Building Musical Bridges

When soprano Rhiannon Guevin ’12 boarded an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to Anchorage four years ago, helping a high-school student decide which college to attend wasn’t part of her in-flight itinerary.

But after being seated next to Danielle Rogers ’18, herself a talented soprano who was then a senior in high school, Rhiannon couldn’t help talking about her alma mater. On Rhiannon’s recommendation, Danielle enrolled at Puget Sound. She graduated from the School of Music in May.

The bond between the two sopranos was formed long before that chance encounter on the airplane. Rhiannon first met Danielle a decade ago at Alaska’s Sitka Fine Arts Camp (SFAC), where Rhiannon, who was pursuing her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at Puget Sound, was working as a counselor. Danielle was one of her campers.

It’s one of many connections Rhiannon has found through SFAC, an organization that offers noncompetitive, multidisciplinary arts education to children and teens. Rhiannon first attended the summer camp when she was 14, after her family moved to Sitka from Northern California. She had been participating in community theater productions since she was 7 years old, and says she was “obsessed with musical theater.” She kept returning to SFAC first as a camper, then a counselor, then an intern. In 2013, she was hired as the camp’s operations director. 

Now, in addition to her administrative duties, teaching, and performing, Rhiannon regularly orchestrates an exchange between SFAC and Puget Sound’s School of Music. Since 2013, at least five Puget Sound faculty members have taught or performed with SFAC, and at least three Logger alumni, including Danielle, can trace their interest in Puget Sound back to Rhiannon and her love for the university.

“I had a clear idea of the school I wanted to go to: a small, liberal arts school on the West Coast that was close to Alaska,” Rhiannon recalls about her time searching for a college. “I visited Puget Sound in the fall and knew this was it the minute I stepped on campus.”

She applied for Early Action Admission, was accepted, and began pursuing a music education degree. But upon hearing her sing, then-Puget Sound affiliate artist and soprano Christina Kowalski strongly suggested she pursue vocal performance instead. With this new direction, she began working closely with Gwynne Kuhner Brown ’95, associate professor of music history and music theory, and Dawn Padula, director of vocal studies. “We really clicked,” Rhiannon says of Dawn. “She became a mentor to me.”

And because those relationships forged during Rhiannon’s four years in the School of Music have continued, she has been able to bring a new level of talent to SFAC. The exchange began in May 2014 when Rhiannon invited Gwynne, who plays a traditional African instrument called the mbira and specializes in American music of the 20th century, to serve as an artist-in-residence.

Three years later, Samuel Faustine ’13 performed with Rhiannon in The Last Five Years, a musical by Jason Robert Brown, as part of the SFAC Performing Arts Series. Last summer, Puget Sound’s Interim Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music Gerard Morris joined the SFAC summer Middle School Camp faculty, and Puget Sound Affiliate Artist Abe Landa ’13 played guitar as part of the orchestra for the Musical Theater Camp’s production of Legally Blonde.

Looking to the future, Rhiannon dreams of creating an opera program for SFAC under Dawn’s guidance. “The faculty is the best of the best at Puget Sound,” Rhiannon says. “I loved my time there.” 

 

By Anneli Fogt
Photo by Caitlin Fondell
Published Jan. 28, 2019