Tuesday, October 30, 2012

YAGP gala event comes to Tampa

Dance fans everywhere, mark your calendars for one of the most spectacular dance shows of our time!

Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) and the Straz Center present

Ballet’s Greatest Hits!
Jan. 5, 2013
at the Straz Center in Tampa.

One of the world’s most respected ballet competitions brings the world’s most renowned dancers together for one incredible night of performances in this gala event.

Ballet’s Greatest Hits! features star dancers from Joffrey Ballet, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, National Ballet of Canada, Pacific Northwest Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet.

For the first time ever, the gala performance will be broadcast in theaters nationally by Emerging Pictures.

Don’t miss this unique opportunity to see the world’s top professional dance artists together in one evening.

Tickets are on sale now!

More information about guest artists appearing will be coming soon!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Royal training for a prince and a queen

This year’s Nutcracker Prince and Snow Queen are getting some Royal treatment.

Kemper Cassada, who plays the Prince in The Nutcracker, the Great Imperial Ballet  at the Straz Center in Tampa, will soon attend a week of training at the prestigious Royal Ballet School (RBS) in London.
Hannah Stanford

Hannah Stanford, who will dance the role of the Snow Queen in The Nutcracker, recently completed two weeks at RBS.

Next Generation Ballet apprentices, Kemper and Hannah earned scholarships to attend RBS at the 2012 Youth America Grand Prix ballet competition in New York City earlier this year.

At the final YAGP competition, Kemper made it past three rounds, but didn’t place in the last round, he said. Disappointed, he didn’t expect the scholarship from RBS.

“They were calling kids on stage, and I was really happy for them. Then they called my name. I was really excited,” said Kemper. “Going to a ballet school like Royal Ballet is just absolutely amazing.”

His week at RBS will determine possible placement for next year.

On being cast as the Prince in this year’s Nutcracker, he said, “I’m looking forward to my first principal role as a lead in a ballet...it’s a great challenge.”

Kemper Cassada
Attending RBS, and being in the The Nutcracker, are great opportunities, he said.

During Hannah's two weeks at RBS, she trained with their first year students, most of whom are 16 years old or older, and learned several new pieces from various ballets.

“I really enjoyed the different classes, especially repertoire...We learned a piece from Frederick Ashton's Cinderella, a portion of Daphnis and Chloe, and I also learned a pas de six from Giselle. We also had character, pas de deux, and choreography which I really enjoyed,” said Hannah.

Hannah Stanford at the Royal
Ballet School in London
The 14-year-old moved to Tampa a year and a half ago to train at the Patel Conservatory, and says she’s grown as a dancer since she’s been here.

“When we saw the treble clefs on the doors, we knew we had come to the right place,” said mom Susie Stanford. The musical note that adorns the entrance to the Patel Conservatory conveys the feeling of arriving at their artistic home.

With an invitation to return to RBS, Royal may be in Hannah's future, but in the meantime this Snow Queen brings her grace to the Morsani stage at the Straz Center.

Of her role in The Nutcracker, she said, “I love the choreography, and the music is so beautiful, I feel like I am a part of it when I am dancing.”

Come see Kemper and Hannah and more than 180 other dancers in Next Generation Ballet's magical production of The Nutcracker, the Great Imperial Ballet, Dec. 22 and 23, 2012 at the Straz Center.

These performances have been known to sell out, so get your tickets early!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Spotlight on Parker Wilkson

Parker Wilkson, right, performing with his Rock School band Wasted Youth
at a Rock School Blowout Concert.
From classical to rock to jazz, pianist Parker Wilkson is doing it all.

One day, he's jamming on the keyboards playing a cover of Creep by Radiohead. The next day, he goes from improvising on the piano to Miles Davis’ Freddie Freeloader with his jazz ensemble, to creating a sinister mood with the dark, classical score of a live theater production.

Regardless of the genre, “When I play music, I feel such a strong connection to it,” said Parker.

This Patel Conservatory music student recently got his first professional gig accompanying for Jobsite Theater’s production of Gorey Stories opening this Wednesday.

Although Gorey Stories is his first professional role, he's got a résumé of accomplishments. Oh, and he's only 14.

The Classics to Coldplay
Parker started piano lessons when he was three years old. He learned the classics and did well at competitions. But his own voice began emerging when he was ten years old and he improvised on a Chopin piece he was working on for a competition.

