ROCHESTER, NY — What a difference a weekend can make. Between midnight on Friday, September 2 and noon on Monday, September 5, hundreds of miles north of the flood-ravaged Gulf Coast, musical voices with big hearts at the University of Rochester’s Eastman School of Music transformed grief and frustration into tangible action for three New Orleans music students, and changed lives forever.
Last week, Eastman Voice Professor Carol Webber — moved by the news reports of the catastrophic impact of Hurricane Katrina — contacted Steven Daigle, chair of Eastman’s voice department. What could Eastman do to sponsor some storm-displaced music students? According to Ms. Webber (whose favorite saying is “a good idea is usually surrounded by serendipity”), one thing led to another, and miracles started to happen, thanks to a strong Eastman networking system, an outpouring of generosity, and a lot of hard work.
A New Orleans-area native whose family still lives in the vicinity, Steven Daigle already knew two New Orleans voice students attending Loyola University. Juniors Claire Maloney and Vernon Di Carlo were company members last summer in Daigle’s Ohio Light Opera Company. He called on his Loyola connection, Eastman alumnus and head of the Loyola voice department Philip Frohnmayer, who helped facilitate communication with the students. Webber and Daigle received administrative support to offer the students a place at Eastman by Dean James Undercofler, helped along through efforts by other administrators and voice students in the Eastman community.
At about the same time, euphonium player Rey David Cortes, a native of Costa Rica and a graduate of Loyola University, was preparing to begin his master’s degree at the University of New Orleans. Cortes had been accepted to Eastman as an undergraduate, so he made direct contact with Dean Undercofler, who responded positively and was able to set him up as he did the singers. By Tuesday, September 6, Maloney, Di Carlo, and Cortes already had arrived in Rochester, preparing to begin at the Eastman School as visiting, special, non-degree students.
All three have had tuition and dorm fees waived, and board charges have been donated thanks to the generosity of Aramark, the food service providers at Eastman and the University of Rochester. Fondly known as an “instigator,” Ms. Webber personally has contacted over 100 Eastman voice alumni to elicit both a small financial contribution and a promise to call another singer for the same.
Webber is bursting with excitement at seeing what has been accomplished. “It is part of the Eastman culture that we feel personally engaged with our students,” she said. “ The spirit of generosity so intrinsic to music making is ideally suited to action, providing help in such a disastrous situation. As an educator, I promote active engagement in the human dilemma which I feel complements the development of the artist/performer .”
Maloney, Di Carlo, and Cortes will be at Eastman at least for the fall semester, depending on when their New Orleans universities open again. Claire Maloney will be studying voice with Professor Constance Haas; Professors Webber and Rita Shane will share teaching responsibilities for Vernon Di Carlo. Rey David Cortes will be studying euphonium with Professor Mark Kellogg. According to the studio teachers, Eastman students have welcomed their new colleagues with open arms.
More information on Eastman’s and the University’s response to the event can be found at www.rochester.edu/Eastman/katrina.php.
Note: A group photo of the students is available, as are interviews with Eastman faculty and administration.