Category Archives: Student Features

These posts feature student projects as well as students who are skillful in various areas of arts entrepenurship. Read more to hear the amazing stories of our students and their groups/organizations!

Highlighting Black Artistry: The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin

Happy Black History Month! We’re back again here on the EXCEL Log for a Black artistry feature. In case you haven’t read our previous post, this month at the EXCEL Log we’re highlighting Black music, theatre, and dance. It’s important to celebrate Black artistry every month, but during Black history month, we can intentionally broaden our horizons and focus on creating tangible efforts to amplify Black voices. This week we will be featuring Cortez Hill. He is a 3rd-year Business Administration and Theatre Arts student, an EXCEL Enterprise fund recipient, and the producer of The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin, a musical by Kirsten Childs that will be performed at the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 24th and 25th.

Mattie Levy: What was the inspiration behind producing Bubbly Black Girl?

Cortez Hill: Our Music Director, Caleb Middleton (SMTD ’24), and I were introduced to this work by Musical Theatre Department Chair, Michael McElroy. We were instantly drawn to this amazing piece of work written by Kirsten Childs and wanted to bring it to the U-M community. The piece addresses serious issues but also talks about them in a hilarious way that I think really appeals to the humor of our current generation and population at the University of Michigan. Kirsten’s creative mind and unique musical talents are not like anything I have ever seen before in a production on campus, and I am excited to introduce this musical to the community.

Mattie Levy: What do you think audiences will get from the experience of watching the show?

Cortez Hill: I hope the audience will learn so much from the story about a unique experience of a Black woman that is not often represented in other works, even other works that are also written by Black artists about Black communities. Still, Bubbly Black Girl really has something for everyone – all identities – to relate to. Additionally, we have so many incredible artists from various disciplines involved in this production. Our actors, designers, and creative teams have dedicated so much time towards bringing the story to life and I’m so thrilled for our audience to see their amazing work!

Mattie Levy: Anything else you would like to share?

Cortez Hill: Starting this project involved introducing it to various students and organizations on campus. I’m so happy and grateful for the amount of support we receive from the U-M community to put this show on the stage!

Thanks for tuning into the EXCEL log! Mark your calendars and go see The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds her Chameleon Skin at Arthur Miller Theatre on February 24th, 2023 at 8pm or February 25th at 2pm or 8pm. Tickets are free but can be reserved here. Check out this link to learn more about the show.

Highlighting Black Artistry: An Evening for Sarah

Happy Black History Month! This month at the EXCEL Log we are highlighting Black Artistry by featuring student projects and highlighting the contributions of Black artists to music, theatre, and dance. It’s important to always celebrate Black History, but Black History Month can be a time to intentionally reflect and educate ourselves on the ways Black people have shaped and continue to shape performance, art, and culture. We kick off this series with a brief interview with 4th-year dance major, Brooke Taylor, about her project An Evening for Sarah, a performance honoring Sarah Collins Rudolph on Friday, February 10th at 7pm. 

Mattie Levy: What was the inspiration behind creating an Evening for Sarah

Brooke Taylor: Last May, I was watching Channel 7 news and there was a story about a woman named Sarah Collins Rudolph. I quickly found out that she was the fifth little girl, who survived the 16th Street Church bombing on September 15th, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama. I was so shocked because throughout my years I was only aware of the 4 little girls, who were killed due to the bomb. This news segment was not only the telling of Sarah’s story, but it was also about Oakland University honoring Sarah Collins Rudolph with an honorary nursing degree because she wasn’t able to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. As I continued to watch this story, my mind started to turn and I got the feeling of butterflies in my stomach. This feeling, which I am very accustomed to, means I have an idea to plan something. I thought to myself, I want to plan a concert at the University of Michigan to honor her through art and dance. 

Mattie Levy: Can you tell us about some of the performances we’ll see at an Evening for Sarah?

Brooke Taylor: You will see students from across the University of Michigan honoring her through song, dance, and poetry. 

Mattie Levy: Is there anything else you would like to share about the project? 

Brooke Taylor: This year will mark 60 years since the hate crime that was the 16th Street Church Bombing in Birmingham, Alabama. In addition to remembering these impactful moments of history, we should also be honoring and learning from the ones who lived through them. 

Check out An Evening for Sarah on February 10th, 2023 at 7pm. The concert will take place at the Dance Building’s Performance Studio Theatre, 1000 Baits Dr, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109. Tickets will be available for free an hour before the show and are first come, first served. 

Additional Resources on Sarah Collins Rudolph:

“Birmingham’s 5th Girl” a Washington Post article that provides more information about the 16th St. Church Bombing

Sarah Collins Rudolph’s website 

How To Make $4 In 4 Months

Meet Myah Paden, a Masters in Music student at U of M studying voice performance. Read her fabulous op-ed on her experience starting the Thorne & Thistle podcast.

