Rising freshman finds his voice through Vocal Arts Project

Trevor White.
Trevor White.

Even though he’s been singing for only three years, rising Virginia Commonwealth University freshman Trevor White had no problem acing the audition for the School of the Arts voice program.

White attributes it to hard work. Lots of hard work. And a bit of kismet.

“That was it,” he said. “If I hadn’t worked hard and I hadn’t had such a strong work ethic, I wouldn’t be here.”

The teen’s first love was drama.

“I loved acting and that was everything I wanted to be — an actor,” White said.

But White’s high school drama department experience was less than stellar. He didn’t have many chances to act, or grow as an actor. Upset at the lack of opportunity, he shifted to music and joined the school’s choir program.

Through that low point in my life, music was there for me when not a lot of other things were.

“Through that low point in my life, music was there for me when not a lot of other things were,” White said. “And now I’m pursuing music because I want to be able to give that back and show the power of music to everyone and show how it can help.”

As part of his high school choir, White visited VCU his junior year for the university’s chamber music festival. There, he met Becky Tyree, assistant professor of choral music education in the Department of Music and director and founder of its Vocal Arts Project, an intensive performing arts summer camp for rising sixth-through-12th graders.

White attended the Vocal Arts Project as a camper last year. The experience helped solidify his decision to attend VCU. 

“My shining moment was I sang at the talent show,” he said.

White performed the German art song “Abendempfindung” and was the only person to sing in a foreign language.

“And after I sang that, every single one of the counselors walked up to me and said, ‘You would totally fit in here.’ It was really nice of all of the counselors,” he said. “A lot of times, in the other camps the counselors are very disconnected from the students in a way. There’s still a sense of authority and professionalism that everyone has here, but it’s a much more welcoming thing.”

Now in its sixth year, the weeklong camp instills confidence and skill sets for the students, who act, sing, dance, improvise, compose, drum and work together toward a gala performance at the week’s end.

“They get stretched,” Tyree said. “It’s a comprehensive program, a complete performing arts program, so they're acting, playing drums and ukulele, advancing their musicianship skills, and of course singing. That’s why I usually say: ‘Come sing, act and play with us.’”

Performing artists, including two guest conductors, come to VCU each year to work with the students who come from across the Commonwealth. VCU Music undergraduates volunteer to serve counselors or to lead a class. Tyree’s first-year graduate students work with the campers as part of their class and department faculty pitch in as well. Several community members, such as Mike Boyd, have participated in the camp since its start. This year, Boyd, director of performing arts at Collegiate School, is teaching songwriting in his advanced music theory session.

“The part about this camp that appeals to students is that all the instructors help inspire them,” Boyd said. “They see what they need to do to become better. And they really learn.”

The experience had such an impact on White that he returned this year as a counselor in hopes of duplicating his positive experience for others.

“I know that VCU is going to be the place where I’m going to grow as a singer and as a person as well,” White said. “This community is so welcoming. That was another thing that really drew me to this school was all of these other places I went to audition and I didn’t feel welcomed, I didn’t feel wanted. And I came here and … I felt comfortable and I felt it was a home away from home.”


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