Program Spotlight: West Chester University Music
Interview performed by Acceptd Marketing's Amy Overturf and Larissa Bateman
Nestled in the heart of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley, West Chester University is a picturesque and historic community that offers small-town charm with cosmopolitan flair. The West Chester University School of Music offers students an opportunity to perform weekly under the direction of world-class teachers and musicians. With 16 undergraduate programs and over 24 ensembles to choose from, you can find your perfect fit.
This week, we sat down with Professor Randall Scarlata, Associate Vocal Professor and an acclaimed vocal performer, to learn more about his life as a singer and a professor. Read on to learn more about Randall’s accomplished career, his advice to aspiring musicians, and the highlights of his time working with students at West Chester.
Q & A with WCU Music Professor Randall Scarlata
Acceptd: How did you first discover your love of singing? Do you have an early “musician memory” you can share with us? What inspired you to pursue your passion for singing?
Professor Randall Scarlata: I grew up singing around the house and on long car rides with my parents. The radio was rarely on, but we’d sing classic American Songbook pieces. I grew up with those songs in my ear, and I started taking music seriously when I was in fifth grade and started playing viola. The idea of chamber music and small ensembles became interesting to me from an early age.
When I entered high school, the choir director invited me to join, knowing I was already involved in orchestra. I had made a few friends who were involved in choir, so I thought I’d give it a try. I was a big English Lit buff, so the idea of connecting words and music was very exciting to me and satisfied both of those interests in one field.
The next summer, my teacher took me to work with a coach at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Before too long I was auditioning for undergraduate programs in music. Things happened pretty quickly for me as a singer. I feel very fortunate I had a strong foundation in music beforehand.
Acceptd: You’re both a performer and a professor -- how do these two facets of life compliment one another?
Mr. Scarlata: It’s a delicate balance. I do probably 25 concerts per year, ten of which are during the Summer. My students always tell me how excited they are to come see me perform. I think it gives them a little glimpse into life as a professional musician.
We’ve also been able to develop some nice relationships between West Chester and organizations around Philadelphia. This includes the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. Our students benefit from those relationships by having the opportunity to come to dress rehearsals and recitals.
Acceptd: What is your favorite class to teach or musical group to lead at WCU?
Mr. Scarlata: I really enjoy my individual lessons with my students - I get a sense of who they are as people, which is wonderful. Typically, in our Music School, classes are relatively small. I always teach Studio Voice, and depending on the semester, German, French, or Italian Diction, and I also teach Song Literature. These classes have between 9 and 12 students, so everyone is given the opportunity to share their ideas, and we feed off each other. Everyone gets to sing about four times throughout the semester, so there’s ample time to explore repertoire over about 200 years of music. (We also have a Baroque style class, but I do not teach that.)
Acceptd: What advice would you give to young musicians and singers as they consider their undergraduate options?
Mr. Scarlata: Go for a well-balanced program where you feel a connection with a teacher. You should reach out to that teacher for a sample lesson, and you should also be able to contact some students at the university/college/conservatory who are happy to speak to prospective students. It's important to set up a lesson; knowing that you’re going to be trusting your instrument or voice with that teacher for the next four years, or sometimes longer. Knowing that you trust that person and that they have a personal interest in you, is essential.
I’d want to know what opportunities I’ll have. Will I be competing with graduate students for Opera roles? How many teachers are there, and what are they teaching? How many students are in the program? What are the students doing after they graduate? Most undergraduates who are majoring in Vocal Performance are most likely going to be getting a graduate degree in Vocal Performance as well. So, are they getting the experience at that undergraduate program that will lead them to the next school?
I don’t think it’s essential to go to a conservatory for an undergraduate degree. I did, and I had a very positive experience at the Eastman School of Music. However, I sometimes envy the well-rounded education that my West Chester students are getting. They are interacting with a lot of different students (not just Music majors) - they’re required to take literature classes, science, history, math - it gives them a good foundation for whatever they’re going to go into, and it gives them a window into all of the things that are out there that might be interesting to them.
Acceptd: What advice would you give to young musicians and singers as they prepare for digital and in-person auditions for university programs & festivals?
Mr. Scarlata: For video auditions, it’s important that you expect to spend a little bit of money to get the best recording you can. If I’m listening to a recording and I can’t get a sense for what your voice is like due to the quality, it might just go into the “no” pile. Try to get a good recording engineer, whether in your school or church or recording studio - sometimes it’s only $50-60 an hour, and it’s well worth it to have another person listening and managing the video or sound recording for you. It’s a huge investment in your future.
If you can do a live audition, you certainly should. It gives us a chance to interact with you and get to know you. If students can’t make an audition and have to do a video audition, by all means do it, but if you can get there, I think it’s helpful. You want to show who you are as a singer and as a person. Your clothing and hair don’t need to be traditional - you can be edgy and represent yourself. Put some thought into how you present yourself. Greet the people as you walk in, thank them for their time, look them in the eye - these things give us an idea of the type of person you are.
Acceptd: What is unique & exciting about the music program at West Chester University?
Mr. Scarlata: It’s the right size for a School of Music at a university. We have about 500 music students, and at any given time there are about 60-70 voice majors and another 20 students who are taking minor lessons in voice. The class sizes are small, so you really get to know your professors. All classes are taught by the professors. We have graduate assistants who may help, but they don’t teach the classes, so you know you’re getting a faculty member in every class.
I think we offer a lot of what conservatories do, but frankly, at a fraction of the price. Our in-state tuition is about $10,000 per year and out-of-state is $20,000 per year. That certainly comes into play for some students. We have a tight-knit voice faculty - four tenured faculty and sometimes an adjunct, plus two chorale professors and a coach who works with the singers on style. It’s a well-balanced faculty to student ratio.
Another great thing about West Chester is its location. West Chester is lovely and safe. It has a nice college town feel. But you can be in Philadelphia within an hour, and make arrangements to go to concerts and see museums. All of the cultural events in cities like New York and Baltimore are within a couple of hours away.
Acceptd: How would you characterize the music students at West Chester University? What is your relationship like with them?
Mr. Scarlata: I really enjoy my time at West Chester. I find the students very hard-working, bright, kind, and dedicated. They show up for lessons and are engaged, even if, like one of my most gifted Sopranos, they’ve been up since 4:00 am for their opening shift at Starbucks. They are there because they really want to be, and they want to dedicate their lives to music; either as performers or teachers.
Click here to learn more about West Chester University’s School of Music.