“His coach told him it was really good, but not to do that at the competition,” said James Wilkson, Parker’s dad.

Parker performed his version of Chopin at the competition anyway, and received a perfect score from the judges, according to his dad.

“He had a lot more wisdom about what he wanted than any of us. About that time, he started playing everything from classical to Coldplay,” said James.

Parker was born in the Tampa area, and moved with his family to Idaho, then moved back to Land O’ Lakes two years ago. He began accompanying for his middle school choir, where he was noticed by a theater teacher and asked to accompany for a high school production of Grease, then another production, West Side Story.

Friends suggested he come to the Patel Conservatory for Rock School, which he did, and it’s been a domino effect ever since.

He was chosen to work with the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra for the Spotlight Awards; he had the opportunity to play before the Florida Orchestra at Raymond James Stadium; he accompanied for PCYT’s summer production of Normal, the Musical, and from that was asked to do Gorey Stories. He’s also in two Rock School bands and the Patel Conservatory Jazz Quartet, and he takes voice lessons.

James’ dad said that they owe a great deal to the Conservatory not only for the opportunities Parker’s gotten, but for the friends they’ve made.

“In addition to the opportunity, experience and exposure he’s gotten through the Conservatory, he gets to meet other people who think like him,” said James.

Expressing Himself through Music
Parker was recently chosen, along with fellow Rock School band member Matthew Sichterman, as the recipient of a scholarship underwritten by the Gasparilla Music Festival.

As the recipients of those scholarships, the two boys will get the opportunity to work behind-the-scenes with the festival in the spring and get some backstage privileges.

“They’re here all the time and they’re involved in so many different things that they were deserving recipients,” said Dee Lynch, Patel Conservatory’s staff accompanist.

With two different performances for the upcoming Rock School Blowout, performances with the Jazz Quartet and a three-week run of Gorey Stories, how does he keep up with it all?

“It was difficult at first going from Rock School to Gorey Stories, transitioning from different genres. But Patel’s taught me how to play so many different styles of music, it’s gotten a little easier,” said Parker. “I enjoy learning all the music, especially this play (Gorey Stories), it’s a unique sound.”

He says that working with his instructors in both Rock School and the Jazz Quartet, where he’s learning a lot about improv, has taught him more than various styles of music.

“When I first joined (the Conservatory), I was a little uptight, a little nervous about showing emotion. I’ve gotten more comfortable with myself, and become a much better musician overall,” said Parker. “Patel’s really taught me how to express myself through music.”

You can hear this up-and-coming talent at the following performances:

Jobsite Theater’s Gorey Stories, playing at the Shimberg Playhouse at the Straz Center, Oct. 24 through Nov. 18, 2012.
Rock School Blowout at the Jaeb Theater at the Straz Center, Dec. 1, 2012, at 1 p.m.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Mark your calendars for Pure Imagination!

Patel Conservatory instructors and staff perform at the
Patel Conservatory's 2012 Spotlight Awards.
Mark your calendars for a night of Pure Imagination!

You’ve seen them in classes, rehearsals and lessons.

Here’s your chance to see your favorite instructors in action on stage in Pure Imagination!

Presented by the Patel Conservatory’s Faculty Artist Collective, Pure Imagination is a fun, cabaret-style show featuring a variety of performances from Patel Conservatory faculty and staff.

Consider it our way of showcasing the talented artists who lead our programs.

Pure Imagination will run Nov. 30 through Dec. 9 in the TECO Theater. Regularly priced tickets start at $10. For tickets, click here.

Ballet instructor talks Nutcracker and YAGP

Rehearsals are under way for Next Generation Ballet’s The Nutcracker at the Straz Center.

For Rebecca Martin, who joined the Patel Conservatory staff as the lead ballet teacher this fall, it’s a fresh, new take on the classical holiday favorite.

“I’ve done a lot of different Nutcrackers...It’s exciting for me to be able to learn a new Nutcracker, and then pass it on to the kids,” she said.

Martin joined us from the Orlando Ballet School, where she was the artistic coordinator for their south location.

Getting to know the students at the Conservatory has been an exciting experience.

“Just being part of the Straz Center, it feels like a serious place to dance,” she said.

