Kentucky’s Schmidt Vocal Academy guides high school and college students in classical techniques
Led by Linda McAlister, the Schmidt Vocal Academy continues its legacy of helping young opera singers achieve their goals
Although the paths leading to a career in music are countless, the guides are invaluable for budding singers. Linda McAlister’s unique background may have given her the perfect foundation to oversee the strong slate of programs at Schmidt Vocal Academy, the umbrella entity that includes Schmidt Vocal Competition, Schmidt Vocal Institute and Schmidt Vocal Education, as well as high school scholarship opportunities. and college-age singers. An accomplished soprano, McAlister also holds a degree in international business. “It’s important for young singers to know that when you build a career in the arts, 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 farm of approximately 900 acres. McAlister said she inherited her love of music from her mother, Heather, a teacher at St. Paul. “She was a city girl,” McAlister said. “Thanks to her, I started the violin at 3 years old, the piano at 5 years old, and the flute and the choir in college.” Although she participated in a choir and had private lessons, McAlister’s musical ambitions compelled her to study voice at St. Mary’s University in Winona, Minnesota during her freshman year. of high school. At this time, she also became interested in the world of music. “I thought I might become an agent for artists,” she said. She pursued a double major in vocal performance and international business, which would help immensely in the world of classical music. “Opera is an international art form,” she said.
McAlister graduated with a bachelor’s degree at the age of 20. From there, she earned a master’s degree in music from the University of Miami in Ohio. Then, she completed her doctoral studies at the University of Cincinnati, College-Conservatory of Music. After singing at the Steans Music Institute at the Ravinia Festival, McAlister continued his study of German lieder at the Hochschule für Musik, Nürnberg-Augsburg (Meisterklasse). “I caught the performance bug early,” she said. Her first – and favorite – role in Germany was Rosalind in “Die Fledermaus”, by Johann Strauss II. “I was in an incredibly beautiful space, but I didn’t speak German!” The language barrier did not prevent her from playing other roles, such as Venus in “Dardanus” and Belinda in “Dido and Aeneas”. She also appeared in concerts of works by Mendelssohn, Haydn, Fauré and Mozart, among others.
McAlister said she missed the United States, so she started applying for jobs while still in Germany. Upon her return to the United States, she became the first-ever Executive Director of SongFest in Colburn, Los Angeles. She served as the artistic coordinator of the Steans Music Institute Vocal Program at the Ravinia Festival, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s summer home. McAlister joined the William E. Schmidt Foundation team as manager of the Schmidt Singing Competition in 2012, while also serving on the voice faculty at the University of Miami in Ohio.
The Foundation was founded by local philanthropist William E. Schmidt and his extended family in 1992. Schmidt loved music and was committed to fostering young students’ passion for classical singing, which led to several successful programs and eventually to the creation of Schmidt Vocal Arts. In September 2019, McAlister assumed the newly created role of Executive Director of Schmidt Vocal Arts, overseeing the organization’s programming.
Not bad for the Minnesota farmer. “Although I didn’t end up singing on the biggest stages in the world,” McAlister said, “I still pursue my passion. I want to help our kids dream big, 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 from their days at the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
An extremely busy soprano, Wilson said she was thrilled when McAlister asked her to judge SVA competitions, and 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 United States are really not equipped to prepare students for college music programs.”
Saman de Silva, a baritone from Palo Alto, Calif., knows this fight. At the age of 14, he fell in love with opera after hearing “The duo of pearl fishermen”, excerpt from Georges Bizet’s 1863 opera, “Les Pêcheurs de Perles”. De Silva said he learned a lot by attending the Schmidt Vocal Institute during the summer 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 community learning that took place while I watched others sing changed my life.”
De Silva graduated from high school in June and is now preparing to attend Harvard, where he will pursue a bachelor of science degree. Then, he will work on a Master of Music at the New England Conservatory, as part of the Harvard/NEC dual degree program. “I acquired such valuable tools from my time with SVA,” de Silva said. “I learned to build relationships and collaborate. I learned how the art world works.
dreams are accessible
Miami, Florida native Saige Hoffman’s first encounter with SVA was during her sophomore year of high school. “The pandemic had already hit,” Hoffman said, “and my regional competition was moved to virtual.” While the shift from competing in person to competing virtually has created new challenges for singers, Hoffman has come to enjoy the experience of recording her three selections and uploading them via YouTube. “It was a valuable asset that I would need for college applications and future projects,” she said.
Hoffman, who is a soprano, wasn’t sure she would pursue a career in opera. “I felt like there was so much I still hadn’t learned,” she said. “After attending the Schmidt Vocal Institute, I realized that my mission in life was to be part of the future generation of opera.” In May, she won the National Association of Singing Teachers competition. “It was important because it confirmed to me that I had something to offer,” she said.
Hoffman said SVA, and in particular McAlister, were instrumental in achieving his goals. “Linda was my private coach during the Schmidt Vocal Institute,” Hoffman said. “Working with her has been a real joy. It’s nice to be taught by someone who is currently singing in his career, because he can empathize with his students.
“Because of the relationships I have established with SVA,” Hoffman continued, “I will be attending Oberlin, my dream college, with Dr. Katherine Jolly.” SVA isn’t just a foundation that hands out prize money, Hoffman said. “They are a foundation that truly cares about and nurtures the future generation of opera. They helped me realize that my dreams were within reach.
This article originally appeared in American Essence magazine.