When Briana McCall starts her first semester at Sweet Briar in just over a month, she’ll already be ahead of the curve — thanks to BLUR. As a participant in the College’s Blue Ridge Summer Institute for Young Artists, McCall didn’t just get to know the campus, she also made friends with Sweet Briar professors and students.
“I already have people that I know I can trust and go to with any questions or problems I may run into down the road,” she writes from her small hometown of Moscow, Idaho, which is “not pronounced like ‘Moscow, Russia,’ ” she adds. “The ‘cow’ is more like ‘co.’ ”
The three-week camp ended last Sunday, but there are plenty of great memories to treasure for the 18-year-old.
“My favorite part about BLUR was voice lessons with Marcia Thom,” she says. “I absolutely adore her. I had voice lessons three times a week, and for my final performance I sang a classical Italian piece called ‘Verdi Prati,’ which was a pretty big deal for me because I have very little classical voice training, let alone Italian.”
Thom, who teaches voice and piano at Sweet Briar and directs the choir, was impressed with the young vocalist.
“I have rarely seen a student her age with so much natural talent,” she said. “She was an extremely enthusiastic student and embraced the challenge [of singing a classical piece] with all of her energy. I very much look forward to working with her in the fall.”
McCall originally signed up for BLUR’s newly formed music track, but because several other music students dropped out before the camp started, organizers decided to close the program.
“We could not achieve the kind of critical mass in the classroom that would ensure that students would get exposed to other talented musicians their age,” said BLUR director and assistant professor of creative writing, Dave Griffith. “So, I called Briana and one other student remaining in music and asked them if they would come to the program in their second choice of discipline.”
For McCall, that second choice was creative writing. Lucky for her, Griffith arranged a special schedule to accommodate her passion for singing, as well.
“I was still able to meet with Marcia, which was fantastic,” she says, adding that she also enjoyed being in the writing program.
Overall, Griffith thinks it’s a solution that could — and should — become more commonplace at BLUR.
“Much like Sweet Briar’s B.F.A. in interdisciplinary art program, BLUR students are encouraged, through collaborative art sessions and electives, to explore the ways that the arts inform one another,” he says. “In Briana’s case, getting additional training in poetry helped her to gain a better understanding of the ways poets use rhythm and form to create emotionally and intellectually moving work without musical accompaniment.”