All ears on her

by Mike Russell,

The decision to major in music is the first in a long line of hard choices.

Students soon discover they have to decline social invitations because they need to rehearse, practice or perform.

But, as Madison Hall ’16 explains, “If you’re pursuing music for the right reasons, you’ll make it work.”

Hall must have had the right motivation, because she’s flourished as a music major. At Willamette, she’s discovered an unexpected love for opera, performed with award-winning musical groups and willingly taken on leadership roles to make a difference in her community.

Although Hall came to Willamette with an interest in musical theater, she instead fell under the spell of opera. “As I became familiar with the discipline, I started loving it,” she says. “I really like portraying characters through song, and being part of a full performance that takes a team effort.”

Hall has performed in three of the Dramatic Vocal Arts program’s productions under Allison Swensen-Mitchell’s direction. She has sung as Cherubino in Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro, Lauretta in Puccini's Gianni Schicchi, and Veronique in Pasatieri's The Hotel Casablanca.

In all of her opera performances, Hall enjoys tackling challenging pieces. For her role as Veronique, she learned a Claude Debussy cycle in French. It took many hours to learn some of the one- or two-minute parts, she says, but “Knowing how much training it took to get the technique right, it’s really satisfying to perform, and to see that work apparent in the audience’s appreciation.”

A legacy of accomplishments

Hall’s love for the production of performance has fueled an impressive series of engagements on campus. She has sung in the Willamette Chamber Choir for the last four years, and served as its president this year. She’s also the student leader of the Willamette Singers vocal jazz ensemble, and sings with the Willamette Master Chorus.

During that time, Willamette Singers earned a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform with singer-songwriter Ben Folds, and was recognized by DownBeat magazine as Best Undergraduate Large Vocal Jazz Ensemble for 2015 and 2016.

On top of all that, Hall leaves a legacy as two-term president of Willamette's chapter of Mu Phi Epsilon, an international service-oriented co-ed music fraternity and honors society.

The chapter orchestrates community events involving music. Every spring semester during finals, they put on the Secondary Instrument Recital, an opportunity for music majors to play another instrument that they wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to perform on. It’s a great chance for people to relax during finals week.

“When I became president, our chapter had a low profile with only a handful of members,” says Hall. “It has been a sustained group effort to grow into an established chapter with a clear plan. I’m really excited to leave the chapter in the hands of some really capable people, and check in from time to time to see how it’s progressing.”

Career choices

Of the many professors and peers on campus who’ve worked with Hall, Choral Director Wallace Long has especially high praise. “Madison represents the very best in Willamette's students,” he says. “She has been honored with leadership roles because of her tireless work and passion to serve. She is never boastful and never afraid to dig in as needed to finish projects. I know she will be successful at whatever comes next.”

For her next act, Hall has earned a place at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music master’s program. If the program pushes her beyond opera into other forms of vocal performance, she’s open to remaining as flexible as she has been at Willamette.

“I would like at least to audition for opera companies. I’d love to perform or maybe even tour with a company,” she says. “But I could also see myself happy teaching. I have had really wonderful mentors at Willamette who have completely changed my perspective on life and musicianship. I would love to have that kind of positive impact on others.”