Martin teaches both younger classes as well as the NGB trainees. She enjoys the enthusiasm of the younger students, some of whom have never experienced The Nutcracker, and the dedication and focus of the advanced students.

“Working with the trainees is a new opportunity...it’s fun to be able to put together more complicated combinations, and then work on stylistic details with them. They seem to pick things up pretty quickly,” she said.

In addition to working on The Nutcracker, she’s been helping prepare some students for the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) regional competition, which will be at the Straz Center in January.

“I’m excited about that,” said Martin. “The pressure of going through a competition, of going on stage and performing in front of judges, is intense for the students. They’re really trying to perfect what they’re doing.”

As a coach, she dedicates time to making sure they not only know the steps, but also the story behind the steps, which helps them get into their characters and bring life to the choreography.

“The performances at YAGP showcase the students. But they also represent the Conservatory as a whole,” she said.

Martin danceed for nearly four years with the Georgia Ballet in Atlanta. Her Nutcracker roles included the Snow Queen, Dew Drop and the Arabian.

One of her favorite performances with the Georgia Ballet was as the Sea Creature in Where the Wild Things Are, choreographed by Septime Webre. “That was really interesting choreography.”

Being at the Conservatory has been a wonderful opportunity for her, she said.
"I've been impressed with the students, and I'm enjoying being involved with a variety of levels at the school while working beside an outstanding faculty,” she said. “ I feel valued here, and encouraged to share my talents”

Next Generation Ballet's The Nutcracker, the Great Imperial Ballet  will be at the Straz Center Dec. 22 and 23. For more information, click here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Big Brothers Big Sisters partnership helps build connections

By Audrey Siegler, Patel Conservatory theater instructor
Audrey Siegler, right, leads a Patel Conservatory Outreach theater class
On teaching Outreach classes
As students and followers of the Patel Conservatory, many of you are familiar with our mission and vision, to provide the finest performing arts training in an inspirational setting and to give students the tools to: dream, reach, discover and create the performing arts; integrate them into everyday life; and contribute to the community.

As you walk through our building you can feel those principles coming to life through our students, staff and patrons, but what you may not know is that the Conservatory’s mission and vision reach far beyond these walls. 

Through community partnerships we are able to take our philosophies into the community and bring the gift of the performing arts to schools and organizations that may not otherwise be reached by the arts. Serving as teachers, mentors and colleagues, we are able to not only educate, but also create new paths and desire for the arts.

It has been my great pleasure to be such an active part in our outreach program over the past 4 years. Having grown up as the daughter of two teachers, I have always valued education. I learned at an early age that we have a great deal to offer as individuals and that every student can learn if given the proper tools and encouragement. I enjoy working with students of all ages and backgrounds and our outreach program has provided me with an amazing opportunity to do just that. My students have ranged in age from toddler to adult and come from various backgrounds and life situations. Each outreach is unique, but our goal remains the same.

Big Brothers Big Sisters
This year the Patel Conservatory has embarked on a new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS). Much like us, BBBS is focused on changing lives. Their mission is to provide children facing adversity with strong and enduring, professionally supported one-to-one relationships that change their lives for the better, forever. Our common goals provide us with a great foundation.

After two meetings, it is already apparent that this is a successful pairing. The outreach allows school aged students (the little) and their adult partner (the big) to deepen their bond through theater and performance.

Once a month we meet at Aspire Studios in Ybor which provides the perfect atmosphere to promote creativity and togetherness. The pairs from the BBBS organization are led through various theater lessons and exercises. These lessons are geared towards promoting ensemble building and trust between not only the group, but between the big and little.  This is quickly becoming one of my favorite outreaches thanks to the energy and commitment of the group. Together we are learning how to be there for one another and fully embrace the arts.

As an educator and a strong believer in the impact that a person can have on another’s life, I feel truly honored to be able to share the mission of the Patel Conservatory with such a deserving and responsive group of individuals. Observing change and connection is a precious thing, but playing an active part in developing trust and a lasting bond is priceless.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Theater guest blog: Home away from home