This summer I started a podcast to cope.

Now, I’m not going to lie to you; 2020 has ultimately been a pretty good year for me, all things considered. If that makes you want to immediately stop reading this, I totally get it, but if it makes you feel any better, it did not start out that way. At the start of 2020, I was officially 2 months on antidepressants to treat acute symptoms of what was quickly turning into, arguably, the worst year of my life. 

I graduated from my undergraduate program in August of 2019, moved across the country from the Deep South to the suburban Midwest, lived alone for the first time in my life, and started a Masters degree. I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity which happened to be exactly too many. I became consumed in grinding, and lost my sense of self in the process. By Winter semester, I was running on the fumes of clinical perfectionism.

The news cycle was pretty dismal then, too (do you remember when just Australia was on fire?). Spring break came and went, and I considered just giving it all up, moving to a foreign country, and recreating my identity anew as an eccentric young savant. I was begging the Universe for a break.

And then the world went still.

All at once, I was completely distanced from the friendships I had just barely begun to form and the life I was beginning to build. All of that disappeared in an instant, and I was alone with my thoughts and my emotional support cat dutifully keeping me company. The first month was the most surreal. Slowly, the apocalyptic haze that settled over the world began to clear, and I, too, began to settle into what would months later become “normal”. The moment I felt like I was finally lifting the thick quarantine depression from my shoulders–it was then that I heard about George Floyd.

Peep Myah’s beautiful emotional support cat

Like most Black Americans, I have been desensitized to the brutalization of Black bodies and the apathy of white America. I am, to a degree, used to the cycle of grief that plagues my community every year or so when our trauma is a hot topic. The social media “activism” that follows and its companion of false allyship–these things are not new. Watching a Black man be unjustly murdered in front of my eyes and having distant Facebook friends perpetuate the gaslighting of the Black community under the guise of playing “devil’s advocate”–this is not new either. The crucial difference between George Floyd’s execution and the litany of Black names that flood our timelines year after year was timing.

It was the lack of ability to turn away from the screen and to move on. We had to look, and for many that was the first time bearing witness to the perverse reality of Black life in this country. For me, it was a tipping point.

To be clear, this is not an article about George Floyd. This is about identity, trauma, and healing. This is about me, and it’s about us. 

I hit my breaking point watching the footage and fallout of George Floyd’s murder. I had so many emotions overflowing from me and spilling over tainting the simplest things in my life. I couldn’t cry or laugh or scream. I was numb. I only watched the video once, but I saw it played out thousands of times whenever I closed my eyes. Each time, the face of George Floyd was replaced by a Black loved one–my brother, cousin, father, myself. I could feel all of the similar traumatic moments I’d seen over the years crash into me at once. To make matters worse, I lived alone, so there was no consolation for me that wasn’t filtered through a Zoom call.

Like all good creatives do, I turned to art. I opened Audacity (free recording software) and just spoke. “Um…a lot is going on right now…,” I began.

I gave into my stream of consciousness and released the emotions I had been repressing without the expectation or desire that they would go beyond my IP address. I experienced an intense relief in the process. When I finally stopped the recording, I realized in the following silence that so much of what I was feeling was helplessness, and suddenly, I no longer felt helpless.

I am not built for protest. I have too much Anxiety to be at the frontlines of a movement.

What I have is a voice and the ADHD-given ability to present full oral dissertations to an invisible audience. With those spurring me on, I flung my story into the digital void for both no one and everyone. I released all of it, and in the face of a global pandemic, white and conservative apathy, and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, I felt catharsis. This was my protest.

People began to reach out and share with me their feelings as well, stories which were nuanced–colored by each individual experience. More joined and months later, what began as a digital diary entry eventually grew beyond me. 

The whole experience is teaching me something pivotal: our intersectional experiences, those points of life at which the multiplicity of identity and community meet, color our pain different shades of the same color, but ultimately, we are connected in the sharing of grief and hope. 

So, that was June.

Since then, I decided to take a leave from school for a year. I started therapy for the first time since moving from Georgia, and I’ve started feeling my sense of self return to me after being lost for the last year and a half. 

I have connected and shared conversation with truly amazing people through my growing platform like non-binary music artist and producer, London Beck, and internationally acclaimed biracial classical singer, Julia Bullock. I have deepened connections with friends and induced connections with strangers. In healing my own spirit and sharing my story, I have gained the platform to share the stories of others and facilitate empathy and healing together. 

This has become the mission of my podcast Thorn & Thistle and my reason to continue: Cutting through the thorns and navigating a path through the complex griefs, joys, and experiences of life with the understanding that everyone’s path is unique. Some are steeper or more treacherous than others. All paths lead forward. 

