Clark University music major Sydney Pepper ’19 reveled in an experience this past summer that struck a chord: interning as an arts administrator at the Etchings Festival in Auvillar, France. Besides learning more about what it would take to pursue a career in arts administration, Pepper also composed music, took lessons, and received coaching from world-class musicians, including her Clark professor, John Aylward, who founded the festival a decade ago in cooperation with the Virginia Center for Creative Arts.
“I was forced out of my comfort zone,” says Pepper, who hails from Voluntown, Connecticut. “I would like to pursue a career in music administration and performance, so the festival helped me gain experience in both of those fields. I also hope it will help me obtain administrative jobs and grow as a performer.”
Pepper worked closely with two people with Clark ties: Aylward, associate professor of music composition and theory who serves as the festival’s artistic director, and alumnus Aaron Bresley ’11, manager of the annual event that draws performers and audiences from across the world. Clark supported Pepper’s travel and study through a Steinbrecher Fellowship and the Sara Bickman Music and Arts Summer Internship for Undergraduates.
This was not Pepper’s first noteworthy performance, however. A Traina Scholar concentrating on vocal performance, she has been deeply involved in the Clark University Choirs, serving as president. In summer 2017, she received a LEEP Fellowship to intern in arts administration and development at the Portland Bach Festival in Maine, working alongside Emily Isaacson, the festival’s associate artistic director and Clark’s former director of choral activities. Isaacson recently founded the Portland Bach Experience, and serves as its artistic director; Pepper is the festival’s director.
“I knew early on that I wanted to pursue a career in music, so majoring in music was a no-brainer,” says Pepper, also an English minor. “My path has definitely adjusted quite a bit since freshman year, but my passion and interest in music has only deepened.”
In her studies, Pepper has focused on classical music and musicology. Over the past year, she has conducted research on how opera depicts sexual violence, and she examined how the topic could be addressed in classrooms at liberal arts colleges. Professors could offer “trigger warnings” before holding a class discussion, she suggests, and colleges could offer training for how students might approach such sensitive topics in music classes. Pepper presented a paper, “Preventing Dissonance in the Classroom: An Approach to Teaching Opera That Depicts Sexual Violence,” at Clark’s 2017 Fall Fest. Her adviser for the project was Benjamin Korstvedt, professor of music.
“I wanted to talk about it because it’s so overlooked sometimes,” Pepper says. “Sexually violent scenes are depicted without trigger warnings being issued, and opera houses perform them without thinking about how they will affect their audiences. I wanted to find an angle that was more sensitive to be taught in a classroom.”
Pepper’s professors and advisers have encouraged her to find her own voice and to explore various career opportunities in music. Her close connections with Clark’s faculty have helped her pursue her professional goals, she says.
“I’m hoping to go to graduate school next year for music administration, and I’ll keep performing through that,” Pepper says. “I’ve just been really lucky to be able to find something that I’m passionate about and good at.”