Music performance majors all have to perform in a senior recital, similar to a thesis, to graduate. Not only do they organize, practice and perform an hour of music their senior year, they do it their junior year as well.
Elana Kennedy ’17 started working on her senior and junior recitals the beginning of her sophomore year when she declared her music major. Only music majors can get private instruction partially subsidized by the music department, and Kennedy capitalized on these vocal lessons early in preparation for her department audition.
“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to be a music major and audition for the track,” Kennedy said. She got a quick start to make sure she would be able to audition for and claim her track quickly.
In the music major, there are six tracks that each have their own requirements: general music, music composition, music history, music cultural studies, music performance and musical theater performance. Kennedy prepared her audition for the musical theater performance track all of sophomore year.
Pamela Wolfe (MUS), her vocal instructor at Brandeis, taught Kennedy from the beginning of her vocal career at Brandeis. They worked closely together to build an impressive and extensive repertoire for both recitals. The consistency of her lessons and recital preparation with her teacher and the pianist helped develop Kennedy’s vocal skills.
“I’ve also come to feel really comfortable around them both [Wolfe and the pianist] from singing with them consistently, so I was able to take risks with my singing and acting, both in my lessons and in performance, that I probably would have been too afraid of if I hadn’t developed that support system over the years,” Kennedy explained. “Pam has helped me grow so much as an artist, since she’s gotten to know me well since … she knows exactly how to encourage me to do my best work, what areas I need more help with and how to get more from me, both vocally and as an actor.”
Kennedy planned a musical theater concert for both her junior and senior year recitals. However, because Kennedy was abroad in her junior year, she completed her junior recital the fall of her senior year. Both of these recitals are required by the department for all music performance and musical theater performance majors to provide performance opportunities and to help the performer explore their genre more.
The recitals were very helpful to Kennedy’s musical theater knowledge. “The junior recital had to be all older musical theater, from the early 1900s through about 1950. The senior recital was contemporary musical theater, from about 1950, right up through shows like ‘Hamilton,’ ‘Waitress’ and ‘Newsies,’” she said. While the older musical theater was not Kennedy’s preferred style of music, it was an important learning experience, she explained. “I was exposed to a ton of music I wasn’t familiar with, and I got a much better sense of how American musical theater has evolved in the last century.”
“The second recital, which is the one I just performed, was much more fun and natural for me—I got to perform the music I love most by some of my favorite composers, like Rodgers and Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Tim Rice, Jason Robert Brown, Stephen Sondheim and Jonathan Larson,” Kennedy said.
Both of these concerts amass to well over two hours of live performance backed by years of training to achieve perfection in her technique.
Performance-based senior theses, like Kennedy’s, are not just the work of a performer’s senior year, but rather of their entire college career. This requirement and goal for Kennedy as a music major expanded her repertoire, range and technique as a vocalist and performer. “I can tell I’ve come a long way technique-wise,” Kennedy said. “It’s been a long ride, but very worth it!”