Pop, country, R&B, rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop are the musical genres most college students enjoy listening to, and – if they’re vocalists or musicians – performing. One East Tennessee State University student, however, has discovered a deep love of classical music and will graduate in May with the goal of pursuing that as her life’s work.
Tatum Spears of Weber City, Va., a senior vocal performance major, has enjoyed music all her life. She remembers singing in preschool programs and in 4-H talent shows, and she grew up listening to country music. But when an injury forced her to give up softball, she turned her full attention to singing, and since then, it’s been “all classical, all the way.”
“Mozart quickly became my favorite,” Spears recalled. “I started listening to his operas and thought, ‘Hey, I’d love to be able to do that.’ Country music disappeared from my mind, because I opened up to the world of classical music, which is vast. It was so beautiful to me, because it sounded so empowering.”
Spears chose to attend ETSU to study under Dr. Thomas Jenrette, whom she had come to admire and respect through his direction of the Tennessee All-East Choir, in which she was selected to be a soprano in the mixed chorus. “He inspired me to find myself through music,” she says. “I wanted to sing for him.”
Jenrette retired two years ago after more than three decades as choral director in the ETSU Department of Music, and Spears has enjoyed the opportunities new choral faculty members Dr. Matthew Potterton and Dr. Alan Stevens have brought to the program. “I love the diversity now,” she said. “We have so many new choirs and we’re exploring different realms of choral music.”
Spears, who also studies under Dr. Sun-Joo Oh and Karen Smith in the Department of Music, sings in the ETSU Chorale and the Opera Workshop, and is a member and music director of the ETSU chapter of Sigma Alpha Iota, a music fraternity.
She recently achieved recognition through earning the Frances Shafter Recognition Award from the Metropolitan Opera National Council, North Carolina District, and through winning the Young Artist Voice Division in Tennessee’s Music Teachers National Association state competition.
Spears’ next step is graduate school, and she is auditioning for the Boston Conservatory and the Cleveland Institute. She also just received word that she has been chosen to participate in this summer’s Russian Opera Workshop in Philadelphia, where she will cover the role of Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s “Eugene Onegin.”
“ETSU has provided me with the right tools, the right environment, the right mindset that I need to go out and do great things,” Spears said.