Category Archives: Profiles

Artist Profiles

Student Profile: Singer of the Year award winner Chaazi Munyanya

Meet Chaazi Munyanya, “Singer of the Year” award winner and junior vocal performance major at Colorado State University. She has been involved in eight operas with CSU and Opera Fort Collins. Her opera performance experience includes the role of Tisbe in Cenerentola by Rossini, Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus by Strauss, and Cherubino in Le Nozze di Figaro by Mozart. She is currently playing the role of Tessa in The Gondoliers by Gilbert and Sullivan. She also performs in CSU’s Chamber Choir under the direction of Dr. James Kim.

How did you prepare for the Singer of the Year competition?
I had my Junior Recital just a week before the Singer of the Year competition. I had been preparing my repertoire for the recital for the past two semesters, so I did not have to further prepare for the competition…I was ready! My voice teacher, Dr. Tiffany Blake, and I had previously decided on two pieces from my recital that I would sing for the competition.

Describe how it felt to be part of the competition?
Before going on stage I was pretty relaxed and excited. My main goal was really to have fun. There comes a certain point when I have prepared my music for a long enough time that performing it becomes almost automatic. There is nothing to be nervous about. I love singing and any opportunity I get to perform is very exciting. Of course after the competition I was extremely happy!

What does winning Singer of the Year mean to you?
Winning the Singer of the Year to me means that a lot of the hard work I have done has not gone unnoticed. I have learned that my efforts to constantly improve, to soak up and appreciate every bit of information and advice I get, to understand how to use the voice I have right now, and to accept what I can do, as well as my limitations, has benefited me greatly and will take me further into my career.

How has the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at CSU cultivated your growth as a singer?
Each professor has had something different and very useful to teach me, and I am very grateful for the amount of work they put into the department. I have learned a lot about my voice and about performing. My voice teacher, Dr. Tiffany Blake, has taught me more than I ever could have imagined. She is so much fun to work with and is such an inspiration. There are so many things she has been able to teach me that have made me the singer I am, and she has given me the confidence to go after my passion for performing. It has been such a great experience at CSU and I am looking forward to an exciting senior year.

What are your goals or your plans after you graduate?
I will be graduating from CSU in the spring of 2012, and my goal for this next year is to devote my time to constant improvement. I feel like there will never be a point where I am done learning, and I believe there will always be something driving me forward towards a greater understanding of music. When I graduate from CSU, I plan on attending a graduate school that will help me reach my goal of performing as a career. I look forward to a lot of challenging work, and I can’t imagine a more enjoyable direction to go with my life.

CSU Opera Theatre Student Profile: Rebekah Gray, The Gondoliers

Meet Rebekah Gray, graduate student studying vocal performance and Casilda in her fourth leading role in the upcoming Colorado State University Opera Theatre production of The Gondoliers.

Gray received her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from Colorado State University. She is now continuing in CSU’s vocal performance Master of Music degree program, currently in her second year. Her performances include Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Kim MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie, Annina in La Traviata, Adele in Die Fledermaus, the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, Clorinda in La Cenerentola, Mrs. Fiorentino in Kurt Weill’s Street Scene, Nanetta in Falstaff, and Musetta in scenes from La Bohème. In addition to playing the role of Casilda in The Gondoliers with Colorado State University Opera Theatre this spring, she will also play Despina in Cosi fan tutte with Opera Orvieto this summer in Orvieto, Italy. Other recent engagements include the soprano soloist in selections from Handel’s Messiah, the soprano soloist in the Poulenc Gloria, and a performance of American composer Michael Daugherty’s What’s That Spell? at the Rocky Mountain Contemporary Music Festival. Ms. Gray is an Apprentice Artist with Opera Fort Collins and participates in their education and outreach program.

How did you prepare for the lead role as Casilda in The Gondoliers? What do you think of the character?

When I prepare any role, I begin by listening to a variety of recordings to get a feel for the style of the music, tempos for different pieces, and how the ensembles fit together. I then spend some time with just my score and the piano, trying to perfect notes and rhythms without allowing myself to get stuck simply replicating what I hear a certain performer do. When the musical elements are all in place, I go back to listening and singing along to recordings as I get the music memorized, then head to rehearsals with the rest of the cast. Since this show is in English, there wasn’t the additional step of having to translate all of the text to make sure I knew what I was singing, but some of the British humor took a bit of looking into to make sense of it.

