UM-Flint's Summer Vocal Academy of Music receives a $15k grant from The Community Foundation of Greater Flint

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Group of students posing for a class picture outside on a lawn.
UM-Flint's Summer Vocal Academy of Music will take place July 8-19 at the downtown campus.

The Summer Vocal Academy of Music at the University of Michigan-Flint has been a transformative event for musically inclined middle and high school students for more than four decades. The program offers K-12 students a platform to explore their musical potential, develop their artistry and skills through singing and choral music, forge a lifelong connection with music, and build lasting friendships. 

This year, the Community Foundation of Greater Flint is furthering this legacy by making the experience more accessible through a generous $15,000 grant, which will significantly offset the cost of tuition. The Carolyn Mawby Fund and UM-Flint's K-12 Partnerships provide additional funding.

"I have former students who met when they attended the academy as middle or high school students, then attended  UM-Flint, continued to study music on a college level, and have ended up getting married!" said Gabriela Hristova, associate professor of music and director of the Summer Vocal Academy of Music. "Some of our academy students have become music professionals, teachers or performers – and some have even joined our university's music faculty. This summer program has a long history of helping its students flourish."

A group of children standing on risers practicing in a choir, with a teacher conducting them from behind a piano.
A previous Maize choir practicing during the Summer Vocal Academy of Music.

One such student is Hannah Rowell, a UM-Flint music program lecturer who began her academic journey by attending the academy. 

"My grandfather originally told me about the Academy because I was very passionate about singing in choirs, and I knew that, no matter what kind of work I did, it had to be something with music," Rowell said. "I attended during my junior and senior years in high school, and I loved it! I met faculty, learned my way around campus, and the experience prepared me to enroll at UM-Flint."

Rowell transitioned from academy student to counselor as she continued her studies at the downtown campus, where she earned a bachelor's degree in music performance in 2016. After attending graduate school in Georgia, Rowell returned to her alma mater to teach music, and she'll continue her involvement with the Summer Vocal Academy – this time as a faculty member – teaching vocal technique.

Emma Katrinic, a sophomore at UM-Flint, is another former academy student whose experiences helped lay the foundation for her future studies in music performance.

"I had been in choir since I was young, and my high school choir teacher told me about the Summer Vocal Academy, so I attended it for two years," said Katrinic. "It was such an inspiring experience. When I went to college, I started at another university and planned on studying STEM, but after the first year, I realized that it wasn't the right fit. I couldn't live without music, without singing, in my life! So I switched to UM-Flint because of my great experiences during my summers at the academy."

Several teens play marimbas in a classroom.
Junior Academy students playing in the Marimba Choir.

One of the highlights of the Summer Vocal Academy of Music is that the two different choirs – the Maize, comprised of students in grades five through seven, and the Blue, which includes grades eight through 12 – begin the two-week journey by learning brand new pieces of music. At the end of their experience, each group performs these songs for friends, family and the community during a public concert.

"I think that's the most impressive thing about this program – it showcases the incredible potential of students to learn and retain so much in such a short period of time," Hristova said. "It's a fantastic experience watching them grow creatively, emotionally, socially, and – of course – musically. In the program's two weeks, they explore a significant amount of choral repertoire, study vocal technique, participate in smaller vocal ensembles, and other creative activities that help them find their own artistic expression. They experience a friendly social environment with their peers and really do build lifelong friendships."

The Community Foundation of Greater Flint grant will make this year's academy more accessible. Samantha Palmer, a UM-Flint senior majoring in music education and performance, can attest to how necessary that funding is.

"I knew about the camp when I was in high school, but I could never afford to attend it. I love that I can now be part of it as a counselor while studying at UM-Flint," said Palmer. "It's wonderful to see kids from all different backgrounds coming together with one thing in common: music! It's kind of magical when you can sit together and make music with other people."

In addition to singing and exploring music, the junior academy also includes an art class and a marimba choir that teaches rhythm coordination, collaboration, and the creation of musical pieces as an ensemble. The senior academy focuses on fine-tuning vocal techniques. The artwork that the junior academy creates will be displayed during the public performance at the end.

Children in a classroom painting at their desks.
Junior Academy students painting during their daily art workshop.

"We're combining the junior and senior academy performances this year, which I think will be a beautiful showcase of all students' artistic work," Hristova said. "Once students attend the program, they return as often as possible. Their experiences at the academy have a long-lasting impact on their lives."

There are no prerequisites to attend this year's Summer Vocal Academy of Music, which takes place July 8-19. Any students interested in singing who want to make music this summer are welcome.

Registration is discounted by 50% through June 14 and 30% from June 15-28 and is open until the first day of class.

To learn more and register, visit the academy webpage.

Kat Oak is the communications specialist for the College of Arts, Sciences, and Education. She can be reached via email at [email protected].