Guest blog by Jessica Riddle, Patel Conservatory Theater Apprentice
Jess Riddle, right, with Lucy Gutierrez in the
Summer 2012 PCYT production of NOR*MAL, The Musical
Hello, everyone! Jessica here commentating on musical theater at its finest during fall and summer classes at the Patel Conservatory.
About Me
I am a theater apprentice at the Patel Conservatory who not only dreams of becoming an actor on Broadway but also a fabulous journalist. The Patel Conservatory is giving me both opportunities, for I am here with you lovely readers telling you all about Patel’s classes from a student’s perspective.
I have attended the Patel for the past year and a half, and I can’t even begin to describe how much it has given me or how much I’ve grown. Plays at the Conservatory are just amazing, superb, and enthralling. You feel as though you are working on a professional level.
Summer Theater at the Conservatory
Since I’ve been at Patel through the school year and into the summer on two separate occasions, I thought I might describe how different the two experiences have been. Summer theater and school year theater each have a different pace.  For example, two summers ago, Patel Conservatory Youth Theater (PCYT) did their first ever “write your own musical” – fully composed and written by the students - called LOL: The Musical. It was a very demanding process. We not only had very limited time on our hands to mesh with fellow cast members we were not acquainted with, but we also had to work with these cast members and a student orchestra to create a full fledged one-act musical with music, script, characters, etc. We met a couple hours a day, four times a week. Even with those circumstances, it felt a little relaxed compared to other performances I’ve experienced. Throughout the process all 9 of us grew close as a cast. This was the first experience I had where it felt like my second family and home. Now to compare this experience with this past summer’s course would be quite impossible, for they were completely different.
NOR*MAL: the Musical was this past summer’s production where the cast had three weeks of intensive training and rehearsals to put on an intricate and “taboo subject” play.  NOR*MAL was about eating disorders and how they affect not only the person struggling with them, but how the family deals with it as well. It is overwhelming how much this cast and the performances meant to me, and how it changed me. The cast who had never worked together on a project, were able to put aside differences, become a cast family, and work on this subject together. With this play being on topic with on-going events in today’s time, our director set aside time to have open discussions each week, letting everyone talk and add a piece of their life to the process. For me personally, this was the key to becoming a family. We learned about each other’s past and how this play really touched each and everyone of us in different ways. I would have to say that the fast pace of this production was just like any other professional performance.
School year classes
Now for the school year classes. They aren’t entirely different because the schedules are similar in timing. Our Town, which PCYT produced last fall, was unlike any other play or musical I’ve experienced. Our Town was from another time period which gave all the cast members a chance to learn historical aspects of the theater and how the language differed in prior years. Our Town is a straight play with no music, definitely a different setting for me; I’ve never experienced just a play. It allowed me to grow as a performer and also as a human being. This play dealt with loss, humor and many issues going on at once through multiple story lines. The pace of this play was definitely quick. It felt like an “energizer battery” was placed on the cast once we walked in the door at the Conservatory. Much like all the performances I’ve done at Patel, I felt that the cast I worked with, became long term friends. The majority of all cast members from all productions I keep in touch with on an on-going basis. 
This school year, I’m not in the PCYT musical, but I’m currently enrolled in the Triple Theatre program and taking the (advanced) Musical Theatre 2b classes. It is very different compared with being in a play; for example you don’t have to study lines, memorize choreography, or learn blocking, but instead you are going in depth on acting itself and all that surrounds the performing arts. It is intense but manageable, knowing that I’ve only committed myself for two nights a week compared to four nights a week during a rehearsal process. This schedule allows more time to be placed on homework and other school obligations. These classes stretch me not only as an actor but as a singer and a dancer.
Friends for life
Patel Conservatory has taught me so much about the arts, time management, commitments, and making and keeping friends. The experiences I mentioned have many things in common, but one stands out to me the most, and that is family. Patel Conservatory is my home away from home, a sanctuary to study my passion. In all of the performances I’ve experienced at Patel, I’ve made a family with my fellow cast members, and that means so very much to me knowing that I’ve made friends for life here.

Students perform at Straz open house

Patel Conservatory students from our music, theater and dance departments will shine this weekend as they bring live entertainment to our stages in celebration of the Straz Center’s 25th Anniversary!

Photo by Rob Harris Productions
Join us this Sunday,
Oct. 21, 2012
10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Enjoy performances from Next Generation Ballet, Opera  Tampa, Rock School, Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra, Patel Conservatory's Jazz Quartet, previews of PCYT’s Kiss Me, Kate and more!

