In a time when the way we deliver instruction to students is changing due to the pandemic, it is refreshing to welcome four new world-class faculty members to the Conservatory to move us forward in our new, more digital age.
For almost 115 years, the Conservatory has been a leader in creating the city’s cultural riches while extending UMKC’s reach nationally and internationally, providing the highest level of professional instruction and an extensive array of performing opportunities — even during these challenging times.
Our four new faculty members come from a variety of backgrounds and will each contribute to the tremendous level of excellence we provide to over 600 students of dance, theatre and music each academic year. “Faculty are the heart and soul of the Conservatory,” says Conservatory Dean Diane Petrella. “It is always inspirational when we bring new creative talent to Kansas City, but this year the positive energy and excitement surrounding these four great teaching artists is especially impactful.”
Jennaya Robison joins the Conservatory as the Raymond R. Neevel/Missouri Associate Professor in Choral Music and Director of Choral Studies. “Dr. Jennaya Robison is an artist/conductor/teacher who inspires . . . who dreams big dreams and knows how to make them come true for all of us. The future of choral music at the Conservatory is bright indeed!” says Charles Robinson, Professor of Choral Music Education and Music Education/Music Therapy Area Coordinator.
Dr. Robison is one of the leading choral directors in North America and is consistently in demand as a clinician both nationally and internationally. She has presented at ACDA and NATS conferences and is a national leader of choral artistry, pedagogy and innovation. She has held previous positions at Luther College, the University of Arizona and the University of New Mexico and has an active performance career as a soprano soloist and chorister.
Baritone Weston Hurt joins our vocal studies division as Assistant Professor of Voice. Hurt is best known in the opera world for performing some of Verdi’s most iconic baritone roles. He is recognized for his emotionally honest portrayals of characters both sympathetic and monstrous. His ability to balance machismo and vulnerability with equally expressive intensity captivates audiences, and his focus on authentic communication informs his mentorship of the next generation of vocal artists. Weston’s approach — fueled by his experiences as a singer born without a right hand — centers on the embrace of one’s unique traits.
Raymond Feener, Associate Professor of Voice and Vocal Studies Area Coordinator, adds that “Professor Hurt is a world-class artist, performing around the world at many of the top operatic and concert venues, including performances with the Nashville Symphony, the Dallas Symphony, the Oratorio Society of New York in Carnegie Hall, as well as many recital performances sponsored by the prestigious Marilyn Horne Foundation. He is also a true pedagogue, dedicated to the vocal and artistic growth of every young student he encounters. I have had the privilege of getting to know and working with Weston during this past summer, preparing for the start of the 2020 Fall Semester. I will say with deepest sincerity that Weston has already proven to be a wonderful asset to our voice area faculty and to the Conservatory at large, through his obvious joy and passion for the art of singing.”
Karen Brown (KB) is a well-known force in established dance, and she joins the Conservatory dance faculty as Assistant Professor of Dance. “Aside from the fact that Karen Brown was a Principal Ballerina for 22 years with the Dance Theater of Harlem, Director of Education for the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education, Artistic Director of Oakland Ballet, and recognized as being one of the Bay Area’s Ten Most Influential African Americans, as noted by City Flight Magazine, I had the honor of partnering Karen in Dwight Rhoden’s duet, It All, in a company called PARADIGM, in which Karen won a Bessie Award for her achievements in dance. UMKC Conservatory couldn’t be more proud to have Karen Brown on our team! I am thankful for being able to share my craft with Karen once again,” says Assistant Professor of Modern Dance Michael Blake.
Ms. Brown is lauded at the highest levels of classical ballet for her exemplary dancing as Principal Ballerina with the internationally renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem from 1973 to 1995 under the direction of founding Artistic Director Arthur Mitchell. In recognition of her accomplishments, Karen Brown was chosen as a master teacher and adjudicator for the inaugural Dance Theatre of Harlem/Kennedy Center Community Outreach Residency Program (1992-1998). Her teaching style is also influenced by her training in the Cecchetti, Vaganova and Balanchine techniques. She is also certified in Reinforced Motor Function for Ballet Application founded by Sean McLeod, and she has founded the En Pointe Plus Dance Mastery Institute offering coaching sessions for dancers utilizing new computerized motion analysis technology.
Rounding out our Theatre division is Logan Vaughn, a New-York-based artist and director of new work who joins our faculty as Assistant Teaching Professor of Acting. In 2008, Logan was awarded the Goodman Theater’s prestigious Joyce Arts Fellowship in Casting and subsequently worked as a casting director in the Tony Award-winning theater’s casting department for five seasons. Her work in film includes assisting the Academy-award-winning producing team behind Precious and Monster’s Ball, as well as serving as head of casting for several award-winning independent films. Logan received a 2019 Outer Critics Circle nomination for Best Direction of a Play for the New York premiere of Loy A. Webb’s The Light at MCC Theater.
Ken Martin, Patricia McIlrath Endowed Professor of Theatre and Chair of the Theatre Division, states that “Logan comes to UMKC after working for years in all aspects of the entertainment industry. Her experience as an artist, casting director, director and performer lend her a singular perspective that she will be able to bring to our students. We are thrilled to have her with us and excited about the future.”
As the performing arts change, the UMKC Conservatory rises and adjusts to prepare the next generation of performing artists and scholars for excellence. We are thrilled to welcome these four new faculty members to propel us into the future.
–Jessica Riggins, all photos courtesy UMKC Conservatory