In developing my character, I’ve had a bit of a struggle deciding exactly how I want to portray Casilda. At first glance, she can easily be taken as a very entitled young noblewoman who has a bit of a temper. Even though the story and the characters are very exaggerated, as they often are in Gilbert and Sullivan and many other operettas, I still try to find as much connection to my character as possible and portray that character as honestly as I can. For Casilda, I have leaned more toward a love-struck young girl, who becomes excited and perhaps a little distracted by her sudden “access of dignity,” but ultimately wants to stay true to her first love.

Is there anything particularly challenging about your character or the opera itself?

In my opinion, the biggest challenge in just about any Gilbert and Sullivan opera is not in the music, but in communicating the humor behind the story. Comedy is often harder to perform successfully than pure drama, so actually trying to make the show as funny as it can be has been the biggest challenge for me.

The Gondoliers has a lot of history behind it, what do you think about the history of the opera?

I think it’s interesting that, despite the success it had when it was first premiered, this show is not performed nearly as often as other Gilbert and Sullivan operas, such as The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, or H.M.S Pinafore. It was the fifth longest-running musical theatre piece at the time it closed in 1891, but since then has not been seen a whole lot on the stage. While some of these other shows may be more popular and commonly-performed over all, I’m excited to introduce the audience to a story and some fun music they probably haven’t heard before.

What attracted you to vocal performance and performing in operas?

At first vocal performance was something I started to do just because I was good at it. Not amazing when I started out by any means, but it was something I had a knack for – it came pretty naturally, and I mostly thought, why not? My reason for joining opera was even worse: most of my friends were involved and I felt sort of out of the loop not doing it. As I started to overcome some of my fears of performing, I realized how amazing it was to be on stage and be a part of that kind of work. It’s such a grand production, collaborating with so many singers, an entire orchestra, and adding a set, costumes and staging. When it all comes together just right, it’s such a wonderful thing to be involved in.

How has the Department of Music/Opera program at CSU cultivated your growth as a performer?

The music program here has been very beneficial to my development as a performer. I began my classical music education here at CSU, studying under Dr. Todd Queen and earning my bachelor’s degree in vocal performance in 2009. As a beginning singer, I learned so much about my voice during that time, figuring out how to sing more consistently, more easily and more expressively. As I started opera, I sang in the chorus for several shows, getting the experience of singing with the orchestra for the first time and getting used to singing, dancing and acting on stage. Throughout my four years in the music program for my undergrad, I worked my way up to becoming a better singer and better performer over all, and started being cast in roles in the operas. The experience of learning and performing a role is so incredibly valuable, and thanks to these opportunities, I grew so much, both vocally and on stage.

After having a great experience in my undergrad, and starting to do some work with a new teacher, I decided to stay at CSU for my graduate studies, and I am now working with Dr. Tiffany Blake. As a graduate student, I have been given even more performance opportunities, this being my fourth leading role in my two years here.

My experience has been one of much guidance and support from both the faculty and my colleagues. I can’t imagine a better environment to have developed as a performer.

Student Profile: Kierstin Miller

Kierstin Miller has received a “Faces of the Class of 2010” recognition.

Biochemistry and Art History student combines two different majors for conservation

Kierstin Miller, who is graduating with double major in Art History and Biochemistry — both with honors — has been an outstanding student, according to her professors. While studying biochemistry with the plan of going to medical school, she originally was only doing art history as a passion. But now she plans to combine the two areas of art history and science and pursue conservation studies at the graduate level. In her tenure at Colorado State, Miller has written undergraduate theses for both majors: “Using siRNA to Combat Influenza A” and “Conquest, Clash, and Convergence: Picturing Catholicism through Feather Mosaics and Pasta de Caña de Maíz Sculpture in Early Colonial Mexico.” Her desire to be a scientist, a doctor or a researcher led Miller to select Biochemistry while her longtime love of art led her to select Art History as a purely second major. However, in meeting with her Art History professor, Catherine DiCesare, Miller was introduced to the world of Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial art. Realizing that this was her true passion, she decided that her future was in the art world, which later led her to the field of art conservation. As a conservator, Miller can maintain her love for both art and science within a single career. She has held internship positions with National Jewish Health, Xcel Energy and the Denver Art Museum. Following graduation, she intends to go to graduate school for art conservation and focus specifically on ethnographic objects and research conservation.

