Two Eastern Oregon University students stood out in a crowd at Hood River’s First Friday celebration. Avalon Bloodgood and Miguel Vasquez performed a combination of pop, musical theatre and opera songs as locals visited shops and artists.
Street performance is a far cry from perfecting opera on Italian stages, but in this case it’s a means to that end.
Bloodgood, Vasquez and fellow student Jessica Grove have qualified for a selective intensive program called Music in the Marche. After auditioning and much hard work, the trio earned their place among only 16 students from across the country listed on www.musicinthemarche.com as being enrolled.
Now they just have to get there.
“This experience is absolutely contingent upon the fundraising, and that has not been easy,” Grove said.
Each student is required to pay $4,950 for tuition alone, in addition to room, board and travel expenses. The first $1,000 was due April 1 and is non-refundable. The other tuition installments, due May 1 and June 1, will become non-refundable as the program approaches.
“Once you’re in, you’re in it,” Vasquez said.
Although that’s an intimidating thought, it’s also part of what’s keeping Vasquez going.
“(Not long after qualifying,) I was actually thinking about dropping out and giving the money I’d raised to the girls,” he said. “Then I was shown that there’s always somebody to help. I’ve really learned that through all of this, so I want to show other students that they should never, ever feel discouraged about something if they don’t have the money for it.”
The Hood River street performance was a prime example.
Vasquez returned to his hometown, along with Bloodgood, on May 4 to spread the word about their trip.
“You get to tell your people what you’re doing after high school,” he said. “It’s surprising just how excited they all get to see someone who is going out and making a name for themselves.”
In addition to bumping into a high school theatre teacher who was quick to contribute to his Go Fund Me page, Vasquez said he didn’t even have to ask for donations.
“Old friends and people I knew came up and shook my hand, and the next thing I knew there was a $100 bill in my hand,” he said. “It was incredible.”
Bloodgood, the driving force behind the scheduled fundraising events, said she has had similar experiences in La Grande.
“Anytime someone hears what we’re doing, they ask how they can help,” Bloodgood said. “It’s just been a blessing to see so many people come to (the fundraising events) and offer their support.”
Other fundraising efforts have included collecting cans, a Mother’s Day brunch performance during which Bloodgood passed around a donation jar, and an April concert featuring the three Italy hopefuls and Aubrey Slaughter, another EOU student who qualified for the selective program.
More details about their fundraising efforts will be included in the program for “Into the Woods” at EOU. Bloodgood plays Red, and Grove plays the old witch in the 7 p.m. performances May 16-19 in McKenzie Theatre.
The month-long intensive program in Italy will include instruction in voice, operatic techniques, Italian language, diction, culture and acting. It also encompasses a unique opportunity to perform at a regional venue and on the historic Teatro Apollo stage in Mondavio, Italy.
Each student has specific goals for what he or she wants to get out of Music in the Marche.
Vasquez believes the opera courses will add another layer of diversity to his repertoire.
“I really want to become a musical theatre composer, and this would definitely enhance my vocal techniques and open up some more variety when I’m composing,” he said.
Grove said she grew up around music, thanks in part to her father, Kevin Durfee. Durfee has been the La Grande middle and high school choir director for many years.
“Music has always been in my family, and I have wanted to pursue music education since I was little,” she said.
The future music and drama educator said Music in the Marche is right up her alley.
“This program is only going to help me pursue those goals and (I will) be able to pass (what I learn) on to future students,” she said. “Plus I’m half Italian, so this is as much about culture and family roots as is it is about the music.”
Just as Grove hopes to pass her new knowledge on to her pupils, Bloodgood said Music in the Marche will add value to the Northeast Oregon community as a whole.
“The people in this area already show so much support for all kinds of art,” Bloodgood said, noting that the Italian intensive program will be a reward of sorts for the community’s generosity.
“We are all going to come back here and share this wonderful artform with all of you,” she said.
Jamie Jacobson, a vocal instructor at EOU who has also provided Bloodgood with private instruction for 10 years, said immersion programs such as this can have even more impact than anticipated.
“I think it will be a life-changing experience for them,” she said. “It all looks amazing, and it is amazing, but you can’t possibly know ahead of time how much you’re going to get out of it. As is true with most college students studying their craft, they don’t know yet what they don’t know.”
Grove said it’s important to note that this is not simply an EOU-sponsored study abroad program. This is a selective program for which students from across the country auditioned. Only 16 artists are currently enrolled.
Jacobson said the students first learned of the opportunity through a visiting professor, Nicole Leupp Hanig. Leupp Hanig teaches at the University of Portland and is an instructor at Music in the Marche.
The students worked with Jacobson to find audition pieces that showed off their range, and their efforts paid off. Jacobson said Leupp Hanig was extremely impressed with EOU’s talent.
“Nicole wanted them all,” Jacobson said.
What’s more, this inaugural group could be the first of a potentially strong connection between EOU and Music in the Marche — a connection future students may benefit from.
If their talents alone weren’t enough, Jacobson said the students have proven through their commitment that they deserve to go to Italy.
“Normally when students need to do something like this, it’s spearheaded by the faculty,” Jacobson said. “The music department’s been so busy that these students have really taken it on themselves.”
She said their drive, commitment and leadership have been notable during the fundraising process.
“They’re taking charge of their own future, and I think that’s admirable,” Jacobson said of her students.