No doubt, this year has more in store for us. As a Black, neurodivergent, lesbian woman with a Bachelor’s degree in Music, I am sure to have plenty of content to keep my podcasting career afloat. I don’t mean to boast, but in the four months my show has been running, I’ve racked up a whopping four whole dollars. I guess you could say I’ve made it.

As voting rights are expressed and suppressed throughout the country, there is something intense and probably disappointing on the horizon no matter your political alignment. 

Unfortunately, there really is no inspiring takeaway in this article. My story isn’t altogether profound, but it is honest.

I thought about how to write this in so many ways. I wondered if I should tell you all of my experience meeting and chatting with Julia Bullock who is one of my favorite living classical artists of the modern age. I could type my fingers numb expounding on the guiding philosophical principles which are, in some part, foundationally responsible for the creation of Thorn & Thistle (for the record: Womanism and Intersectional Feminism). I could write a very poignant piece on the plight of the Black Woman in America™ or on queering the classical space. I could talk about a lot of things because that’s what I’m good at, but to be perfectly honest, that’s what my show is for. 

Check out Myah’s episode with Julia Bullock, really amazing!

At its core, my podcast exists as a kind of group therapy session for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people. I no longer create mission trip-esque content for white, cis, and/or heteronormative audiences to attempt to absolve guilt by deigning to listen whilst oggling at the natives like ravenous spectators at a human zoo. 

However, on this platform, I wanted to share a story that shows me as I am: a person wrapped in complexity which uniquely colors my experience. A person attempting to do something good in a world where those in power profit from our helplessness and fear. A curious mind with a passion for storytelling and nurturing the connective tissue between myself and you. 

I invite you to fearlessly follow your voice through the chaotic, thorn-covered bramble of the state of the world we’re in. Maybe you’ll find new connections or refresh old ones. Maybe you’ll start a podcast. Or maybe you’ll find, like I did, that we are never truly helpless.

-Myah Paden

EXCEL Highlights is a series where we feature students and faculty at UM that are changing the world and creating dope art! Make sure to look for the next post an interview with the amazing Arts in Color dance group. If you’d like to see your project featured, and get some free publicity, send an email to!

EXCEL Prize Winning Project Resumes This Month

The SMTD & Our Own Thing Piano Partnership Program (EXCEL Prize ‘18) provides free weekly piano lessons to Ypsilanti students and was created to address the lack of diversity and representation in the field of classical piano. The EXCEL Prize allowed the program to supply students with keyboards for practice, give additional training for instructors, and support guest artist workshops.

Dr. Leah Claiborne (MM ‘15, DMA ‘18), was our 2018 EXCEL Prize Winner for her project, Our Own Thing Piano Partnership. In addition to the EXCEL Prize, Leah was also awarded the University of Michigan’s MLK Spirit Award for creating OOTPP. 

Leah said the most important aspect when forming the program was communicating that the reason for doing it was genuine. She did this by speaking to parents and the community and showing them that she was sincere, as well as making sure that all of the team facilitating the program was on the same page. Students were recruited for the program through her church in Ypsilanti, where she served as Music Director, and other affiliated churches in the area.

Leah is now the Assistant Professor of Piano at the University of the District of Columbia, where she teaches piano, coordinates Keyboard Studies, and teaches African American Music History. She is in the process of forming a new piano studies program with the same model as OOTPP at U of D.C.

Our Own Thing Piano Partnership continues to thrive at SMTD, with a new group of students beginning this month.

Connecticut Summerfest Seeking U-M Intern

For the second year in a row, Connecticut Summerfest is recruiting a University of Michigan student for their Arts Management Internship

The Connecticut Summerfest is a different kind of summer music experience. Co-Founders Aaron N. Price and current SMTD student Gala Flagello (DMA ‘22) met at The Hartt School in West Hartford, Connecticut where they recognized the potential for an affordable, compact summer music program right in their own backyard.

Co-founders Gala Flagello (DMA ’22) and Aaron M. Price

The structure of Connecticut Summerfest was crafted from some of the most advantageous aspects of festivals Aaron and Gala had each personally attended. It is a week-long event with three ensembles-in-residence, four composition faculty members, and a variety of guest speakers. In addition to live premieres, festival composers will benefit from a professional recording session of their new works, commissioned by the festival and the ensembles-in-residence. Resident ensembles are also invited to give a recital of their own repertoire as part of the festival’s nightly concert series. In an effort to serve a broader audience, not only are Connecticut Summerfest’s concerts free and open to the public, they are also live-streamed so that they may be enjoyed from anywhere in the world. 

Akropolis Reed Quintet, the 2018 Ensemble-in-Residence, in recording session

Connecticut Summerfest brings together talented emerging composers with some of the country’s most inventive chamber music ensembles for a week-long festival of artistic exchange culminating in nine world premieres. Now in its 5th season, the festival provides the Greater Hartford community with contemporary music concerts of the highest caliber through a nightly concert series featuring three ensembles-in-residence and brand-new pieces written by festival composition students. The 2020 ensemble-in-residence is the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)

The Arts Management Internship is filled with opportunities to learn valuable skills in arts management in the areas of Development, Operations, and Concert Production. Responsibilities include developing and executing a social media plan, assisting with fundraising events and outreach efforts, assisting with arrival and departure logistics of festival participants, and working on concert preparation, recording, and front of house management.

