each facet: libretto (story), orchestra, solo voice or ensemble, as well as dramatic action, costume, and scenery all combine to transport people to another place and time. My scope is not limited and I appreciate all kinds of music, and I feel that the experiences (especially the modern theory analysis classes) I have had at UCSD have broadened me as a musician, but there is something about opera as a classic art form that remains significant to me. Growing up acting in musicals probably has a lot to do with my affection for musical drama, and the logical next step as my tastes evolved was opera. What could be better than playing dress up, having all eyes on me, and getting to do what I love while being part of a group that collaborates organically to produce a result that is unique to the moment? My mother has asked me, "Wouldn't you be bored performing the same role and the same music every night?" And my response would be yes, if that statement were at all true. The aspect I look forward to the most about working with professional musicians is that spontaneity and interaction will always produce a unique result. I can craft my character to be in whatever state I wish through the nuances of my voice and my body, and this will challenge me to always approach each musical moment with fresh perspective. If I had to pick a favorite era of opera it would be Romantic. I have performed music from Early Baroque styles through more modern compositions composed in the mid 1900s. I find myself drawn either to Bel Canto composers like Bellini and Verdi or to the schmaltzy romance of Puccini and Massenet. These compositions overflow with emotion, and it is this type of expression that I love most of all.

Q: Now that you are graduating, what's next?

A: I'll attend the San Francisco Conservatory of Music for my Masters degree. I have been accepted into the voice studio of Sylvia Anderson, and will begin study with her in the Fall. The Masters program there is two years, after which I suppose I will have to start searching all over again for my next destination. I love to travel and if an opera career could take me overseas, I would gladly go (although I'd be just as happy ending up in New York or staying in California). I plan to work as hard as I can to break into the performance scene, where there is abundant competition for classical sopranos. All I can do is continue cultivating my style and hope for the best.

Q: What were the most important things you learned as a music undergrad at UCSD? Which professors were important to your growth?

A: Every professor I have grown to know over my time at UCSD has their own specialty pool of knowledge and experience to draw from. Because of my interest in opera, Carol Plantamura has been the most influential among faculty I've worked with. Her experiences in operatic performance have given her invaluable expertise that I have done my best to absorb. She is an inspiration to me as I begin to plan my career path, and she has been a crucial figure preparing me for it. Beyond coaching me musically, she and Stefani Walens (the department's piano accompanist) have constantly guided me in the search for competitions, summer programs, and other opportunities for me to gain performance experience. In the theory-based side of my education, there have been three main faculty and graduate students who have made a lasting impression. Ed Harkins (trumpet) and Philip Larson (baritone voice) were an integral team my first and second years. They taught me the rudiments of music theory as well as practical skills such as sight singing, dictation and rhythm reading. I have never come across someone as full of individual spirit and rhythmic mastery as Ed Harkins, and it is because of the opportunity I had to learn from him that these skills have become second nature to me. Philip Larson was a key figure in rudiments, as well, but also became a close mentor of mine through the Chamber Singers group he leads. Another important teacher, performer, and contact I met through the Music 2 series (lower division theory) was Kathleen Gallagher. Her combination of humor, amiability, and expertise seem to be a combination found in many members of the music department. Kathleen has been a teaching assistant of mine, a performance collaborator, and also a role model and personal friend I have grown to admire.

Q: What were some of your favorite performances this past year?

A: I had the opportunity to perform in the Opera Workshop ensemble for two quarters and was able to learn and perform (with set/props) three timeless duets. The first duet I performed was with an undergrad with a non-music major, and we took on the letter scene (Sull'aria) from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro. I was able to work with Diego Ubiera (a Graduate student in Spanish Literature) on a love duet from La Boheme (Puccini), and with Malina Bowman (a recent graduate) on the flower duet from Madama Butterfly (Puccini).

In the required Music–3 (New Music Performance) course I performed with a group of incredible musicians on a Luciano Berio piece entitled "O King," a very challenging modern piece. Our professor, well known classical and jazz pianist Cecil Lytle, was gracious enough to play on this piece, and grad students involved included Nicholas Deyoe (conductor), Carolyn Lechusza-Aquallo (cello) and Reiko Manabe (flute). Undergrad performers included me, Katie Doyle (violin) and Dipika Gopal (clarinet). By throwing myself into this type of music I was much more able to appreciate and understand it than by just listening to it. Modern theory and history classes can teach me about pieces and composers, but by performing them I can experience more closely the composer's intended message or expressive notion.

Because my emphasis here is in solo singing, the musician I have performed with the most has been piano accompanist Stefani Walens. She and I have been able to build a physical language that allows her to catch and gloss over
my mistakes and gives me the confidence to keep the performance momentum if she ever falters (not likely). Stefani is the department accompanist who plays for every master class and for the private lessons of Carol Plantamura's upper division students.

Q: What motivates you to pursue your goal in music?

A: For the past two Summers I have participated in intensive opera training programs. The Summer of 2006 I went to Siena, Italy for the Siena Summer Session of Music and the Arts (SSMA - Sessione Senese per la Musica el'arte). This past Summer I spent in San Francisco taking courses and performing with BASOTI (Bay Area Summer Opera Theater Institute). Both of these experiences have been direct training for a career as an opera performer, and through these programs I have gotten a real taste for what a life of music would entail. In classes regarding the business of music I have been warned (multiple times) that "if there is anything else [you] can picture yourself doing with your it!" Experience musicians
have told me repeatedly that the competition (especially among sopranos) is brutal, the rejection almost everyone goes through can be soul-shaking, and there is very little room in the limelight (and it takes a certain drive to arrive there).

I can see how these bits of advice might seem admonishing, but to me they have been a source of inspiration. I want to beat the odds, work tirelessly, and climb the ladder to the spotlight. The courses I have taken in auditioning and presenting myself as a singer leave no room for doubt. If I question myself or my goals I will never achieve them. The program in San Francisco has especially fueled my enthusiasm at least for the short term. After getting to know the city, the musicians at the conservatory, and my soon to be voice coach Sylvia Anderson I am extremely motivated to pursue my goals as a student and artist.

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