In spring, Vassar rears its creative head when seniors scramble to showcase the last artistic endeavors of their undergraduate careers. For Rachel Fuerstman ’16, along with a number of talented senior music students, this means tackling the daunting yet rewarding task of performing a senior recital. Fuerstman, a mezzo-soprano, will be showcasing her talent in the first senior recital of the semester on March 5 in the Skinner Hall Mary Anna Fox Martel Recital Hall.
Fuerstman’s performance will also feature violist Daniel Melody ’19, guitarist Ethan Cohen ’16 and accompanist Richard Mogavero.
The senior recital process begins long before senior year. Students submit a proposal as early as April of their junior year, and then the work begins, preparing a set list and working with a voice teacher—often the same one they have been working with during their time at Vassar– to perfect their sound. Students often choose songs strategically, adding difficult or interesting pieces to their repertoires for later use in graduate school applications or real-world auditions. Since Fuerstman’s professional musical future is uncertain, though, picking songs for her recital was less strategic and more personal, meant to show off her unique qualities and acquired skills.
As she explains, “Choosing the program sort of happened organically, thinking about what pieces I really enjoyed singing during my time at Vassar and what pieces would be fun to learn…I basically picked music that I love to sing.” Her voice teacher, Adjunct Artist in Music Mary Nessinger, is also a mezzo-soprano, so they were able to collaborate even more closely.
What they ultimately settled on are pieces by Bizet, Brahms, Alma Mahler, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky, as well as a few American jazz standards. This eclectic mix of styles—including arias sung in the original Russian—is a bit outside of the norm. “Her choice of program material is wise and personal. Some of the selections on her recital program are challenging and rather unusual for a senior recital,” noted Mogavero.
Also unlike most senior recitalists, Fuerstman is not a music major. “I feel incredibly lucky to have gotten such a rich music education here at Vassar and to be a part of a supportive, welcoming and amazingly talented community of musicians even though I didn’t major in music,” she remarked.
Fuerstman will be graduating this year as a history major with an education correlate, which only speaks more to her extracurricular dedication to music. In fact, this year she has also been working on her history thesis, a draft of which is due a week after the recital. Outside of classes in the Music Department, Fuerstman has made a point to be as involved as possible with her passion at Vassar. She has sung in the Vassar College Women’s Chorus and the Vassar Madrigal Singers since her freshman year, and participated in campus productions such as the opera “Dido and Aeneas,” in which she sang the lead last semester.
“People often don’t realize how much work is involved in the art. I try to practice at least an hour a day, and [I know that] even as a non-music major…Rachel practices just about as much,” commented fellow singer and recitalist Madeline Pollis ’16.
Yet all of this hard work pays off in the end. Senior recitals are a way to showcase the culmination of a students’ growth and all that they have learned during their time at Vassar.
As organist Sarah Johnson ’16 stated, “Most musicians’ friends on campus don’t get a chance to hear them perform individually much … [A] senior recital is a way of saying, ‘This is what I’ve been working on, this is why I spend all my free time in Skinner, this is why I’m in five different musical groups on campus. I have been pursuing perfection in my own field and I have achieved something that I am proud of.’”
Fuerstman has indeed been pursuing perfection in music. Besides highly complimenting her for her warm personality and hard-working dedication, a number of Vassar faculty members who have worked closely with Fuerstman mentioned how much she has grown as an artist.
“She works hard, has a beautiful voice and brings an intelligent, sensitive approach to the music,” commented Mogavero. “She brings a certain gentle quietude…[and has cultivated a] beautiful, dark vocal sound,” added Senior Lecturer of Music Drew Minter, Fuerstman’s conductor in the Madrigal Singers.
Despite the pressures among senior recitalists to have perfect show elements (dress, reception, etc.), all of the interviewed senior musicians expressed a lot of gratitude for the amazing opportunity to demonstrate the sum total of all of their passionate dedication and hard work in front of the people closest to them.
Fuerstman will be followed by fellow recitalists soprano Karen Ratcliffe ’16, bassoonist Gregory Cristina ’16, soprano Madeline Pollis ’16, organist Sarah Johnson ’16, soprano Asia Howard ’16, soprano Ruby Pierce ’16 and soprano Alyssa Caplan ’16, who will be performing throughout the month of April.
As Fuerstman reflected on the experience, “I’ve never had an entire performance where it was all eyes on me, just Rachel singing for an hour…Music has really defined my four years here, and I think my senior recital is a way to pay homage to that and to thank the people who have taught me so much since I’ve been here by showing what I’ve learned.”