Of the 262 students attending this year’s Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute (OSAI), 163 are experiencing our life-changing program for the very first time. For these new students, OSAI represents something more than two weeks of intensive arts education. It will be a watershed experience they carry for the rest of their lives.
Among these OSAI first-timers is choral singer Poppy Teague, a 17-year-old homeschool student from Sperry. The daughter of an opera singer, music was a vital part of her upbringing. “I grew up with a wonderful soundtrack to my life,” she said. “Lots of opera songs and Broadway songs, and classical songs — just a very wide variety of music.”
In addition to being an early appreciator of music, Poppy also began learning musical instruments from a young age. Her primary instrument is the banjo, but she also plays the guitar, ukulele and accordion.
“We have always had instruments in the house. I started playing piano, I think when I was six, and hated it because I just wanted to play the banjo,” Poppy says with a laugh. “Then I took a couple of years of guitar lessons, and then I started banjo because that's when I was big enough to hold one.”
This year’s Summer Institute marks a milestone for Poppy in more ways than one. Despite her deep musical experience, including years of musical theater training, OSAI 2021 is the first time she has sung in a chorus.
“I've been learning new music, musical words [and] terms, strengthening my music reading skills and learning how to work with a group, which is really cool because that's not really an experience or opportunity that I've been given before.”
– Poppy Teague, OSAI 2021 chorus student
Any expectations Poppy had about singing in her first chorus at OSAI were pleasantly upended the moment she stepped into the classroom with her peers and first week Chorus Conductor Dr. Pearl Shangkuan, a self-styled “chorus mama” whose bold and enthusiastic teaching methods have helped break students out of their comfort zone in service of artistic growth.
“My expectation was that we would have a lot less instruction than we do currently, and I didn't realize how awesome it would be that I was wrong,” she says. “It's so enlightening because, as someone who has only recently started [taking lessons with] a professional vocal coach, I am not as experienced as some of the other students. I've been learning new music, musical words [and] terms, strengthening my music reading skills and learning how to work with a group, which is really cool because that's not really an experience or opportunity that I've been given before.”
Beyond deepening her experience of art and expanding her technical skills as a singer, Poppy’s time so far at OSAI 2021 has also enriched other aspects of her studies. Under the direction of Dr. Shangkuan, choral students have been singing in styles and languages that span continents and cultures.
“It was overwhelming at first, but the way Dr. Shangkaun teaches is really, really helpful. It's clear and precise. She teaches us the right articulation,” she said. “The meaning is clear in so many of the songs, even if you don't know all of the words. It's so much fun to sing as a group, especially because you all can feel that meaning.”
A complete list of OSAI 2021 students is available here.
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