Not only is the internship designed to provide opportunities for learning, it is also customized to best suit the chosen student. “We allow our interns to work to their strengths and explore their own individual interests,” Flagello says. “For example, our intern last year was a great photographer. She was able to take photos at our concerts and events, and to take a larger role in our social media management.” The directors of this festival strongly value each intern, viewing them as prospective staff. Each of the past three interns are current employees of Connecticut Summerfest. 

The 2020 Connecticut Summerfest takes place June 11-17 at The Hartt School. More information on the Arts Management Internship is available here on the EXCEL web page. Applications are due Friday, January 24th, 2020.

Third Place Music Festival: Making Chamber Music Accessible

This week on the EXCEL Log, we are featuring student project, Third Place Music Fest, organized by Wesley Hornpetrie (MM ’18), Kaleigh Wilder (MM ’19), and Clay Gonzalez (current MM student). Now in its third season, the Third Place Concert Series, curated by Wesley, facilitates monthly concerts in local Ann Arbor venues and businesses. This past summer, Kaleigh and Clay joined the team to produce the First Annual Third Place Music Fest. The Festival ran from May 8th to 11th and featured over 20 different acts. We got to talk to Wesley and Kaleigh about the Festival.

EXCEL: What is the mission of the Third Place Music Fest?

Wesley: We give an opportunity for local musicians to show their stuff in local third places. That’s where the name comes from. The Third Place is an Urban Sociology term. Everyone in communities, they have their first place — their home — and their second place is their work. And they need their third place, which needs to be a place to gather and to meet new people and old friends. And it needs to be affordable. This is our version of it via a music festival.

EXCEL: Who performed at the festival?

Kaleigh: We had over 20 groups ranging from your “typical” classical string quartet all the way to performance art. There was math rock, free improvisation, interdisciplinary acts that combined music and dance, and jazz. I personally think this festival is important because, while there are a lot of great opportunities here in Ann Arbor, this festival allowed us to showcase other musical varieties and flavors that you don’t always get to see. And, it was in really accessible public spaces.

Wesley: Third Place Music Fest is where quirky artists and artists on the fringes of the mainstream get to come out and be heard and feel accepted.

EXCEL: The Festival was such a good time, and it was only your first year! How did you set up the Festival for success?

Wesley: The TPMF was successful I think because of the combination of local artists in local spaces. The celebration of that intersection was something very special for the musicians, participating venues, and businesses in the greater Ann Arbor community. We brought the greater community to the next level of local arts scene I’m guessing the average Ann Arbor resident wasn’t aware even existed. This combination of financial and physical accessibility made it home grown and something for people to feel connected to in an authentic way.

Kaleigh: We also have to thank the EXCEL Enterprise Fund. Receiving those funds allowed us to book Kerrytown Concert House, which is a performance venue staple in the Ann Arbor community. It also helped us with our printing costs and just the logistical financial elements of the festival.

The Excel Enterprise Fund is a funding resource for SMTD students. The deadline for Round 2 of applications is November 8th, 2019. For more information, visit or stop by the EXCEL Lab in Moore.

5 Ways my Arts Entrepreneurship & Leadership Training is Shaping my Career

Hi everyone, before we dive into this week’s post, just a reminder to please SUBSCRIBE to our blog! Students who subscribe get one free item of EXCEL swag including water bottles, coffee mugs, bags, stickers, and more!


Allow me to introduce myself! I’m BethAnne and I am the new blogger for EXCEL. I graduated in Spring 2019 with an MM in Saxophone Performance, an MM in Chamber Music, and was among the first class of students to graduate with EXCEL’s Graduate Certificate in Arts Leadership & Entrepreneurship. Now I work full time at ArtOps (an arts management services provider in Metro Detroit), play in a sextet called Virago, teach private saxophone lessons, and work with EXCEL on this blog. So far life in the performing arts workforce is a whirlwind but I am loving the ride. 

Food is an EXCEL Tradition – especially on Taco Tuesday!

I can confidently say that I would not be where I am today without EXCEL. Students, you might be wondering, “what can the lab that always has free food do to help me build my career as a performing artist?” Well, here is what I gained from EXCEL (besides my weight in tacos):

1. A foot in the door. EXCEL’s slogan is “Do Stuff.” While at SMTD, I adhered to that advice and became involved in everything I possibly could, both musical and administrational. Frequent meetings with Jonathan or Caitlin to get feedback on my application materials, cover letters, and resume helped me to always present my best work when going for an opportunity. I would also check in with them to find out about new opportunities by attending information sessions. In my two years of grad school I interned at UMS, The EXCEL Lab, The Ann Arbor Blues Festival, The Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, and even simply sold tickets and CDs at the door for my professor’s quartet shows. I realize now how many new skills I gained from these different experiences. Most importantly, I made countless professional connections of which I feel I can reach out to at any time.