Student Profile: David Saccardi

Meet David Saccardi, undergraduate music student and Principal Bass of the Cheyenne Symphony.

David is a senior in the Department of Music, with a double major in Music Education and Double Bass performance.  A bass player of nine years, he has played in several different orchestras and as far away as South America and Europe.  Amongst many seasoned musicians, David competed for and was chosen as Principal Bass in the Cheyenne Symphony. He is also a member of CSU Symphonies and the Fort Collins Symphony.

Saccardi is not only a performer, but a teacher. In addition to teaching in his own private studio in Fort Collins,  Saccardi was Orchestra Director at Hummingbird Music camp in New Mexico. Many of his students have been accepted to Colorado Allstate Orchestra and UNC Western States Honor Orchestra.  In his last semester at CSU in Spring 2011, he will be student teaching in the Department of Music.

What was it like competing for a principal position in the Cheyenne Symphony with others who had been playing professionally for many years?

It was intense auditioning for the Principal Bass job in Cheyenne. It wasn’t as simple as playing an audition and winning the job.  I had to go through several rounds of auditions over a year and a half, and the final stage was actually playing a masterworks concert as principal as sort of a “test run” to see if I could handle the job. The individuals I was competing with are all very talented and competent players, who all have several years on me.  Even though I won the job, these members are still in the orchestra and I’m happy to call them my colleagues.

What are you looking forward to as a performer in both the Cheyenne and Fort Collins Symphonies?

In Cheyenne and Fort Collins, I’m looking forward to expanding my orchestral repertoire and networking with other professional musicians.  In Cheyenne in particular, since I’m principal up there, I’m excited to continue learning about the inner workings of a professional orchestra, ranging from auditions, programming, bowings, etc.

What performances and/or ensembles do you participate in while at CSU?

Here at CSU, I’ve participated in Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra, Opera Pit Orchestra, CSU Sinfonia, Chamber Groups, some work with the Wind Ensemble, and 5 semesters with Jazz Ensembles and Combos.

What do you enjoy most about studying in the Department of Music at CSU?

I value all of the performing opportunities I have received at CSU. Through the orchestra program and study in the bass studio, I’ve gotten to perform a large and valuable chunk of orchestral and solo repertoire, and it’s great experience to take to my professional playing into the working world.

What genre of music do you most enjoy playing? What is your favorite piece of music you performed as a student at CSU?

I play a lot of different styles of music, but I get the most joy from playing classical music.  Here at CSU, my favorite performance would be when the orchestra performed Mahler’s First Symphony a few years ago.  Getting the chance to perform that piece was a huge boost for my professional and musical development.

Would you rather perform professionally or teach others?

Ideally I’d like to perform AND teach.  Performing gives me professional experience that I can bring back to the classroom and to my students, and the better a musician I am, the more I’m able to impart that experience on my students.

Senior Dance Showcase Profile: Michelle Ruiz

See Michelle Ruiz in Preconceived Motions, a showcase of the choreographic talents of Colorado State University senior dance majors on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. Click here for details.

Michelle Ruiz began dancing at age two, starting at Rising Star Dance Academy in Casper, Wyoming, and joining the Showcase Dancers in Lusk, Wyoming, doing line dancing and character. She received formal training in ballet, modern, lyrical, jazz, hip-hop and character at Loveland Dance Academy.

As a dance major at Colorado State University, Michelle has studied with professors Jane Slusarski-Harris, Chung-Fu Chang, and Carol Roderick, as well with Melissa Corr, and guest artist Ms. Katie Eliott.

After graduating in May with a double major in Dance and Liberal Arts, Michelle will attend Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary for a Masters of Divinity. She hopes to continue dancing by joining a modern or contemporary company in Austin.

Senior Dance Showcase Profile: Marlis McChesney

See Marlis McChesney in Preconceived Motions, a showcase of the choreographic talents of Colorado State University senior dance majors on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. Click here for details.

