Caitlin Secrest, a sophomore vocal performance major at Ouachita Baptist University, surprised competitors by being the youngest participant selected for the prestigious 2011 OperaWorks Emerging Artist Program held at Cal State University in Northridge, Calif., this summer.
“When I first heard Caitlin’s audition DVD I was impressed with her vocal maturity, her ease on stage and her artistry,” said Ann Baltz, founder and artistic director of OperaWorks. “It was clear that she was the caliber of performer we accept into OperaWorks.”
Secrest, an Arkadelphia native, was one of 32 performers selected to participate from a field of approximately 300 who auditioned. She was also accepted to participate in the highly competitive FestivalSouth Opera Program in Mississippi, but ultimately chose to pursue the OperaWorks experience.
“I chose this program because it was set apart from the rest,” Secrest explained. “We worked on all aspects of performance and not just the technique. We were taught to get out of the box and become real communicators.”
The program educated participants in their chosen field of voice performance and offered tips about pursuing a career in the vocal arts.
“We focused not only on performance, but also on our portfolios, the business side of professional singing. On the performance end, we were encouraged to be relaxed, free and open on stage,” Secrest said. “ Classes like yoga and movement taught us to really let go. As musicians, sometimes we are so wrapped up in being perfect we forget to be real. The audience wants to see real people on stage.”
Along with taking classes, Secrest found time to build great friendships with fellow participants. The 32-member group encouraged one another both with constructive criticism and praise. “When you were given a compliment, you knew you really deserved it,” Secrest said.
While focusing on the professional and personal aspects of the program, Secrest made a point to keep a positive attitude, knowing that the weeks with other artists would create opportunities to provide an example of her faith, and challenges to it as well.
“Some of the world of music is full of selfishness and a focus on personal gain,” Secrest said, “so by going into the experience with a mission mindset, I shared what God has done for me personally. By building these relationships, I could then share witness of this when I was questioned by the other participants.”
“Her enthusiastic and bubbly personality, her intense curiosity and her absolute commitment to being better was inspiring and positively affected the entire group’s personality,” Baltz noted. “Caitlin is terrifically talented in all the right ways, and it was a real honor to be part of her life and early career.”
“She has a heart for the Lord,” said Dr. Glenda Secrest, Caitlin’s mother and OBU professor of music. “She is the real thing, full of energy and a wonderful personality. She has a true passion for music, and I believe that God is affirming her decisions and rewarding her faithfulness and use of her gifts.
“We have team taught her voice lessons since her sophomore year of high school, but we encouraged her to look around at other schools and be certain she found the right fit for her,” Dr. Glenda Secrest said. “She chose to enroll here at Ouachita so that she could continue her training with us.”
“Through her prayerful decisions, in her singing and each choice she has made, we’ve tried to impress on her that no matter what she does, God will guide her footsteps,” added her father, Dr. Jon Secrest, OBU professor of music. “Her acceptance into both of these programs is a perfect example of that guidance and affirmation.”
Back in the midst of everyday life at Ouachita, Secrest said the program continues to influence her studies and her outlook on life. “This was a life-changing experience,” she said. “Not only did it transform my performing, it impacted my view of others. I view fellow artists differently now and see so much beauty in them. I know this view will continue to evolve and grow.”
By Breanne Goodrum