Through Immersion Trips, EXCEL Talks, the Career Expo, and other kinds of networking opportunities, EXCEL helps students make connections to all kinds of professionals in many fields.

2. A diversified skills portfolio. Throughout my administrative interning, I gained experience with Patron Engagement, Artist Services, Front of House, Back of House, Artistic Operations, Fundraising, Social Media Marketing, and DIY Graphic Design. I also took EXCEL classes on the Music Industry, Grant Writing, Running an Arts Organization, and Arts Leadership. 

An excerpt from the 2019 EXCEL Report about the “Running An Arts Organization” course with the Akropolis Reed Quintet. Click the image to read the full report.

Today, many artists build a career by having multiple streams of income based on their collection of skills and interests. EXCEL’s classes, Open Lab workshops, and coaching sessions are available to students to help us build up our repertoire of skills beyond our craft.

3. A venture. During my time at SMTD I started a brand new ensemble called Virago.  This group is just a year old but we have gained momentum very quickly! From this project I realized what a huge administrative workload is involved in running a chamber music group, and all of my previously mentioned new skills are being used for this venture. We are grateful to have been supported by EXCEL, as well as different grants available to U of M students from Arts at Michigan, ArtsEngine, and Performance Engagement Educational Residencies (PEERs). As I walked across the stage at commencement, I had upcoming performance dates set and projects in motion with this group. What a great feeling!

Virago members Megan, Ellen, Wesley, Kaleigh, Sofia, & me!

Through the Enterprise Fund, the EXCELerator mentorship program, and the EXCEL Prize, students can apply for the funding they need to take projects or ventures to the next level. This not only provides students with experiential learning opportunities, but also the funding and mentorship needed to become self-sustaining in the long term.

4. A passion with a purpose. Entrepreneurship doesn’t just mean starting a venture with an idea of how to get rich; it can be used to serve a higher purpose for the greater good. Social Entrepreneurship is the term for using entrepreneurial skills and resources for social impact. The 2019 EXCEL Career Expo was focused around Social Entrepreneurship and featured speakers from a variety of social entrepreneurs in the community.

Playing with students at Virago’s Brave Performance Workshop!

In this spirit, Virago created our Brave Performance Workshop – a workshop which empowers students to be creative and fosters listening and communication skills through musical improvisation. EXCEL referred us to Performance Engagement Educational Residencies (PEERs), which connected us to our first partner school for the workshop. Later we also partnered with Girls Rock Detroit. We cannot wait to do it again soon!

5. A sustainable life in the arts. Since graduation, I have started a full-time Development position with ArtOps (an organization where I interned), expanded my private teaching studio, and continued performing and doing outreach with Virago. I feel well-equipped to go forth in these roles, and to continue my portfolio career as an arts administrator, performer, and educator for years to come.

While all students at SMTD have different passions and interests, we are all here in hopes of building a sustainable life in the arts. The EXCEL Program has certainly helped me achieve this. If you are interested in (or even just curious about) Arts Entrepreneurship & Leadership, stop by the EXCEL Lab to see what they might have in store for you! They can probably help to shape your career too.

Me with Jonathan Kuuskoski, Director of the EXCEL Lab and important mentor to so many SMTD students!

Theresa Walle: Music as Communication


Theresa Walle is a fourth-year student at the University of Michigan. She is pursuing a BM in Vocal Performance, a BA in Communication Studies, and a minor in German Studies. Walle is the Editor of Sigma Alpha Iota–Alpha Chapter, an intern at St. Mary Student Parish, and the latest recipient of the MET Internship offered through EXCEL. Walle is interested in expanding her personal and professional efforts in Voice Performance and Communications to work within the religious community on various impactful social projects.

Since early childhood, Theresa Walle has been an avid singer, a multi-talented musician, and a passionate writer. Coming from Troy, Michigan, Theresa is part of a long line of Michigan Wolverines, “My four older siblings, my mom, both of my grandfathers, my uncles, and my cousin all attended U of M.” It’s no surprise that Theresa herself would eventually become part of this legacy, but her vital decision to attend U of M comes from a much deeper motivation than just the family’s legacy. With her many interests, Theresa is able to pursue the perfect academic career path for her: combining interests in music to gain a BM in Vocal Performance while simultaneously exercising her passion of writing with a BA in Communication Studies. Attending U of M also allowed the space for her to expand an interest in German language and culture, such that she also declared a minor in German Studies.

