Amanda McLaughlin ’02 returns to music theatre at PSU
As a first-year student at Plymouth State, Amanda McLaughlin ’02 would never have guessed that one day she would return as a teacher.
McLaughlin grew up in Lincoln, Maine, 40 minutes north of Bangor. Several factors entered into her decision to attend Plymouth State, including affordability and the chance to continue to play field hockey, which she had loved in high school. But, she says, she made her final decision about Plymouth based on having “a good gut feeling about it. I usually follow my gut feelings.”
She joined the junior varsity field hockey team, but discovered that while she still liked the game, she no longer loved it. Amanda was looking for something new to love. During her first semester, she enrolled in Voice I with Holly Outwin-Tepe. Although studying voice in a classroom situation was unexpected (“I thought it would be one to one,” McLaughlin recalls), she found she wanted more.
“I joined the Chorale, and signed up for Voice II with Dr. Perkins,” says McLaughlin. Perkins encouraged her to be a voice major, so she auditioned for the department at the end of the second semester of her first year and was thrilled when she was accepted.
A lyric soprano, McLaughlin loves performing, but also loves the academic setting, so she planned to teach from the beginning. “I love to share things,” she explains. Several new music programs were being introduced in the department at the time, and she found the B.A. in vocal performance ith an option in pedagogy was just right for her. (PSU has since added a degree in music theatre, as well.) She also studied piano with Constance Chesebrough, one of PSU’s collaborative pianists, knowing that she would need keyboard skills as a teacher.
McLaughlin speaks highly of all the music and theatre faculty at PSU. She worked most closely with Professor Kathleen Arecchi, who teaches voice and music theatre. “I’ve learned so much from her. She’s so motivated and she’s always looking to improve herself,” McLaughlin says. “That’s the way I want to be.” She also learned a lot from Beth Cox, assistant professor of theatre and now director of the theatre program. “She’s a very good listener,” says McLaughlin. “She listens to her students and asks the right questions.”
Arecchi recalls, “As an undergraduate, Amanda discovered that she loved teaching studio voice … Unlike most young singers, Amanda was strongly attracted to music by contemporary American composers, even while still an undergraduate. Given her love of all forms of dramatic vocal music and her strengths as an actor, Amanda has a great deal to bring to the teaching of undergraduates.”
As graduation approached, McLaughlin auditioned for three different master’s programs, looking for one where voice pedagogy was a strength. Another gut feeling led her to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where Cox had also gone for her Master of Fine Arts degree.
McLaughlin found the faculty and students at UNCG friendly and supportive, but discovered a surprising cultural difference between her undergraduate and graduate programs when she decided to audition for The Sound of Music.
“They looked at me like I had four heads!” she says, remembering the reaction of her music department faculty and friends. “At UNCG, the music department and theatre department are very separate-they’re on opposite sides of campus. Music department students just don’t audition for musical theatre productions.” She was cast in a chorus role as a nun, and proceeded to make more friends in the theatre department. The production was directed by Marsha Paludan, under whom Cox had apprenticed during her own graduate student days.
But she didn’t limit herself to musical theatre. One of McLaughlin’s goals in graduate school was to gain more opera experience. She enrolled in Opera Performance Workshop and played Susanna in a workshop production of The Marriage of Figaro.
Performing in opera requires both singing and acting skills, both of which McLaughlin had honed in musical theatre productions at Plymouth State. She was surprised to find that many of her graduate school colleagues had not had any prior acting experience.
McLaughlin also spent her first fall semester of graduate school working backstage for the Greensboro Opera Company. “I learned a lot just from sitting in on the rehearsals with professional performers,” she says. “And the orchestra! It was huge!” She also taught singing in a local community music school.
McLaughlin’s parents had moved from Maine to Portsmouth, N.H., so after her graduate recital, while she was home seeing her parents, it was a simple matter to come back to Plymouth for a visit. And while on campus, why not repeat the recital for her alma mater?
Says Arecchi, “During the time she was at PSU, Amanda showed herself to be a strong singer-actor. When she previewed her master’s recital here last March, Amanda displayed even greater maturity in all aspects of performance, but especially in acting and presentation.”
Arecchi and McLaughlin had stayed in touch and after this recital they began to talk about McLaughlin coming back to teach. McLaughlin was finishing her master’s degree just as Arecchi was designing a new approach to teaching voice to music theatre majors. “Given Amanda’s particular talents and training, I felt that she would be a good co-instructor in this voice class that I had under development,” Arecchi explains.
This fall, McLaughlin began serving as a music theatre mentor and team-teaching the Musical Theatre Voice class with Arecchi. The course is for first-year music theatre majors. “It’s about how you practice, how you perform songs,” explains McLaughlin. “First-year students really need guidance, help learning to study. I didn’t really learn to study until my third year.”
“I’m really enjoying teaching with Amanda,” says Arecchi. “It is so clear that she grew tremendously in knowledge of vocal production and performance while in graduate school, and she is very confident in her ability to communicate this knowledge to younger singers. The students clearly respect her as teacher, and they are progressing well under her tutelage.”
At PSU, McLaughlin is also getting the opportunity to direct music theatre productions, beginning with The IT Girl, which was performed in November. “I’ve had a blast doing that!” she says. And she’s putting all those lessons with Chesebrough to use, playing piano for rehearsals.
While Plymouth State is familiar ground for McLaughlin, being back is also a little strange. “My biggest challenge right now is transitioning from being a student to being a teacher,” she says, noting that she is still very close in age to her students. In fact, some current PSU seniors were in Kiss Me, Kate with her when McLaughlin had the lead role in her own senior year.
Talking with Arecchi has been very helpful in making the transition, and McLaughlin is pleased to be treated like a faculty member by both her students and the new colleagues that were her own teachers. But she’s not cocky about it. “I’ll make mistakes,” she says. “And I’ll learn from them.”
In addition to teaching at PSU, McLaughlin also teaches voice to high school-age students through the Seacoast Academy of Music in North Hampton, N.H. McLaughlin’s plans for the future include teaching for a few more years, then auditioning for doctoral programs.
“I am so excited and proud to have the opportunity to mentor one of our graduates in the next stage of her development as a studio voice teacher,” Arecchi says. “It’s as much a pleasure to work with Amanda in our new relationship as it was when she was an undergraduate student.”
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