Singing to New Heights
Class of 2015
Major: Bachelor of music with a concentration in vocal performance
Hometown: Taylors, S.C.
As a teenager, Emma Ritter dared to say one of the most daunting sentences in the English language: “I want to be a professional singer.”
Emma made that decision during her freshman year, after being accepted into Valpo’s prestigious Chorale and beginning classes for a double major in English and music. Within six
months, she realized that she wanted to focus exclusively on singing.
“It’s always scary to seriously pursue a degree in the performance realm,” Emma says. “There is not a lot of job security. What Valpo helped me realize is that, even though it is scary to say I want to be a singer, I should really focus all my energy on doing this. This is what I am supposed to do.”
By the end of her first year, Emma had switched into the bachelor of music program, Valpo’s most rigorous option for future performers. She dropped her “backup” major and focused intensively on her music courses, studio lessons, and ensemble participation. That summer, she travelled with the Chorale to Germany to sing at J.S. Bach’s home church.
By sophomore year, Emma was singing one of classical music’s most formidable works, Bach’s Mass in B minor. The Chorale rehearsed that piece for six months.
“When we performed, it’s one of those moments I will forever remember,” Emma says. “To have that many people involved to create one beautiful thing — it still gives me goosebumps to think about it.”
Working alongside professional soloists from around the country, Emma could see how professional singers prepare such a piece. That also helped stretch her sense of what she could
“The music is very difficult, and we had to do so much work together to get it ready for performance,” Emma says. “I learned so much from experiencing the passion and the work that you need for a piece of this magnitude.”
While the experience was unique, Emma says that it was in typical Valpo style to assign such a challenging work.
“The professors didn’t have low expectations,” Emma says. “They pushed me to try harder and work harder. Because of that, we performed pieces that a lot of undergraduate students don’t get the opportunity to perform.”
Emma says that the rigor was excellent preparation for graduate school, her next step on the path to becoming an opera singer. She looked at selective schools like the Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, and Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music.
“When I was approaching graduate school, they never told me any dream was too big. They said, ‘If you want to go to this place, we’ll do the work to prepare you to get there,’” Emma recalls.
Emma, now a graduate of Eastman School of Music with a master of music, continues to live out her dreams. She participated in the Music Academy of the West, a prestigious summer program boasting about a 7 percent acceptance rate to the program.
And, in fall 2018, Emma started a postgraduate program in Chicago, pursuing a professional diploma in opera from Roosevelt University. She is also a young artist with the Chicago Opera Theatre.
Emma imagined it was possible, and she continues to live out her dreams each and every day.