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Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance

The Cornish Music Department offers a Bachelor of Music curriculum in vocal performance with special emphasis on contemporary as well as classic repertoire. The small, highly selective program is limited to 35 singers total, not hundreds like at many large, impersonal, vocal ‘factories’. As a student you benefit from the highly personalized training and individualized attention that has remained a hallmark of Cornish’s intimate, intensive, performance-oriented program. Accompanists for private lessons and classes are provided to all vocal students as part of the curriculum and at no additional charge. Class size is small with a student/teacher ratio of 5/1, and performance opportunities numerous.

Your first- and second-year coursework consists of performance-oriented skills-based courses in music theory, eartraining, rhythm, and piano that are designed to prepare you to succeed as a practicing artist. Our innovative first-year course VOX provides all vocal performance students—jazz vocalists as well as classical singers—with a proper foundation in vocal production, diction, and body awareness.

Your third- and fourth-year curriculum consists of courses in music history, vocal repertoire, opera scene development, movement, and foreign language study. All vocal performance students are required to complete one year of Italian language plus an additional year of either French or German. Your junior and senior years are devoted to performing in one or both of the two fully-staged opera productions mounted each year, plus preparing for your junior and senior recitals—the latter, an evening-length performance showcasing you at your best.

Cornish Opera Theater, La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Cornish Chamber Singers. Photo by Michelle Smith-Lewis.

Classical Voice and Opera at Cornish

There’s a long history of opera at Cornish that stretches back almost one hundred years to the school’s founding. In fact, before the Seattle Opera even existed Cornish students and faculty routinely mounted productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Donizetti’s Don Pasquale, and other standard repertory works. In more recent years, Cornish has acquired a reputation for staging bold and imaginative new productions of standard operatic repertoire and world premiere productions by contemporary composers.

Throughout the years the Cornish classical voice and opera program has attracted a stellar roster of superbly qualified vocal teachers and coaches to its faculty. Today that faculty includes the internationally renowned coloratura soprano Cyndia Sieden, tenor John Duykers, soprano Natalie Lerch, mezzo soprano Kathryn Weld, bass baritone Michael Delos, and baroque specialist Nancy Zylstra.

Cornish Opera Theater

At Cornish, we believe that the best way to develop as a performer is to perform. So, we’ve designed a program that gives you every opportunity to perform, while providing you with the additional mentorship and training you need to hone your performance skills. Most importantly, unlike many other programs, the classical voice and opera program at Cornish is small, highly selective, and exclusively focused on undergraduate education, so that means you won’t be competing for principal roles with hundred of graduate students.

Every year you have the opportunity to audition for and perform in two Cornish Opera Theater productions. These productions are fully staged, professional productions often directed by stage directors or music directors who routinely work with opera companies around the world. Operatic repertoire can range from the baroque era to the contemporary in a variety of styles and in a diverse selection of languages.

In the past thirty years alone the diverse range of works that Cornish Opera Theater has staged includes Dido and Aeneas (Purcell), Iphigénie en Tauride (Gluck), L’Enfant Prodigue (Debussy), L’Heure Espagnole (Ravel), La Cambiale di Matrimonio (Rossini), La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (Caccini), Le Nozze di Figaro (Mozart), Les Malheurs d’Orphee (Milhaud), Savitri (Holst), The Medium (Menotti), Transformations (Susa), Treemonisha (Joplin), and Suor Angelica (Puccini).


Every semester the Cornish Music Department also offers a variety of different ensembles, many designed to feature vocal performance students. Here are descriptions of a few:

  • Baroque Ensemble A performing ensemble dedicated to the exploration and performance of music from the Baroque period of the Western classical music tradition (ca. 1600–1750), with an emphasis on understanding the performance practices and conventions common to the period.
  • Chorus A performing ensemble designed to develop choral singing skills through a broad range of literature.
  • Chamber Singers A small performing ensemble dedicated to the exploration of a cappella music, and with an emphasis on part-singing.
  • Jazz Vocal EnsembleThe Jazz Vocal Ensemble is an a cappella ensemble class for singers; a challenging forum to expand individual musicianship and ensemble skills, including timbre, dynamics, melodic and harmonic motion, rhythm and phrase-shaping through the development of jazz tunes, and improvised and mixed-genre compositions.

Additional Performance Opportunities

As a classical vocal performance student you may also audition for musical theater productions mounted by the Theater Department. Additionally, Cornish music students routinely collaborate with students from the Dance, Theater, Visual Art, and Design departments to create innovative interdisciplinary music-theater productions.

Vocal performance students also frequently collaborate with Cornish student composers, premiering new works written especially for them on recitals or in other concert venues. Performance students also have the opportunity of performing works at the end of every semester on our “Scores of Sound” festival, or on one of the concert series presented by Cornish.

Life After Cornish

Cornish vocal performance students are routinely accepted into many of the top graduate music programs in the nation including Northwestern University, New England Conservatory, Yale University, University of Michigan, University of Illinois, and Indiana University.

Some graduates pursue teaching careers; others pursue performances careers in both classical and contemporary popular music.