KOKOMO, Ind. — Cody Kopka dreams of a career on stage, as an opera singer.
A new vocal performance workshop class at Indiana University Kokomo prepares him for that future, with seasoned performer Garry Grice sharing his talents and experiences.
“This is the type of training you expect at a music conservatory, and I am so grateful to be receiving it here,” said Kopka, a junior from Kokomo. “Having Garry as my instructor is wonderful, because of his professional singing experience. I’m getting to work one-on-one with a professional in my field.”
Grice, an adjunct instructor of music, noted that while several of the students have previous experience singing as soloists or in choirs, many have never performed on stage.
“It’s different to be on a stage singing and acting than it is to be part of a choir,” he said. “We’re also exposing them to literature different than what they may have performed in the past.”
The final exam is a public performance at 7 p.m. Thursday, December 15, in Kresge Auditorium. The evening will feature selections from Broadway musicals The Music Man and The Most Happy Fella, Gilbert and Sullivan comic operas The Gondoliers and The Mikado; and traditional operas Hansel and Gretel and Die Fledermaus.
The semester began with auditions – not for inclusion in the class, but for Grice to hear students’ voices, and better select music tailored to their abilities. He noted that while some are enrolled in the music concentration of the humanities program, others are studying biology, psychology, education, and English, with no plans to perform professionally.
“We want to stretch them a little, but we don’t want to break anybody,” he said. “We want it to be enjoyable. It needs to be fun.”
During one early rehearsal, Amber Moore and Emily Booher worked through scenes as Rosabella and Cleo from The Most Happy Fella, singing together seated at a table, sheet music in hand, while Grice conducted from the front of the room, and Ian Denson accompanied them on piano and filled in lines.
“I’ve always enjoyed singing and acting,” Booher said. “It’s been an experience to delve into solos. I haven’t done as many of those.”
Later, they began staging “The Wells Fargo Wagon,” from The Music Man, pushing tables and chairs to the center to represent the audience, leaving open areas on the side as the aisles in Kresge Auditorium. It takes some imagination, Grice said, having their small classroom serve as a practice stage.
“It’s a challenge to do something that expansive in a small space,” he said.
He placed students in lines along the side, directing each one individually to his or her spot on the stage as the music begins. As Denson plays the opening bars, the actors start onto stage, and Grice quickly stops them.
“Are you going to a funeral? You’re supposed to be excited,” he said. “OK, now, with gusto!” He reminds Booher that her character should be seated and pouting at the beginning, because she didn’t get a present.
Denson began playing again, and students quickly make their way to their spots. As they sing, the girls leave the stage, cross through the auditorium, and come back on the opposite side. They have to try a second time, learning they have to move more quickly to be in place at the right time in the music.
Late in the song, Kopka and Kenton Schroer exit and return with a pretend box, which they hand to Booher. She hoists the present high at center stage, a joyous smile on her face, as the song ends.
Kopka appreciates the advice Grice offers, knowing it comes from professional experience.
“It’s really shaped the way I perform,” he said.
Kathryn Cronnin, Tipton, doesn’t plan a career in music, but enjoys learning more about music and relieving stress during a busy semester.
“It’s kind of nice to take a class and have fun doing something I love,” she said.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana