Michael Malis on Self-Employment and Living In Between Genres

A graduate of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, Michael Malis (b. 1988) is a composer, pianist, and music educator based in Detroit, MI. He performs as a jazz musician, composes for the concert stage, and contributes to multidisciplinary collaborations. In 2019 and 2018, his compositions were commissioned by organizations such as Chamber Music Society of Detroit, Detroit Chamber Winds & Strings, and the Great Lakes Music Festival. In 2017, he released an album of duets with saxophonist Marcus Elliot, entitled “Balance.” The album was praised by the Detroit Metro Times as “contemporary jazz of the highest order, a benchmark for where the genre can go.” He has been lauded for his scores for film and theater, which have garnered awards, critical acclaim, and have reached international audiences. He has shared the stage with such luminaries as Marcus Belgrave, Tyshawn Sorey, William Hooker, Jaribu Shahid, John Lindberg, Dave Douglas, A. Spencer Barefield, Ken Filiano, J.D. Allen, Andrew Bishop, Dennis Coffey, and Marion Hayden. He is currently adjunct faculty at DIME (Detroit Institute of Music Education) where he teaches piano and music theory.

When you were at U-M, what program were you in?

I did a double major in Jazz Studies and English.

Were you involved in the classical side of the school at all?

Not really. I took piano lessons from a classical DMA student and took a couple composition classes, but generally speaking I wasn’t involved at all. That entire strand of what I am doing only came in the last 3-4 years. Of course I’ve always listened to and loved classical music, but I wasn’t involved in it until recently.

What inspired you to start playing and writing more classical music?

I think what it has come down to is that I’m interested in finding new sounds and following my ears. This is just where my ears have led me. When I decided to go back for my Masters at Wayne State University, I knew I didn’t want to go for a jazz degree. Not because I don’t love jazz, I mean, it’s the central area that I work in, but I wanted to treat it as an opportunity to do something that I’ve never done before, to really grow, and to find myself uncomfortable again. I had started to feel complacent in what I was doing so I needed something really different. That’s what drew me to being in a composition department, and being in composition opened me up to a whole lot of different things.

Were they receptive to you navigating between both genres?

Yeah. I was able to write whatever music I needed to write and do a lot of different work within the school. I even did a lot of work with the jazz department, including a trip to Japan with Chris Collins with a group from the Detroit Jazz Festival. A lot of the work that I was doing at WSU was focused on improvised music. Working at the border between composed and improvised music continues to define what I do. To be clear, I am by no means a classical pianist. I play a little bit at home for fun, but I would never do a recital of classical repertoire. That’s just not who I am. But I really respect people who can go both ways and I try to work with musicians on both sides of playing.

So when you were an undergraduate student at U-M, what did you see yourself doing for a career?

I wanted to play for a living. I wanted to be working as a jazz musician. I don’t know that I had the foresight to be thinking about a career. I was thinking only one to two years ahead, and I was thinking, I’m going to move to Detroit and I’m going to try really, really hard to work with older musicians, because I wanted the mentorship of older musicians. So that’s what I did. That period of time was when I really started discovering what it is I want to do and how I want to do it.

Is there anything that you are doing now that you never would have thought you would be doing for a living?

Yeah. For starters, I wouldn’t have thought that I’d be writing chamber music. That concept would have been totally foreign to 21-year-old Michael.

What would have also been surprising is that I’ve had to really learn how to relate to 6-year olds. I’ve had to get good at teaching young kids how to play piano and read music. My first gig out of college was teaching at a music school and I had around 40 students. I continue to do a lot of private teaching and I have a wide range of students. Some are adults getting back into playing, and some are serious musicians working on music theory skills, but other than that it’s mostly kids ages 5-15. I’ve also been able to do some really cool interdisciplinary work with theater and dance, which has felt really good and I’ve tried to do as much as I possibly can.

How did you get involved with interdisciplinary collaborations?

The first meaningful collaboration was with a theater company called Fratellanza. The founders, Paul Manganello and Jim Manganello are brothers and both U-M graduates. I’ve worked with Fratellanza on two shows and with Paul on another, which we just wrapped up at Cleveland Public Theatre back in April.

What else do you do as part of your career?

I spend a lot of time just gigging. Often times it is creative, and sometimes it’s not. For example, I play organ at a church and I also play weddings. But if you want to be a working musician, you have to be able to create your own opportunities. It can’t always come from the top down, sometimes it has to come from the bottom up. That DIY, entrepreneurial spirit is one of the hallmarks of the city of Detroit. I feel like every time I book a show under my own name, it has come from the mentality of me just getting out there, pounding the pavement and making it happen. You need to decide how important this is to you, and are you willing to put yourself on the line to make it happen.

How do you network?

Oh man. I feel like I’m bad at networking when I’m trying too hard at it, and always better when it’s happening organically. The best thing you can do is just be honest and genuine and be yourself. Doing things that are just good things to do that might not seem like networking can actually be the best networking, like showing up to people’s show, being a substitute for someone, or giving somebody a ride to the airport. Be the person that can show up for people. The music business is a people business, so you have to be a person that others want to be around. You have to make the people around you look good, feel good, and sound good. Just be a friend.

What is your advice to current SMTD students?

Get yourself financially literate as soon as you possibly can. In this business you are probably going to be self-employed, and self-employment means all the finance stuff gets even harder. And it continues to get harder as you make more money and you take on more responsibilities. It is never going to get easier, so start implementing systems that work for you as soon as possible. Money is a huge stressor, especially for people in our profession, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. That’s something that 31-year-old me wishes he could go back and tell 21-year-old me.

Malis is recording an EP of original music this fall. Look for a winter release date!

Interview with Hannah Marcus, Dancer

Hannah Marcus (Dance BFA ‘20) is a dancer/creator/collaborator originally from Oak Park, IL. She loves working with artists across disciplines and has structured her time at Michigan by working collaboratively with other SMTD students. She is currently interested in exploring how the body can be supported and deconstructed through the employment of visual design and theatricality. Hannah has performed and/or created work at UMMA, the Power Center, Hill Auditorium, the North Campus Research Complex, Hankinson Rehearsal Hall, and of course good ‘ole Betty Pease Studio Theater. She is the Dance Student Assembly vice-president this year and is a new member of Arts in Color within the dance department.

Hannah assisting FluxFlow Dance Project. Photo credit: Mathilde Gilhet

So Hannah, tell us about your internship.

Well, I received funding from EXCEL to support an internship I did this summer in Columbus, OH with a relatively new dance company called FluxFlow Dance Project. I spent three months as their administrative intern and artistic apprentice, getting involved in the various events and classes they provide for their small community. My duties included helping manage their studio and assisting with company specific projects like press kit creation, promotional research, and content development. As a dancer, I took their company classes and worked with them on three artistic projects– a residency in OSU’s Dance Department Motion Lab and two weeks of a process-based creation period that culminated in different informal performances. I assisted the artistic director, Russell Leplely, as he created a work for Flux + Flow’s adult clients, and I accompanied him to the annual Dance/USA conference in Cleveland to network with arts presenters. It was a summer of major growth for me because I was mentored graciously and became deeply immersed in their work as a company. 
Support from the EXCEL Internship Fund covered my living expenses while I spent my summer in Columbus. Without this resource, I wouldn’t have been able to work at FluxFlow for three months as an unpaid intern. I’m grateful to EXCEL for allowing me to explore my interests at a company that I admire and within a community that welcomed me with open arms.

That sounds awesome! Seems like you have been busy, because you were also studying abroad recently, correct?

Yes, I studied this past Winter semester at the London Contemporary Dance School. I took classes in ballet, contemporary, improvisation/partnering, Gaga, composition, psychoanalytic theory, and professional development. In my composition class, I built a piece with my friend from Finland and we performed it at primary schools around London. I also made and performed an improvisational solo in an informal studio performance. 
I was inspired by the dancers and teachers I was around – constantly learning by observing, listening, and getting lost. My experience in a new, unfamiliar city was rich and full of self-exploration. I saw a ton of amazing shows and explored many art galleries, installations, and events. My commute to school was in the heart of the professional work commute, which was quite an experience!

Hannah in London!

What was challenging or interesting about this program?

The biggest difference about this program was the number of students that I was around all the time. Compared to Michigan’s small, tight-knit dance department, the London Contemporary Dance School had about twice as many dancers. It felt way different to only scratch the surface of getting to know everybody and their work within the conservatory, which was challenging to navigate at times. Also the fact that I was only there for one semester out of their three terms a year made it difficult to explore everything the school had to offer.
What I found to be most interesting about LCDS had to do with the specific nuances and systematic structure of the program. I found the layout of classes and the approaches of each teacher to be super logical and hugely beneficial. I also loved noticing the dancers I was around and acknowledging that many of my European peers had more experience in contact improvisation and floorwork than I had. I gained so much by observing them and understanding how they really eat up space and soar in the contemporary dance context.

What career coaching and arts leadership experience did you have on the trip?

I took one course called Professional Studies where I had to develop my CV according to UK standards, build an application for a project opportunity, refine my artist statement, and learn about different funding systems within the UK and beyond. We talked about differences between repertory companies and project-based companies, as well as how to cater my CV and past experiences to each one. I learned about different residency opportunities and festivals within Europe, as well as resources for learning about these opportunities. My professor in this class emphasized the fact that many contemporary dance companies are looking for mature artists that have at least a couple years of professional experience already. Instead of getting discouraged and not applying for a specific opportunity, she talked about using professional-calibre experiences in school as a way to talk about skills and experience you’ve gained. Through conversations like these, I learned how to demonstrate the depth of my experiences and not discount the value of what I’ve done previously.

How did your view of the dance world evolve because of this program? 

This program, the people, and my exploration of the performing arts outside of the conservatory exposed me to new, multilayered ways of presenting the body. I got to see my peers’ work, the third year students’ theses, masters students’ work, and professional companies throughout London. I’ve always been curious about dance theater and the merging of theatricality with physicality, but I’m now hungrier to keep digging into possibilities of interdisciplinarity. Similarly, I witnessed different projects framing the body in relation to technology, architecture, and visual art, which has pulled my interest more in that direction than ever before.

What advice do you have for any students who are about to go abroad on how to make the most of your experience? 

I kept a journal throughout my time traveling to help me collect my thoughts, and that was the biggest thing that served me in my time abroad. It was important to me to write down moments, phrases, feelings, and experiences that inspired me and that I was grappling with. I use this journal now to look back and break down my experiences, and it continues to be a great reference in my current artistic processes. I would encourage anyone that wants to travel and study in a different country to take the risk and do it alone. At times I felt a bit lost to have to fend for myself all the time, but the vast majority of my time abroad was filled with eye-opening experiences that I don’t think would’ve made as significant an impact if I weren’t on my own.

Hannah Marcus ( left) performing Phulkari by Kiran Bhumer in 2018. Also pictured are dancers Micky Esteban and Johnny Mathews.

Are you taking any EXCEL classes this year?

Yes! I am finishing up my PAME minor and am currently enrolled in the DIY Marketing minicourse and the Teaching Artistry workshop. I am also enrolled in a 3-credit independent study as a follow-up to my internship with FluxFlow Dance Project this summer where I’ll be synthesizing everything I learned through a research paper.

What else is coming up for you this year?

