News release
Public Information Office   SLU 10880   Hammond, LA 70402   phone: 985-549-2341   fax: 985-549-2061 Spring 2004 news releases Public Information home News archive

Contact: Christina Chapple
Date: 1/29/04
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SINGING GRADS – From left, Southeastern Louisiana University alumni Tyler Smith, Kenya Lawrence and Anthony Sears are back on campus starring in the university’s production of Aaron Copland’s opera, “The Tender Land,” Feb. 11-14 at Pottle Music Building Auditorium.

      HAMMOND -- Kenya Lawrence, Anthony Sears and Tyler Smith agree that it’s good to be home. 
      The three Southeastern Louisiana University graduates are thrilled to have the opportunity to return as performers to the Pottle Music Building and the stage that they knew so well as Southeastern music students. Guest director Wendy Taucher and Opera-Music Theatre Workshop director Charles Effler have tapped their talents for lead roles in Aaron Copland’s opera, “The Tender Land.”
      Smith and Lawrence have been cast as star-crossed lovers Martin and Laurie, while Sears will sing the part of Grandpa Moss. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11-14 at Pottle.
      “I have so many wonderful memories of the Pottle stage and some of the great shows that we did here,” said Sears, a former Covington resident and 1994 graduate. Degree in hand, Sears left home for the northeast where he earned a master’s degree at Westminster Choir College and taught for six years in southern New Jersey. He recently returned to teach choral music at McMain High School in New Orleans.
     “I’ve been waiting for something like this for years,” agreed Smith, a Baton Rouge resident who is finishing his doctoral degree at the University of Houston after earning a master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Because his voice and talents have matured in the six years since he graduated, he is delighted to have the chance to show his progress to his Southeastern mentors, family and friends. 
      “When I left, I thought I sounded just like crud,” he laughed. “It’s always been a goal of mind to come back and say, ‘Hey, I did change and things got better.’”
      Lawrence, who graduated in 1999, has traveled the farthest. The Hammond native went first to Dallas for her master’s degree at Southern Methodist University, then to Italy and Germany to study and perform. She currently has “a plethora of jobs,” she said, teaching voice privately and through Southeastern’s Community Music School, teaching Southeastern music appreciation classes, directing the children’s choir at St. Timothy’s UMC in Mandeville, and working with the New Orleans Opera’s educational outreach program.”
      “I lived in this building for four years,” she said. “It’s very familiar, but very foreign – it’s crazy!”
      While the alumni are happy to be home, Effler, who is the show’s conductor and vocal coach, is equally happy to have them back.
      “When I chose this opera,” he said, “I knew I didn’t have a tenor advanced enough to sing the role of Martin. My first thought was Tyler.  I knew he was singing really well.”
      Southeastern voice professor Scharmal Schrock, who taught all three of the alumni, recommended Sears as Grandpa Moss. “He turned me down,” Effler laughed. When another alumnus accepted the role, but bowed out because of scheduling problems, “We went back to Tony desperately on our knees and he said okay,” Effler said.
      “I had a lot of reluctance in the beginning, because when you teach all day you’re vocally exhausted,” Sears admitted. “But,  I had heard a lot of talk about ‘The Tender Land,’” which Southeastern presented in the late 1980s. “People who graduated before me have always talked about how beautiful the opera was when they were here,” Sears said. “I had always wanted to become a part of it.”
      Effler said the Southeastern experience is great for Lawrence and Smith, who both are embarking on professional singing careers.  “This is a good safe place to come and do your best, learn a role and get it under your belt,” he said. “Then, the next time you’re asked to sing it, it’s always easier. You know the pitfalls.”
      Professional success, Smith said, “is kind of the luck of the draw. You have to make all of the right connections and be at the right place at the right time. It doesn’t always depend on how your voice sounds. It can be any number of issues that get you in that door, so you have to take every door that’s offered to you. You just never know who’s going to be out there in the audience.”
      Smith said just such “luck” landed him the opportunity to sing the role of Carlson in a recording of Carlisle Floyd’s “Of Mice and Men,” which was recently released on the Albany label.
      “My teacher happened to be there, somebody canceled, and he said he knew someone -- me -- who could do the role,” Smith said. “Now, I have another CD (a recording of Argento’s ‘Cassanova’s Homecoming’) coming out in April. Luck of the draw – I just got called.”
      “One of the reasons for bringing in outside singers is that our students will, hopefully, look at them and think, ‘That can be me in a few years,’” Effler said. “I also hope that the students will take advantage of the situation and pump the grads for information. They can tell our students what they need to do to better prepare for grad school, and tell them that, yes, those academic music courses that they might find boring really are important in the real world of performing.”
      All three of the alumni indicate that “The Tender Land” will make their personal lists of favorite shows. “It’s a fun, very active opera,” Smith said. “For the people who like the slow love stories, it has that. For those who like a lot of action with the big stomp numbers, it’s got that too.”
      “I know opera is a hard sell sometimes, but I tell people that they will enjoy this opera as much as if they were at a big, splashy musical,” said Effler. “It’s got the dance numbers, the chorus numbers, and lots of rousing music, plus the tender love story, too.”
      Tickets for “The Tender Land” will be available at the door. Ticket prices are $12, adults; $8, senior citizens, Southeastern faculty, staff and alumni, and non-Southeastern students. Southeastern students are admitted free with their university I.D.
      Southeastern's production of "The Tender Land" is made possible in part by the support of John and Sam Evans of Community Motors, Hammond, and Dan and Michelle Aycock of Micro-Tel, Inc., Ponchatoula.
      For additional information on the production, contact Effler at 985-549-2249.