While Theresa has been singing since early childhood, her decision to pursue the art came later in 2013, when she toured Germany with the Blue Lake International Choir Ensemble. “[It] ignited my desire to audition as a vocalist for music school,” explains Walle. “I attended summer vocal artist programs at DePaw University and Westminster Choir College the following two summers.” Besides the many programs that Walle pursued, she also received top ratings at the MSVMA Solo & Ensemble both as a soloist and in her school’s honor choir.


With such a talented and extensive journey leading up to her current path as a vocalist, Walle expresses how she was still passionate about writing, particularly in journalism. “[My] school’s student-run newspaper, Newsprint, is one of the top student newspapers in the state. I was Editor-in-Chief my senior year, [ …] where I oversaw all aspects of the monthly paper and maintained a monthly editorial column. It was from this strong journalism background that drove me to pursue a degree in Communication Studies.” In her Communications Studies degree, Walle describes some of the interesting courses, such as “Media and the Body,” “Internet Law,” and “Media Industries.”

Achieving two degrees in two very different fields is not an easy task. It comes with its own ups and downs, but overall the University of Michigan allows the flexibility for students to become whoever they want to be, and to focus on areas that can be combined into a multi-faceted career. “There are certainly difficulties to balancing a dual degree,” says Walle, “but they’ve become a normal part of my life now. Particularly challenging is navigating the numerous requirements of each degree when courses overlap.” Accomplishing two separate degrees and a minor includes taking a bit of extra time; in Walle’s case, a fifth year. This extra time can be vital, though, as it opens up the opportunity for students to take advantage of on-campus resources for their own personal projects or a stronger focus on academia.

This fall Walle is embarking on an independent study with Dr. Piper from the vocal faculty, exploring themes of Catholicism in vocal repertoire. “Staying at the University a fifth year allows me time for more opportunities that I wouldn’t be able to take part in if I had to leave at the end of this year,” Walle describes. “I’m happy to be taking a fifth year to graduate, or else I would have no time outside of taking only the mandatory classes I need for graduation.”

Theresa highly encourages students to take the extra time they need to complete their degree(s). “We have the benefit of attending not only one of the top music schools in the country, but also one of the top universities,” Walle says, “There is no better time than now to utilize fully the resources this University has to offer.” Part of going to a diverse and exceptional school like U of M is making sure to take the time that is necessary to develop an individualized journey for a multi-talented, multi-faceted career. Branching out of our comfort zones and fields is part of what makes the undergraduate experience a life-long highlight. Walle describes, “I highly encourage all students to explore classes outside of their degree program. It is easy to stay at the music school and focus solely on my craft, but my LSA classes keep me connected to the ‘real world’ and help me look at the music industry through a more critical lense.”


One of the highlight activities that Walle has taken advantage of so far in her undergraduate career is the Metropolitan Opera Internship, offered through the SMTD’s EXCEL and cooperated with an EXCEL alumna. “I first heard about the MET internship my freshman year,” Walle explains, “I remember calling my mom in the dining hall, excited and amazed at the prospect of such a prestigious internship available to me.” She continues to describe how she finally decided to go “out on a limb” in her junior year and apply for the internship. After some collaboration with members of the EXCEL team and an interview process, she received the Internship and a stipend through EXCEL. She was also granted a scholarship through the Communications Department. “With this funding, I was able to afford housing, food, and transportation in New York for the summer,” Theresa describes.

Walle also expanded a bit more on her personal experiences with EXCEL. She describes its important to her as a student in both the SMTD, and the LSA. “EXCEL has proved to be a strong asset to me throughout my time at U of M. I highly recommend students to take advantage of the support EXCEL has to offer, whether that be résumé help or reviewing an application before submitting,” said Walle.

Whether you need privatized help with an application or you want to get advice on how to nail an interview, EXCEL is at your disposal. In Walle’s case, EXCEL was able to offer resources that expanded beyond the SMTD and was able to take her other degrees and interests into account. “I had a blast in New York, honestly the best summer of my life,” describes Walle. She expands on the many opportunities she had outside of just working in the MET office; opportunities that dig deeper into what she wants for her personal, academic, and professional life. EXCEL also offers many other opportunities besides the MET Internship. The resources available can help further than just academic or professional goals, they can also impact your personal growth and interests.

—Timothy Brewer

Grace Bydalek: Musical Theatre & Magazines


Grace had many dreams as a child. And just as her dreams were diverse and ever-changing back then, her dreams continue to change to this day. “I hoped to be a pediatrician, and then a vet, and then a forensic investigator, and then a journalist, and then a wedding planner. I don’t think that childhood Grace could’ve predicted where she is now,” Grace explained. And just as her dreams continue to develop in different ways, so does her unique and diverse involvement at the University of Michigan.