This free, community event will include guided backstage tours of the Straz and live entertainment from the Patel Conservatory in Ferguson Hall, TECO Theater and outside of the Jaeb Theater.
  • Get insider info on 25 years of theatrical history.
  • Enjoy animal encounters from Lowry Park Zoo, costumed characters and free samples from the Columbia Restaurant and Coca-Cola.
  • Shop the 25¢ sidewalk sale, where you can score costumes, props, Straz Center merchandise and more.
  • Plus, in honor of their 25th, the Straz Center is offering 25 $25 tickets to most shows in person at the Ticket Sales Office only!
Join us at the Straz Center as we help celebrate 25 years of bringing the joy of live entertainment to the Tampa Bay area.

Free weekly events feature live entertainment from Patel Conservatory

Nicole Benton
Come enjoy free weekly performances from our Patel Conservatory faculty downtown!

Shop, eat and enjoy cooler weather with two events hosted by the Tampa Downtown Partnership

Tampa Downtown Market on Sundays is a community event where local farmers, producers and artisans offer fresh produce and specialty goods. The event features live entertainment from the Patel Conservatory, kids’ and pet treats, and the Humane Society of Tampa Bay showcasing adoptable pets.

Lunch on the Lawn celebrates casual Fridays and gets you in the weekend spirit. Express meals are available from participating downtown restaurants. Grab a bite and enjoy live entertainment from Patel Conservatory and activities at Lykes Gaslight Square park.

Upcoming performers this fall include Nicole Benton, Evan LeFloch, Matt Weihmuller and Scott Crowley.*

Scott Crowley
Tampa Downtown Market
Sundays, 10am - 3pm, October - May 
600 & 700 block of Franklin Street

Lunch on the Lawn
400 N. Franklin St.
Fridays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Matt Weihmuller

*Performers subject to change based on availability.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Free youth orchestra performance tonight!

Students, parents and guests, if you're planning to be at the Conservatory this evening, please stop by the library for a sneak peek of the Patel Conservatory Youth Orchestra's (PCYO) fall concert.

Advanced students in the Patel Conservatory Composer’s Orchestra will perform in an informal concert in the Chairmen’s Library tonight, Oct. 15, 2012, at 8 :15 p.m.

The performance will include works written exclusively for PCYO by conductor Stephen P. Brown.

The concert is free and open to all guests. All student musicians and private lesson students interested in PCYO are encouraged to attend.

The PCYO fall concert will be Dec. 10, 2012 in the TECO Theater. For more information about PCYO, please click here.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Spotlight on Kristen Walker

Kristen Walker and Lucas Coura play up an iconic scene in Kiss Me, Kate.
Kristen Walker was heartbroken when she found out her school’s musical fell on the same date as an important family reunion.

As it turned out, her schedule conflict led to a new opportunity. Kristen landed the role of Lilli/Kate in PCYT’s upcoming production of Kiss Me, Kate.

“It was a by-chance kind of thing,” explained Kristen, a sophomore at the University of Tampa.

Disappointed she couldn’t participate in UT’s fall show, she emailed her theater chair, who suggested she audition for Kiss Me, Kate at the Patel Conservatory.

She had only a day to prepare for the audition, so when she found out that she was cast as Lilli, “I was shocked and amazed. I felt really blessed,” she said.

While circumstances brought her to the audition, it was her talent that landed her the role.

Kristen comes from a musical background, her father being a jazz musician and director of a jazz orchestra, and her mother a jazz singer. Both are music leaders at their synagogue in Niceville, Fla., where Kristen grew up.

“Their lives have always been focused on music,” said Kristen.

Her mother, Gina, grew up in Tampa, and, coincidentally, was a drama student of Wendy Leigh’s when Leigh taught at Chamberlain High School. (Leigh is now the vice-president of education at the Patel Conservatory.)

“I have been singing my entire life,” said Kristen. “My parents got me into music at a young age.”

Kristen played the violin for about seven years, and became interested in theater while attending Niceville High School. “I started doing shows, and started thinking maybe I could do it for a living.”

Kiss Me, Kate, is her first experience with the Patel Conservatory. She enjoys the classical music and the farcical story. “The whole show is one big comedy of errors.”

The show may be comical, yet the atmosphere of rehearsals is exceptionally professional and rewarding, she said.

“I’m getting so much out of this show and this program...It’s so professional, which I appreciate as someone who’s trying to get into the business.”