I’m already starting to think about my Senior concert happening in April! My initial inspirations and ideas are coming straight from the experiences I had this summer and the previous semester in Europe. My physical research for this project has already begun, and I’m stoked to continue developing my ideas. Besides my thesis, I plan to work with a guest artist in the dance department (auditions are this week) for our annual Power Center shows. I also hope to follow the momentum I’ve built thus far at Michigan by continuing to collaborate and work on various projects with music students and other dance peers. Who knows what else will transpire this year!


Featured Photo by Stephen Harvey

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!

EXCEL Kicks Off the School Year With New Classes, Events & Resources

Jonathan (right) chats with SMTD student and 2019 UMS 21st Century Artist Intern Zion Jackson at EXCEL’s “Taco Tuesday” event

As Director of the EXCEL Lab, Jonathan Kuuskoski helps students self-start their careers. He oversees EXCEL’s wide range of professional development resources, including career advising, workshops with diverse arts leaders, and the annual distribution of $100,000 in student project, venture, and internship funding. He also teaches a variety of courses focused on performing arts career development.


Here’s what Jonathan wants SMTD students to know about EXCEL:

What can EXCEL do for students?

The mission of EXCEL is to provide resources so that every SMTD student feels prepared to build a life in the arts. These resources are inclusive of but go beyond typical career services–preparation for interviews, reviewing job materials, searching for internships. We also help students explore and advance big professional goals, and provide assistance in turning those artistic dreams into reality. 

That’s because a life in the arts means something very different for each student, driven always by their personal background, interests, and aspirations. Just like a private studio, or any other area of SMTD, provides mentor-driven pedagogy, we strive to be as adaptive as possible and provide individualized mentorship to meet the various needs that our students bring to the table.

What EXCEL resources can students utilize?

2019 EXCEL Report (Issu)
Click here to view the official 2019 EXCEL Report

Studying the performing arts necessitates experiential learning. As musicians, dancers, theater artists, and scholars, we know practice is core to honing our craft and developing expertise. The same goes for entrepreneurial skills. EXCEL provides coursework, workshops, immersion trips, and funding to provide students with broad opportunities for experiential learning. That might look like attending an EXCEL Talk, where students can meet and talk to artists who can share specific professional insights, or utilizing EXCEL funding to take on an artistic project or internship that would not otherwise be possible.

What is EXCEL most pumped about for this school year?

It is hard to believe this will be EXCEL’s fifth year! Having constantly listened to feedback from students and faculty, at this point we are looking to better understand how we can expand on our core programming to better serve diverse constituencies. A great example of this is the Open Lab, which launched in fall 2018 as a series of 6 sessions with new formats including interactive “gamified” workshops, relaxed drop-in sessions, and fun social events. This year, we are doubling those offerings to include several mini-series on event production, financial planning, work/life balance issues, academic careers/success and even a book club!

We are also launching two new courses this year, which are sure to be transformative. In the Fall, we are bringing back our Teaching Artistry course in collaboration with UMS, taught by master teacher Hilary Easton. After the course, students will actually have the opportunity to implement the skills they learn through an independent study, delivering engaged learning exercises in our local community under the supervision of UMS Teaching Artists! In the Winter, we are thrilled to launch an all-new course focused on the role of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion within arts leadership training. Lead by Afa Dworkin, this course will explore the past and present landscape of DEI practices and take students behind the scenes of the Sphinx Organization, where students will work on real projects alongside Sphinx staff.

Finally, for the first time, we are collaborating with our Theatre & Drama colleagues on an immersion to The Windy City! The Chicago Immersion Trip will take 20 SMTD BTA students to the city for a weekend of activities in September 2019. The visit will include meetings at Victory Gardens Theater and About Face Theatre, a panel discussion with Chicago Dramatists, and networking events with SMTD alums. This trip expands on EXCEL’s robust immersion program, which has included trips to New York City and Detroit.

How can students stay in-the-know about news and events through EXCEL?

There are many ways!

Look for our email newsletter every Monday. Check the SMTD Instagram every Thursday for our EXCEL Takeover. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @SMTDEXCEL. Check out our events on Handshake. View our website for information about funding and deadlines.

