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Opera Idaho Draws from Deep Well of Faculty Talent

October 27, 2021

When Melanie Keller needs to find musicians to fill roles for Opera Idaho productions, she usually doesn’t need to look very far.

“The music faculty at The College of Idaho are definitely usual targets when looking for musicians for Opera Idaho productions,” said Keller, who serves as a music instructor at the College as well as the personnel manager for Opera Idaho. “They are all excellent musicians and among the best of the best in the Treasure Valley. Whenever I hire any of the faculty from The College of Idaho, I know I am getting the whole package—amazing player and a respectful, professional colleague.”

It’s a common thread among the faculty inside the Langroise Center for Performing & Fine Arts. On one hand, they instruct students at the College, whether in music, art, or performance. On the other hand, they are actively involved in their craft outside of campus as well. Keller, for instance, is on campus each Monday, working with students on their skills playing the flute. But she’s also the personnel manager for Opera Idaho. A recent Opera Idaho production, “The Merry Widow,” featured nearly a dozen College employees, students, or alumni, including several instructors who performed in the production’s orchestra.

That isn’t a coincidence.

“Partially, you just tap into pre-existing networks,” said Paul Moulton, an associate professor of music who also serves as the music department chair. “It’s like, ‘Melanie, who do you know who would be good at this?’”

And the College features many of the best musicians around. Not just music teachers, but active, professional performers who also instruct.

“There’s a bit of a sense that there's performers and then there’s the academics,” said Luke Strother, an assistant professor of music who directs the College’s bands. “One of the things I say as I go around to high schools (to talk to prospective music students), you will study with the best performers in the state at The College of Idaho.”

There’s Strother with the trombone and Keller with the flute. Dave Johnson, a Langroise Fellow at the College, is also the principal violist with the Boise Philharmonic. There’s also Carmen Izzo, who travels regularly to play clarinet in various productions when he’s not instructing students on campus. Travis Horton with the piano, Steve Prager with the guitar, Drew Ziemba with the trumpet, and more, including vocalists like Grant Farmer and Annie Powell. The list continues to the point Strother and Moulton say the College contains one of the widest and most diverse selections of music instructors in the region.

“Access to these top-level performing musicians is quite expensive,” Strother noted. “But it is something College of Idaho students get across the board.”

Private individual lessons on these instruments can cost upwards of $250 per session. At the College, regardless of major, there’s a one-time fee per semester and, in return, students get a weekly one-on-one class with one of these professional musicians. A biology major gets the same opportunity for instruction and performance as a music major.

“I have two levels of respect. One is I know they’re incredible musicians,” said Moulton of the music faculty. “And then there’s a tenacity to the job that demands respect, too. So there’s respect that these people are really good at what they do and they’re successful in a difficult music market.”

Strother said performance opportunities, like the recent Opera Idaho production, are a great opportunity for the instructors to spend time and work together, doing what they love to do. And for Keller, looking down the hallway at the College is an easy way to know what she’s getting when hiring for Opera Idaho performances.

“It’s great working with fellow College of Idaho music faculty in Opera Idaho productions,” she said. “They are outstanding musicians, kind colleagues, and just easy to be around. They are such pros, it makes my job so easy.”

The College of Idaho has a 130-year-old legacy of excellence. The College is known for its outstanding academic programs, winning athletics tradition and history of producing successful graduates, including seven Rhodes Scholars, three governors, and countless business leaders and innovators. Its distinctive PEAK Curriculum challenges students to attain competency in the four knowledge peaks of humanities, natural sciences, social sciences and a professional field—empowering them to earn a major and three minors in four years. The College’s close-knit, residential campus is located in Caldwell, where its proximity both to Boise and to the world-class outdoor activities of southwest Idaho’s mountains and rivers offers unique opportunities for learning beyond the classroom. For more information, visit www.collegeofidaho.edu.