Marlis McChesney grew up in Colorado, training in ballet, tap, jazz and lyrical at Fabulous Feet Dance Academy in Arvada, and Eagle Dance Academy in Gypsum. She performed across the country in regional and National dance competitions, receiving a scholarship to the 1999 Company Dance Convention in Tulsa, Oklahoma and qualifitying for the National Dance Competition in Orlando, Florida. As a freshman, Marlis formed the Eagle Valley High School dance team, choreographing and leading the team to second place in the 2003 State Competition. In 2003, she was an All-Star for the Universal Dance Association, dancing in London, England for the 2004 New Year’s Day Parade.

During her time as a dance major at Colorado State University Marlis has worked with CSU faculty members, Jane Slusarski-Harris, Chung-Fu Chang, Melissa Corr, Coleen Walsh, and Carol Roderick, as well as nationally and internationally known guest artists Mary Wohl-Haan, Jaques Heim, of Diavolo, and Katie Elliott. Since 2008, she has been a member of the CSU Tour Dance Company, a pre-professional company, under the direction of Chung-Fu Chang, and was an assistant to the director for the 2009-2010 season. With the company, she has performed at more than thirty schools across Colorado, as well as Murfreesboro, Tennessee for the American College Dance Festival, and Merida, Mexico for the X Festival Internacional de Danza Contemporanea Avant Garde in 2009. Marlis received a Performing Arts Scholarship from the CSU Dance Department from 2008-2010.

In the last four years, Marlis has showcased her choreographic works in several Student Dance Concerts, and two of her pieces were selected for the dance program’s main-stage concerts. She has choreographed for the Tour Dance Company and served as a director for the fall 2009 Student Dance Concert. Marlis taught dance at Fabulous Feet Dance Academy, Eagle Dance Academy, and for CSU’s beginning modern class for non-major students. She also choreographed the state routine for Eagle Valley High School for 2009 and 2010.

After graduating, Ms. McChesney plans to move to Kentucky with hopes of teaching elementary school where she will incorporate dance into their PE Program.

Senior Dance Showcase Profile: Blair Whitley

See Blair Whitley in Preconceived Motions, a showcase of the choreographic talents of Colorado State University senior dance majors on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. Click here for details.

Blair Whitley was born and raised in Texas where she started dancing at Houston Northwest Dance Academy at the age of four and began formal training in high school at Suzanne’s School of Dance.

Blair entered Colorado State as a freshman in the fall of 2006, and has studied under renowned professors Chung-Fu Chang, Jane Slusarski-Harris, Melissa Corr, and Carol Roderick, as well as select guest artists Gabe Masson, Kim Neal- Nofinsinger, Katie Elliot, Jacob Mora, Andrew Skeels, and Jacques Hiem of Diavolo Dance Company. Blair’s choreography has been performed in both the Spring and Fall Dance Concerts as a part of CSU main stage professional shows.

In 2009 she performed with a select group at the American College Dance Festival in Murfressboro, Tennessee. As a member of the CSU Tour Dance Company since 2008, she traveled to Merida, Mexico to dance in the X Festival Internacional de Danza De Contemporanea, performing a full length work by Chung-Fu Chang. During this time she has served as an assistant to the director, and her choreography was selected for the company’s repertoire. Blair is a recipient of CSU’s Creative and Performing Arts Scholarship since the spring of 2008.

After college Blair plans to pursue a professional career in modern dance.

Senior Dance Showcase Profile: Mackenzie Buffer

See Mackenzie Buffer in Preconceived Motions, a showcase of the choreographic talents of Colorado State University senior dance majors on Friday, May 7 and Saturday, May 8. Click here for details.

Mackenzie Buffer is from Louisville, Colorado where she began dancing at three years of age with the Boulder Parks and Recreation Center. She trained in jazz, and ballet until she began high school and started to dance with Grace Studios School of Dance in Broomfield. There she was exposed to jazz, tap, ballet, modern, and hip hop, and placed at multiple competitions around the state. Since her junior year in high school, she has taught ballet, tap, jazz, and hip hop to young students at Grace Studios School of Dance, A Dance Place, Dance Dynamics, and recently at High Country Conservatory of Dance. Ms. Buffer is currently a double major in Dance and Speech Communication at Colorado State University, and will graduate in the fall of 2010.

