The Schmidt Vocal Academy in Kentucky guides high school and college students in classical techniques

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Led by Linda McAlister, Schmidt Vocal Academy continues its legacy of helping young opera singers achieve their goals

While the paths that lead to a music career are myriad, guides for aspiring singers are invaluable. Linda McAlister’s unique background may have given her the ideal foundation to oversee the solid slate of programs at Schmidt Vocal Academy, the umbrella organization that provides the Schmidt Vocal Competition, Schmidt Vocal Institute and Schmidt Vocal Education and high school scholarship opportunities includes and college-aged singers. An accomplished soprano, McAlister also has a degree in International Business. “It’s important for young singers to know that with an artistic career, you’re also an entrepreneur,” she told American Essence.

Born and raised in Hector, Minnesota, McAlister’s father, Willard Fluck (pronounced “Fluke”), grew corn and soybeans on a 900-acre farm. McAlister said she inherited her love of music from her mother, Heather, a schoolteacher in St. Paul. “She was a city girl,” McAlister said. “Because of her, I started violin at age 3, piano at 5, and flute and choir in middle school.” Although she was involved in the choir and received private tuition, McAlister’s musical ambitions compelled her to study singing at St .Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota. At that time, she was also interested in the music business. “I thought I might become an agent for artists,” she said. She pursued a dual degree in vocal performance and international business, which would be immensely helpful in the world of classical music. “Opera is an international art form,” she said.

Raised on a farm in Minnesota, Linda McAlister inherited her mother’s love of music and developed a passion for helping young singers achieve their artistic goals. (Stephanie Berger)

McAlister earned a bachelor’s degree when she was 20. She then earned a Masters of Music from Miami University in Ohio. She then earned her PhD from the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. After singing at the Ravinia Festival at the Steans Music Institute, McAlister continued her studies in German lied singing at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg-Augsburg (master class). “I discovered the performance error early on,” she said. Her first – and favorite – role in Germany was as Rosalinde in Johann Strauss II’s “Die Fledermaus”. “I was in a breathtakingly beautiful room – but I didn’t speak German!” Venus in Dardanus and Belinda in Dido and Aeneas. She also appeared in concerts with works by Mendelssohn, Haydn, Fauré and Mozart.

McAlister said she missed the United States, so she applied for jobs in Germany. Upon her return to the States, she became the first-ever executive director of SongFest at Colburn in Los Angeles. She served as artistic coordinator for the Steans Music Institute’s vocal program at the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. McAlister joined the William E. Schmidt Foundation team in 2012 as the director of the Schmidt Vocal Competition while also serving on the vocal faculty at Miami University in Ohio.

The foundation was established in 1992 by local philanthropist William E. Schmidt and his extended family. Schmidt loved music and was committed to nurturing young students’ passion for classical singing, leading to several successful programs and eventually the founding of Schmidt Vocal Arts. In September 2019, McAlister assumed the newly created role of Executive Director for Schmidt Vocal Arts, overseeing the organization’s programming.

Not bad for the Minnesota farm girl. “Even though I haven’t sung on the biggest stages in the world,” McAlister said, “I still follow my passion. I want to help our kids achieve big dreams—while giving them the skills they need to achieve their goals.”

fill a gap

Tamara Wilson knew McAlister was perfect for a leadership role at SVA. “Linda excels in the art and business of singing,” Wilson said. She has known McAlister since her days at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory.

An extremely busy soprano, Wilson said she was excited when McAlister asked her to judge SVA competitions and that she hopes to mentor many young singers in the years to come. “Linda and SVA fill a void,” Wilson said. “Most high schools in the US are really not equipped to prepare students for college music programs.”

Epoch Times photo
Alumni of the Schmidt Vocal Institute in front of the Sarasota Opera House. (Lori Sax)

Saman de Silva, a baritone from Palo Alto, California, knows this struggle. He fell in love with opera at age 14 after hearing The Pearl Fishers Duet from Georges Bizet’s 1863 opera Les Pêcheurs de Perles. De Silva said he learned a lot by attending Schmidt Vocal Institute during the summers between his junior and senior years in high school. “My high school didn’t have the resources to give me a private voice teacher,” he said. “The coaching I received at the institute and the collaborative learning that took place while watching others sing changed my life.”

De Silva graduated from high school in June and is now preparing to attend Harvard, where he is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in science. He will then work on a Master of Music at the New England Conservatory as part of the Harvard/NEC dual degree program. “I’ve gained such valuable tools from my time at SVA,” said de Silva. “I learned to build relationships and work together. I learned how the art world works.”

Dreams are attainable

A Miami, Florida native, Saige Hoffman first encountered SVA during her sophomore year of high school. “The pandemic had already struck,” Hoffman said, “and my regional competition was moved to virtual.” While the move from in-person to virtual competition brought new challenges for singers, Hoffman came to appreciate the experience, her three selections record and submit via YouTube. “It was a valuable asset that I would need for college applications and future ventures,” she said.

Hoffman, who is a soprano, wasn’t sure if she would pursue a career in opera. “I felt like I hadn’t learned that much,” she said. “After attending the Schmidt Vocal Institute, I realized that my life’s mission was to be part of the future generation of opera.” In May, she won the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition. “It was important because it validated that I had something to offer,” she said.

Hoffman said that SVA and McAlister in particular were instrumental in realizing their goals. “Linda was my private coach during Schmidt Vocal Institute,” Hoffman said. “Working with her was an absolute pleasure. It’s nice to be tutored by someone who is just starting out in their singing career because they can empathize with their students.”

“Because of the relationships I’ve built with SVA,” Hoffman continued, “I will attend Oberlin, my dream college, with Dr. Visit Katherine Jolly.” SVA isn’t just a grant-giving foundation, Hoffman said. “They are a foundation that really cares about and encourages the future opera generation. They helped me see that my dreams were achievable.”

This article was originally published in American Essence Magazine.

David Dudley

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David Dudley is a Southern Utah-based journalist, educator, and playwright. Email him at [email protected]

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