Focusing now on Musical Theatre, Grace is a senior here in the SMTD and involves herself in many other areas such as Arts Administration, Creative Production, and writing. She also has a Creative Writing Minor through the College of LSA, and worked as a Pomegranate Arts Intern.

Grace was granted the 21st Century Internship, meaning she had the opportunity to work with Pomegranate Arts, ultimately working with artists like Laurie Anderson, Batsheva Dance Company, and Taylor Mac. As Grace described, “The 21st Century Artists Internship was one of the defining opportunities of my life. I was able to live in New York City for a couple months, which in and of itself is a great blessing for up and coming artists.” She portrayed the very active and demanding tasks of the internship, such as running from the Pomegranate Arts offices on 28th and Broadway, to Smash Studios for a recording session with Taylor Mac, to the Yale University campus for the Festival of Arts and Ideas. But part of the reward was of course finding inspirational figures who had built the production company from the ground up. “It was so heartening to work under two badass women, Linda Brumbach and Alisa Regas,” Grace explained. Besides the inspirational experience, Grace came to learn much more from the internship as well. “You can succeed, financially and artistically, by making art that you believe in,” she says. “This internship taught me how to recognize artistic brilliance—by trusting my own visceral reactions to the pieces that I see. These revelations were validated through the words of Jack O’Brien, Jeffrey Seller, and Stephen Schwartz.”


One particular project of Grace’s that stands out is her Solos Literary Magazine. The magazine was started with help from the SMTD’s EXCEL funding, and was able to provide a space for students in the SMTD to share their writing. “I saw a deficit in our community of publications like Solos; a marketing tool,” Grace expressed. Sometimes it’s difficult to see the unity of an institution behind the hustle and bustle of people’s individual lives. However, as Grace also explains, “[A publication like Solos is] a magazine and website with the mission of promoting school-wide unity, showcasing the work of writers and artists within the SMTD in a format not currently available, creating meaningful relationships through readings and other magazine events, and expanding the breadth of collaboration that is possible.”

The magazine was made to be a community-focused project, as Grace put it. Unfortunately, other interests had come to the fore this year for Grace, and the Solos Team didn’t have time to continue the magazine. “However, I think that we all learned a great deal about collaboration, leadership, and entrepreneurship through our endeavors,” Grace described.


In her many experiences with entrepreneurship and Arts Management, Grace also tackles the more complex questions and issues with defining the conglomeration of entrepreneurship and artistry, “…one of the big questions that I have been asking myself while doing this project and also in looking at other researchers’ work is: can the artist be separated from entrepreneurship? Or does an artist need to be an entrepreneur to be successful?” Her answer to this question focuses on the artist’s individual needs: it depends on what an artist would like to be accomplished in his/her art.

Grace sees herself as an entrepreneur, especially as she describes how important it is to her that she continue to have a final say in all creative decisions. “If I have a project that I need to find funding for, I know how to find the funding and write the grant applications. This administrative work is something that we must accept, and embrace, in order to do what we love,” she explains. As being an entrepreneur can be a vital aspect of being an artist, Grace claims that organization, creative thinking, humility, gratitude, leadership, and kindness are just a few of the important aspects of what make up a good artistic entrepreneur.


Even though Grace admits that she still has a lot to learn about being an entrepreneur, she still strives to be an involved and active part of the musical and non-musical communities. Her Senior Showcase is coming up soon in the next month, and she will then move to New York to pursue musical theatre full time. Her one piece of advice to students inspiring to do the impossible is to reach out. “We in SMTD are gifted with a beautiful, brilliant community. Those things that are impossible for you are second nature to someone in your sphere. All things are possible through collaboration, and recognizing the brilliance of those around you,” Grace describes.

Grace Bydalek is a recent alumna from the University of Michigan. Her degree focus was on musical theatre and she was constantly involved with other facets of the arts. She will be giving her Senior Showcase soon, and moving to New York after graduation to pursue a full-time career in musical theatre. By working with Pomegranate Arts in New York City, creating her own literary magazine, and constantly submerging herself  in new and exciting opportunities, Grace tries to encompass all of the exciting artistic and entrepreneurial things she does into her overall academic and professional experience.

—Timothy Brewer

Carolina Heredia: “Khemia”

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Carolina’s exposure to the arts goes far deeper than the experiences she gained at the post-secondary level. “I have always been involved with the arts. My mom, a dancer herself,  sent me to several early education art schools, dance classes (classical and folk) and, finally, the conservatory when I was seven years old,” Carolina described. She started playing in a folk band at 16, for which she started writing arrangements. “We soon ventured into group composing, and I found that I loved imagining music and realizing it.” It was this group and these experiences that solidified her desire to be a composer.