Last but not least, subscribe to our blog! We are giving away a FREE item of EXCEL Swag to any student who subscribes.

Any advice for starting a school year on the right note?

HA! I should give advice that I should listen to myself, right? 

Here at the University of Michigan, there are so many amazing opportunities. So many that it can be overwhelming! Going through a school year is like riding a train; once it gets going, it doesn’t slow down. That ride is demanding and crescendos steadily until May. It’s what we love about U-M, but there are times when life gets tough and we wish it would slow down.

So my advice is to give yourself time to reflect. Acknowledge the mountain you are about to climb, and have gratitude for the incredible things you are about to do. Prepare by catching up on sleep, exercising, and enjoying the beautiful weather we will only have left for a short amount of time. Maybe kick off the term with a free taco at our Open House (Tuesday, September 3). Then buckle in and try to enjoy the ride. 


Subscribe to the EXCEL Log and get free swag! Stop by the Lab to claim.

EXCELcast: Project Trio

Project Trio is an eclectic group from Brooklyn, NY, whose music defies genres and expectations. In this EXCELcast with Jonathan Kuuskoski, the group discusses tactics on establishing a unique performing business, the “cosmic whole note,” and some important aspects of their work as a group.

The Trio also discusses how they were founded. “We all had an eclectic taste in musical styles that we like to listen to,” mentions Peter Seymour, group member, “We take from rock, hip hop, and the methods that bands use to come together to learn how to run our business.”

Listen to this EXCELcast for more great advice and to get to know the amazing Project Trio.

EXCELcast: Christopher Koelsch

In this EXCELcast Christopher Koelsch, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Opera, talks about his own position as well as transitioning from a performing arts student into an entrepreneurial role.

Jonathan Kuuskoski, Director of EXCEL, discusses ideas and themes with Koelsch such as: going into such an important and powerful position, making a change within an organization, dealing with discipline in entrepreneurship, and simple first steps to make progress in the arts from day one of studies.

Check out this great EXCELcast, which gives fascinating tips to aspiring artists and entrepreneurs alike!

EXCELcast: Paolo Debuque

Follow Melissa Coppola and Paolo Debuque in a conversation about the Meridian Vocal Ensemble. This EXCELcast features some of Paolo’s thoughts and inspiration for creating the ensemble, as well as in what direction it is heading.

Debuque explains how he and his co-founders wanted to bring choral music to local audiences and create a real community for collaborators and artists. The ensemble today is between 8–12 singers who want to re-shape the vocal cannon for the 20th century.

Find out more about this incredible ensemble, how it was formed, and some of Debuque’s thoughts on forming this ensemble.

EXCELcast: Yarn/Wire

Yarn/Wire is a percussion and piano quartet, and one of the laureates of the MPrize. In this EXCELcast, they talk about their origins as an ensemble, as well as the many important aspects that go into sustaining a career in new music.

Some other important themes brought up in this EXCELcast include: how to engage with an audience or use space, what to do when you don’t know what should happen next in the ensemble’s career, when to discuss ensemble aesthetics as a group, and creating a career with momentum by turning short-term savings into long-term investments.

Take a look at this interesting and informative EXCELcast, hosted by Jonathan Kuuskoski.

EXCELcast: Britt Baron

In this EXCELcast, EXCEL director Jonathan Kuuskoski interviews with Britt Baron, SMTD Alumna and cast member of the Netflix series: GLOW (Glowing Ladies Of Wrestling). Baron discusses the process she went through in order to get through the audition and in the series. She also gives great tips to those who are interested in auditioning for larger roles in film or theatre.

Some other themes of this EXCELcast include: learning to adapt to such an iconic theatrical role, getting over any fears in acting, the auditioning process, and her own life story: how she got to where she is now.

Check out this EXCELcast for even more great tips and stories from Britt Baron!

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

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