Kiss Me, Kate will run Nov. 8-10 and 15-17 at the Straz Center’s TECO Theater. For tickets, click here, or call 813-229-7827.

PCYT presents Kiss Me, Kate

From left, Rodner Salgado, Luis Lage, Alex Guzman and Marty Gallinari.
This fall, the Patel Conservatory Youth Theater (PCYT) presents Cole Porter's Kiss Me, Kate.

Kiss Me, Kate is a classical musical that exemplifies the American art form at its finest.

“This show is an indication of the advancement in the quality of our musical theater program,” said Ami Sallee, Patel Conservatory theater chair.

The show marks the first full-length production of a traditional musical at the Conservatory since the restructuring its theater department in July, 2011.

“Taking on a classical musical exposes the students to more challenging material, which helps them grow and develop as artists,” said Sallee.

Kiss Me, Kate is a timeless musical combining Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew with Cole Porter’s music and lyrics. The Tony ® Award-winning show is a play-within-a-play, where each cast member’s in-stage life is complicated by offstage events. Popular musical numbers include “Wunderbar,” “Too Darn Hot,” “Brush up Your Shakespeare,” “I Hate Men,” “Always True to You (In My Fashion)” and “Another Op’nin, Another Show.

The cast, primarily college and high school students, have been putting in 17 hours a week in preparation for the show.

Mario Gallinari, Lucas Coura, Johnny
“The students are getting so much more than performance experience,” said Conservatory instructor Adam Wagner, director of the show.

Training for the show includes the study of Shakespeare and the music and history of Porter, so cast members come away with deeper knowledge of the material, solid training as actors and performers, and even audition material for their repertoire.

The cast includes students and faculty from our dance, music and theater programs.

“The cross pollination of having a music program, dance program and theater program under one roof is incredibly important,” said Wagner. “Someone in musical theater needs to know how to act, dance and sing.”

The show is choreographed by dance instructor Susan Downey, with music direction by Dee Lynch and a live pit orchestra made up of advanced music students.

Kiss Me, Kate will run Nov. 8-10 and 15-17 at the Straz Center’s TECO Theater. For tickets, click here, or call 813-229-7827.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Music and magic draw this artist from her shell

There’s a feeling that lives within our walls. It’s intangible, but very real for the performers and artists - the singers, actors, dancers, musicians - who spend time here at the Patel Conservatory.

Melissa Stewart-Hoffman describes it as magic.

“In life, I’m shy, but when I walk through the music note doors, and up to the third floor studio, I feel like myself,” said Melissa, a voice student at the Conservatory. “I guess singing, it just does something, it’s a certain magic."

A 16-year-old from Mulberry, Fla., Melissa first felt that magic when she was 12 years old and saw La Bohème at The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

“It was like a lightbulb going off in my head. I’ve always loved singing, but that’s when I knew I wanted to be an opera singer,” said Melissa.

After a few years of taking local voice lessons, she decided to try the Patel Conservatory in the summer of 2011 with our Vocal Arts Academy.

“When I started at the Conservatory, I think that’s when I felt at home...It was an amazing discovery,” said Melissa.

That fall, she began private voice lessons with instructor and Patel Conservatory music chair, Gregory Ruffer. She auditioned for Opera Tampa Chorus and had the opportunity to perform with them throughout the season.

The experience of performing with the opera company affirmed her love of the art and desire to pursue a classical singing career.

“The last performance I did (with Opera Tampa) was Aida, and I think that was my favorite...it felt easier and reassured me even more,” she said.

This past summer, in addition to attending our Classical Voice Intensive, she earned the honor of attending the prestigious summer program at Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio.

She attributes her success to the training she received at the Conservatory.

“(Ruffer) is the best teacher. His experience and his honesty with me in how I need to improve, and just the environment,” helped her grow as an artist, she said.

She loves performing opera because she enjoys singing in different languages and learning about the various operas and their histories. Becoming a different character draws her out of her shell, she said.

“The music transports me to a different era,” said Melissa. "I sing not only to express myself and to be happy, but so other people will enjoy it."

A junior at Polk State Collegiate High School in Lakeland where she’s earning college credit for classes, she takes private voice lessons weekly with Ruffer in preparation for college auditions and hopes to attend Oberlin.

“I’m really thankful for the Conservatory,” said Melissa. “I feel truly like it is my second home.”