A future in vocal performance
Four years ago, Alyese Wilkerson wasn’t planning to go to college. Now, the senior has completed vocal performance auditions and is waiting to hear back from her graduate school choices.
“When I was in high school, my dad said to at least apply to a few schools, so I applied to LaGrange and three others,” says Alyese, who is from Fayetteville. “At all the other schools I had the campus tour, but I came to LaGrange for auditions and didn’t even have the chance that day to take a campus tour.”
Even though she didn’t get the usual campus visit, something about LaGrange stood out from the rest.
“You know, they say the school you choose should feel like home, and when I got to the auditions, it really did,” she says. “I thought, ‘I can see myself here.’”
Alyese had been taking piano lessons since age 3, so she took the natural step of auditioning for piano performance. At the audition, the music professors encouraged her also to perform vocally.
“I sang ‘Amazing Grace,’ the only song I could think of at that time,” she says. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but it put me on the start of a different path.”
Alyese soon immersed herself in college life, taking music history, theory, ear-training and the like along with other pre-requisite classes in other academic areas. She served as a piano accompanist in student shows and began to sing in other students’ junior and senior recitals. She also joined the LaGrange College Orientation Team, along with the Hilltoppers, both of which help welcome and acclimate prospective and new students to campus.
She still planned to major in piano performance, but after taking voice lessons from Debbie Ogle, Assistant Professor of Music, she began to lean towards vocal performance.
“I’ve come such a long way since then,” Alyese says. “I remember singing in front of people for the first time, and I was scared to death. I listen back to how I used to sound, and I sounded so childish. I can definitely seen how much I’ve grown vocally since I’ve been here.”
She has continued piano at LaGrange, taking piano classes virtually every semester. She also teaches piano and voice for community members.
“Having piano skills has definitely helped me become a better singer,” she says. “This is my first semester not taking piano, and I miss it.”
Alyese says her senior year of college has been a “year of firsts.” She decided to audition for her first-ever Theatre Arts production this past fall after being intrigued by the songs being performed in the musical “Smokey Joe’s Cafe.” Twelve students were chosen to perform, including Alyese.
“I’d never done anything like that in college,” she says. “I guess I had just had it in my mind that you had to be a theatre major to perform in their productions. But at LaGrange College, anyone can audition, even if you’re a freshman. That doesn’t happen at most larger schools.”
Alyese said she knew she would be fine singing in the show, but she was worried because she would be required to dance.
“I’m awful at dancing,” she says. “But I thought, I’ll just try my best.” She felt better when she and her dance partner were singled out by the rest of the cast and crew.
“Jalen (Smith) and I always got called out for being the ‘good dancers,’” she says. “I thought Jalen was the one carrying me along, but I heard later that he thought I was the one carrying him.”
Alyese also was asked by her music professors to perform the lead role in an opera, “The Medium.”
“I never thought in my wildest dreams freshman year that I’d be in an opera my senior year at LaGrange College because I really wasn’t serious about voice at that time,” she says.
In the two-act dramatic piece, Alyese played Madame Flora, a medium who preys on the parents of deceased children by “reuniting” them with fake séances – and who ultimately loses her sanity.
“My sisters came to see it with my parents, and my younger sister didn’t want to be around me after it was over,” she says. “I’m used to smiling and playing happy roles, so when she did that, I thought, ‘Well, thank you.’ I guess that means I was pretty convincing.”
Alyese has applied and auditioned for graduate school at the Boston Conservatory and Belmont University School of Music in Nashville, Tenn. So far she has been accepted to Belmont and is waiting to hear from the Boston Conservatory.
Alyese says if she hadn’t gone to college, specifically LaGrange, she would probably still be playing piano and not delving into her life aspiration of performing vocally.
“Had I not gone here, I wouldn’t have ventured into singing at all,” she says. “I used to be a really shy person, but after being at LaGrange and meeting new people, I’m no longer just a shy little girl from Fayetteville, Georgia.
“I’m not only glad I decided to go to college; I’m glad I decided to go here.”