Carolina was given a recommendation to check out the University of Michigan after studying violin and composition at Cordoba State Conservatory and the National University of Villa Maria in Argentina. After applications to here and other institutions, she decided to pursue doctoral work in composition at U-M. “I felt a strong connection with Evan Chamber’s folk influences. I followed his blog and I was fascinated with the compassionate, thoughtful and open person he seemed to be,” she explained. With the influence and encouragement to progress her work in composition outside of the Western Canon, Carolina eventually founded her current group: Khemia.

Khemia began in 2014, and was really meant to be just a one-time project with several other graduate students at the University. “We wanted to collaborate with universities in Latin America with a series of five-day residencies,” Carolina said. “The ensemble gave two concerts, instrumental masterclasses, composition lectures, student composers’ reading sessions, and premieres of local composers’ pieces at the National Universities of Córdoba, Argentina, and Bogotá, Colombia.


With such a grand (and successful) feat, the ensemble was able to raise their own funds of $24,000 to cover many of the necessary expenses such as traveling, lodging, and food. After coming back, they decided to continue with a long-term project, which ignited help from the EXCEL office to plan the business model.

The ensemble was part of the first batch of “EXCELerator” fellows: recipients of a fellowship meant to help early-stage performing arts ventures with funding and mentoring/support. One notable EXCEL member is Jonathan Kuuskoski, who helps lead the mentorship of “EXCELerator” fellows and many other facets of EXCEL. Carolina noted, “I’m in the beginning of my professional career as a composer and academic, and Jonathan has been an incredible mentor for me since the beginning of EXCEL when I was still in school.” EXCEL became a huge source of assistance and groundwork for forming Khemia into the ensemble that it is today.

The “EXCELerator” fellowship funded Khemia for a light installation commission, and an album release tour in the Midwest. Following the “EXCELerator” fellowship, Khemia also received the Enterprise grant, and received travel assistance for their debut performance in New York City at National Sawdust this May.

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Beyond the extensive assistance, guidance, and funding from EXCEL, Carolina mentions some of the challenges that were faced in executing plans for the ensemble, and how they were overcome. “There were millions of challenges, and once we overcame them, new ones appeared; in many cases, overcoming the challenges pushed us to a better place,” she exclaimed. “Our current challenges are mostly related to distance. For the last two years, as members of Khemia graduated from school, we began full time jobs at different universities spread throughout the States (University of Missouri, University of Tennessee Martin, Penn State University, Lawrence Conservatory of Music) or started a vibrant freelance career in a complete new location. This brought new logistical and funding challenges for every performance, residency, and workshop we needed, but made us completely restructure the way we operated.” Though the group has faced challenges—even to this day—Carolina describes how Khemia is formed by people who are talented beyond just their artistry: they demonstrate a plethora of talent in their constant collaboration and efforts to foster teamwork. “What keeps us together is the deep admiration we feel for one another and how much we enjoy creating and performing together, we are a group of passionate individuals and we drive on each other’s artistry, accomplishments, and energy. In terms of administration, our manager Chelsea Tinsler Jones (also our percussionist) is doing an incredible job at navigating this transitional stage of relocation. We are all excited to continue building our organization,” described Carolina.

As the ensemble required teamwork and collaboration, Carolina encourages all artists to venture into collaboration with either other artists or even into completely different fields. “Collaboration has been one of the most humbling and rewarding projects in my career,” she expressed. “Observing how concepts, words and ideas translate to the different fields is enriching and open-minded.” Collaboration is highly encouraged at the University of Michigan, especially from the EXCEL team. It can help students venture into artistic and academic areas they never thought possible, and it can lead to even broader ideas that form enriching experiences for students, faculty, and the audience. Carolina describes, “My advice would be to always choose collaborators with whom you feel respected and vice versa, so that you are all open to engage in artistic discussions without affecting each other’s egos. It is also essential to feel deeply connected with your art, so that at the end there is almost nothing to discuss… Collaboration is a beautiful, humbling process of communal creation that deals not only with art, but also with human connection.”

Carolina received funding from EXCEL for the development of her dissertation: “Ausencias,” and for a summer internship that she conducted with Third Coast Percussion last summer. She expressed how EXCEL not only helped dissolve challenges arising in Khemia during its development, but how it was available for Khemia or her personal career whenever she needed. As Carolina best puts it, “I think EXCEL made a huge impact in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, and I trust it will keep improving and adapting to the needs of the students.”
Please also visit Carolina’s website:, for more information on her projects, on Khemia, and to check out some of her visual and audio media!

Carolina Heredia is a composer who explores the important convergence of music and visuals. She is currently an Assistant Professor of Music Composition at the University of Missouri. Her compositions have been commissioned and performed in the United States and South America by esteemed musicians and ensembles, and her current ensemble “Khemia” was founded at the University of Michigan during her time as a Doctoral Student in the Composition Department. “Khemia,” an ongoing project for Carolina, was greatly supported by the EXCEL team as the ensemble transitioned from a one-time performance into a touring group, seen on stage to this day.

—Timothy Brewer