I am currently enjoying the view in Knoxville, TN. Yesterday I made a horrible decision to start a four week long road trip from OKC through the Appalachians up to New England and then all the way back down again. If you think I'm insane you are correct.
My sanity not with standing it may turn out to be a good decision. Knoxville seems to have been worth a harrowing 13 and a half hour drive through the wilderness with only my ipod to keep me company (and the lovely conversation of Kasey, Leah, and my mom). Upon arrival I was greeted with immense hospitality by Dixie and her roommate Patrick. Dixie and I go way back to this past summer when we worked together at LOOK.
I rose with the dawn my first day in the smokies and went to visit UT Knoxville for the first time. Patrick is the coach at UT and he was gracious enough to show me around the music offices before my meeting with faculty. I also got a chance to hear some of the students and I tell you what, those kids aren't messing around! There seems to be some real voices up here. The graduate seminar I observed was an absolutely fantastic way to see a school.
This place definitely has it's pros. One of the big things that attracted me to look here in the first place was the Knoxville Opera Studio which is the type of program popping up more and more these days. Basically, if asked to be a part of the opera studio a singer would work for the local opera company (in this case obviously Knoxville Opera) while getting their masters or post graduate degree at the affiliated school. Their are several school across the United States that are attempting such partnerships and although I am hardly an expert on their individual success I admit that as a perspective student it makes the school look like an immeasurably more beneficial opportunity.
Of course all factors must be weighed. Just having a company affiliation or more "professional" credits does not guarantee a positive learning experience. After all, at the completion of a degree you are hopefully a more well rounded well versed and stronger singer with a tightened and polished technique. If you simply spent two years working for free and you didn't have the coaching and lessons you needed to become a more marketable professional than it won't matter.
I had an experience like this. Last year I was invited to join a resident artist program like I have been describing with a regional opera company. Instead of accepting this invitation I chose to respectfully decline, not because it was a bad place, but it didn't feel like the right environment for me to meet my greater vocal and professional goals. It was actually because of this experience that I realized that I was going about my career path in the wrong way and ultimately was one of the major reasons I am on the current expedition. I now realize should I make the investment of quite a bit of time and money I need to make sure it is the right place. Taking a gig is just different than going to school and should be approached differently.
Tangent aside UT is staying on my list. I have another lesson tomorrow and might get a chance to watch some of the opera rehearsal for Robert Ward's The Crucible (based on Miller's allegorical drama) so that should make for interesting mind fodder on the drive to my next stop.
Also: the graduate voice adviser at UT reminds me very much of foodie/travel idol Anthony Bourdain which just makes me miss the travel channel.