One can often find this semester’s Outstanding Student, Mara Riley, in the College of Music practicing not just one, but two instruments. Originally accepted at CU Boulder for flute performance, Riley added voice performance to her studies during sophomore year and will graduate this fall with both degrees.
Although Riley’s parents are not professional musicians, music was emphasized at home, and Riley was always encouraged to pursue her musical interests. It’s not surprising, then, that she would be curious about voice when she came to CU Boulder.
“I had always sung in choirs and even sang the national anthem at my high school graduation although I wasn’t studying voice at the time,” Riley explains. “I started taking voice lessons with a grad student my freshman year at CU just because I liked singing, and pretty soon after I started, they told me I should consider auditioning for the voice program the next year.”
Completing just one degree is an accomplishment; completing two requires twice as much work and even more support from one’s teachers.
“I feel so lucky having such supportive teachers,” Riley says. “Many professors prefer that their students only study one instrument because they feel that studying a second would take away from the first, but [Professor of Flute] Christina Jennings and [Associate Professor of Voice] Jennifer Bird-Arvidsson have been so open and helpful with everything that I’ve done here, and I’m so thankful for that.”
At first glance, flute and voice may seem like completely different studies, and in many ways they are. But Riley has found that they complement each other unusually well. Last year, she was able to sing the lead role of Mary Hatch in Eklund Opera’s production of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” then play principal flute for the spring opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”
“I hadn’t really realized how much I loved opera until I got to be a part of those two productions,” Riley points out. “I learned so much from being able to work in two totally different parts of the operatic process. Singing Mary and playing for ‘Figaro’ will always be some of my best memories at CU.”
Riley is currently auditioning for graduate schools in both voice and flute and hopes to find a program that will allow her to continue studying both. She could see herself performing professionally as both a flutist and a vocalist—possibly even within the same company or ensemble.
Meanwhile, though, she has a rare six months or so to herself after graduation, something which might take a little getting used to.
“I love to hike and have completed seven fourteeners, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to take more time to get outside this next year and continue that,” she says. “It’s amazing being able to go to a school where you experience those kinds of things. I don’t know yet where I’ll end up for grad school, but I hope that I’ll have the room and support to be able to grow like I did at CU. And the mountains of course. Those would be things I would really miss.”