She has worked with Colorado State University faculty members such as Chung-Fu Chang, Melissa Corr, Lynda White, Jane Slusarski-Harris, and Carol Roderick, as well as guest artists Katie Elliot, Kim Neal Nofsinger, Gabriel Mason, and Mary Whol Haan. Her choreography has been performed on the main stage at Colorado State Universities Fall Dance Concert 2007, and the Spring Dance Concert 2008. This is currently her second year on the CSU Tour Dance Company where she has had the opportunity to perform at schools around Colorado and collaboratively choreograph with fellow members. She also recently performed in the New Visions Dance Festival in March 2010.

Mackenzie has been hired as an authentic Can Can dancer for Sharon Guil’s current project, Silver Saloon Show, and will perform at events around Colorado and New Mexico. The dancers were invited back to Albuquerque to perform at the End Of Trail show in June, and will perform in Italy and then Paris, France at the end of the summer.

“Polaroid Stories” Student Profile: Phoebe Piper

Meet Phoebe Piper, playing the role of Eurydice in Polaroid Stories.

A senior Theatre major, Phoebe is a veteran in the School of the Arts’ Theatre department. During her years at CSU, Phoebe has participated in Grusha in Caucasian Chalk Circle, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Dol in The Alchemist, Various Roles in Oh, What a Lovely War and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Off campus, Phoebe has also been involved in Anon(ymous) by Naomi Izuka (the author of Polaroid Stories) and Articulate Production’s Caffeine: Contents May Be Hot at Bas Bleu. After graduation, Phoebe hopes to move to the east coast to continue acting.

What have you done to prepare yourself for this role? How have you adapted to the double casting of this character? What difficulties have you faced as a result of the double casting? Preparing for this role has been challenging. It’s a messed up world these characters live in so I’ve had to summon every experience in my life to help guide me through it; feelings of loneliness, abandonment, betrayal, anger, sadness you name it. Any feelings that make me feel there’s no way out have helped me really understand my character. I also have done a lot of research of my own that has helped refine my character. Double casting is challenging and (surprisingly enough) not even for the actors who have been double cast themselves. Mostly for the other cast mates and designers who have worked harder than usual because there are two separate actresses. I’ve worked so hard getting into the mind and the world of the play. I’ve taken my own skill to new heights because the double casting makes me think harder and outside the box. Occasionally it is nice to “steal” (as we’ve been calling it) from the other actors. Its nice to discuss choices in our character that either make you think more about your own choices, or reinstate what you believe to be true about your character.

What have you enjoyed most about being in this production? I have never been in a play where I’ve felt so much. The feelings that come through me are intense to the point where I need to have “down time” when rehearsals are done. Theatre should make you feel, whether it’s happy, sad, disgusted, or inspired. This is the first time I’ve ever done a show so edgy and I love that the most.

What do you hope audience members will take away from this play? I’m not quite sure what the audience will take from it. Whatever the audience thinks afterward I hope they feel this play and the characters as much as I have in the process. It’s hard to let yourself be vulnerable and even be affected by this piece. I hope the audience walks away feeling…

Image: Phoebe Piper in The Alchemist by Ben Jonson. Photo by John Eisele, Fall 2009

Posted 03.30.2010

“Polaroid Stories” Student Profile: Caitlin Melby

Meet Caitlin Melby, playing the role of the skinhead girl in Polaroid Stories.

A junior double-majoring in Theatre and History Education, Christina is no stranger to the stage. During her short time at Colorado State University, Christina has participated in The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail, Caucasian Chalk Circle, 6 Characters in Search of an Author, The Alchemist and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. While she hopes to continue participating in theatre after graduation, Caitlin also wants to become a middle school social studies, geography and drama teacher.

What have you done to prepare yourself for this role? I have done a lot of research on skinheads and skinhead culture. I have also spent some time in the ska/punk scene in Denver and I’ve learned a lot from being around people immersed in a similar culture.

What have you enjoyed most about being in this production? This show is unlike anything I’ve ever done before in a role I’m very excited to tackle.

What do you hope audience members will take away from this play? I hope audiences take pieces of these characters away with them. I want audiences to walk out thinking about what they’ve seen and how it affects their lives or what they have experienced in their own lives.

Image: Caitlin Melby in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Dale Wasserman, adapted from the novel by Ken Kesey. Photo by John Eisele, Spring 2010

Posted 03.29.10