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To hear Jessica Knott and Darrius Washington sing is to hear the voices of angels. And fortunately, these angelic sounds will carry themselves all the way to Italy this summer, thanks to an opportunity for Knott and Washington to perform in the 2010 Vocal Program at the Amalfi Coast Music & Arts Festival in Amalfi, Italy, July 14 – 26, which was funded, in part, by a generous donation from an anonymous Marygrove alumni donor.

They were selected to perform in a summer opera production of Mozart's “The Magic Flute” as well as additional solo performances in select opera scenes—an incredible honor, as there were an unexpectedly high number of applicants this year, making the normally complex audition review process even more selective than usual. Washington will perform the roles of Armored Man/Priest and Knott will perform the role of 2nd Spirit.

Knott and Washington also have the honor of being personally tutored during their trip by world renowned Michigan native Darryl Taylor, countertenor, who is recognized as an authority on American song, especially music by African Americans. Victoria Bigelow, Adjunct Instructor of Music at Marygrove College and vocal instructor for Knott and Washington, met Taylor years ago after reading an article he wrote for the Journal of the National Association of Teachers of Singing called “The Importance of Studying African American Art Song.” She contacted him and asked him to guide her to resources where she could explore the repertoire and make it available to Marygrove’s students. This led to him coming to Marygrove to do a lecture recital and master class. Recently, Bigelow contacted Taylor about possible summer programs for Washington and Knott and he suggested they audition for Amalfi.

“The benefit for Darrius and Jessica of getting into that festival is not only the recognition and exposure, but the opportunity for them to work directly with Darryl on African American Art Song,” says Bigelow.

Taylor has appeared with orchestras in the U.S. and in Europe and has performed lead roles in operas by Mozart, Verdi, Handel, Britten, and Gershwin, and his international itinerary includes 19 tours of Spain. A much sought after lecturer on African-American Art Song, Taylor has given lecture-recitals/master classes at the Juilliard School, Manhattan School of Music, the University of Michigan, Florida State University, Duke University and Marygrove College, among many others.

Although the upcoming performances will be a challenge, both vocalists are well prepared. Marygrove’s music program is both comprehensive and rigorous. Students learn about the great composers, history, musical theory, and the language of music. It’s also crucial for opera singers to be able to sing in and be familiar speaking several languages including: German, Italian, French and of course, English. “The Magic Flute,” for example, will be performed in German. In addition, vocalists receive extensive ear and performance training.

About the vocalists

Jessica KnottJessica Knott will receive a Bachelor of Art in Music with a concentration in Vocal Performance in May, 2011. Her goal is to become a professional classical opera singer and she is poised to do well. “She’s a high soprano whose nearly four-octave range combines clarity and warm, lyrical tone that allows her to traverse a range of emotion and color in her singing,” says Bigelow, Knott’s vocal instructor for the past four years.

Knott received all her classical music experience from Marygrove—in fact, she was introduced to classical music for the first time in Fall, 2006. “My professors have been wonderful and they have taught me pretty much everything I know about classical music,” says Knott.  “I didn’t even know what middle ‘C’ was on the piano when I first came to Marygrove! I love the refined sounds of classical music. First of all, it’s a great challenge to sing and I love the hard work the composers put into the music to make it so beautiful. The music really speaks to me.”

Knott was a 2010 finalist in the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Inc.’s Vocal Arts Competition for Emerging Artists (formerly the Leontyne Price Competition).

Darrius WashingtonDarrius Washington, recipient of Marygrove’s 2010 Outstanding Musician Award, is receiving his Bachelor of Art in Music Education in May, 2012 and plans to fulfill his dream of bringing music into people’s lives by becoming a band conductor or choir director. “I want to motivate the next generation of children to become musicians and educators,” says Washington.

He began his love for music when he was very young. His mother is a singer and Washington recalls her asking him, when he was 3 years old, to sing for his grandmother’s birthday celebration. From then on he was hooked. When he was five he started playing the drums and continued with drums until he went to middle school and learned how to read music. There he switched to playing the trumpet and became interested in performing in the middle school band. He graduated from Detroit High School for the Fine and Performing Arts, where he started as an instrumental major but changed to vocal his junior year. When asked about the switch in interest back to vocal performing, Washington became solemn: “My brother passed around that time and he was very active in band—it was a hard time for me. I associated band so strongly with my brother that I switched to singing—it was a great way to console myself.”

After a few semesters at community college, he decided to attend Marygrove. “I decided to come to Marygrove because I wanted to meet new people and have a different experience,” he says. “I liked the idea of the close connection with professors. Once I arrived at Marygrove I was amazed at the level of instruction.”

And we’re amazed at the level of their talent.