June 16, 2024
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Inspired: Graduate student takes the next step in pursuing her opera dreams

Kiara Walker left a job at Juilliard to earn a master’s in vocal performance

Kiara Walker Kiara Walker
Kiara Walker Image Credit: Jonathan Cohen.

Kiara Walker remembers the first time she heard opera.

During her undergraduate years at Georgia’s Valdosta State University, she had leaned toward a theater major. That is, until she heard one of her best friends — a music major — sing an aria. The glory of the sound sparked a new passion for classical music.

“It was the first time I had ever heard anything like that, and I was entranced,” said Walker, who will earn her master’s in vocal performance from Binghamton University’s music program this May. “I said, ‘I need to do that.’”

The Cortland native — a soprano — graduated with a bachelor’s in music, but her life took a different turn after graduation. She moved to New York City, where she spent five years working in higher education, first at New York University and then at The Julliard School, where she was the schedule and program associate for the Vocal Arts Department.

“After a few years of working at The Julliard School, I realized my passion for opera and singing,” she said.

Juilliard was also where she met vocal coach Diane Richardson, a Binghamton University associate professor of music. When the pandemic struck, Walker moved back to Georgia and continued to work for Juilliard remotely while investigating her graduate school options. Remembering Richardson, she decided to apply to Binghamton and landed a scholarship.

She felt some trepidation initially; after all, she had been out of the student routine for some years and had only a month between leaving her job and starting her master’s program. The greatest challenge was navigating the department and its various personnel, readjusting after the end of the pandemic shutdown.

She was a frequent sight on the Binghamton stage, participating in all of the University’s opera performances since the fall of 2021.

On the classroom side, she particularly appreciates Assistant Professor of Musicology Sarah Gerk’s music history course, which gave her the opportunity to research Black composer Florence Price and her work, as well as activist, actor and singer Paul Robeson. That class, during her first year at Binghamton, inspired the April recital that comprised her master’s thesis: She performed works by Price and other Black composers, including Margaret Bonds and Harry Burleigh.

“Kiara’s enthusiastic curiosity and her devotion to the music she loves inspires me. She’s the kind of student I feel lucky to teach,” Gerk said.

In addition to Gerk’s class, one of Walker’s greatest highlights was working with Assistant Professor of Voice Brenda Iglesias, she said.

“She is brilliant and really knows a lot about the voice,” Walker said. “Teaching voice can be difficult; I can say this from experience because I have taught and am teaching, and it’s hard to describe something that’s in your body and which is very specific to each person. Dr. Iglesias and I were able to find a language.”

After Commencement, Walker plans to continue studying with Iglesias as she works on the next step toward her dream: finding an artist diploma program in performance.

Someday, she’d like to sing the part of Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata and the Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro — among many others; there’s no shortage of intriguing roles and challenging repertoire in opera.

“Mozart is a difficult composer, especially for singers who are just starting out like myself,” she reflected. “I love opera. I love recitals. I love singing. I want to put myself out there and soak up as much as I can.”

Posted in: Arts & Culture, Harpur