Spotlight on Pamela Kurau: Vocal professor channels energy in singing, personality

When calling to mind the composer of a vocal piece she performed at the Kaleidoscope concert in October, assistant professor of music Pamela Kurau extended her arms to one side, theatrically looked over her shoulder and said, “Oh, why is this person’s name eluding me now?” With infectious energy in her personality as well as her singing, Kurau teaches MUSC: 141: Voice for the General Student and MUSC 151: Voice for Performance Option to both music and nonmusic majors.

Auditions for Kurau’s classes are competitive, considering her average class size is nine students. Given their increased time and repertoire commitments, majors can acquire private lessons. Kurau’s small group classes still provide enough individualized attention for students to explore their vocal potential.

Being full-time at Geneseo and a part-time music professor at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, Kurau lets her fervor for singing connect not only notes but also her two varying teaching roles.

She said she “never thought about the differences” between Eastman and Geneseo students, although Eastman is almost exclusively a music conservatory. As an English lyric diction professor at Eastman, Kurau teaches her students the pronunciation of English words in serious vocal compositions.

“You’d think that if you can speak the language, you can sing the language,” Kurau said. “It ain’t necessarily so.”

Before entering Kurau’s classroom in Brodie Hall, her soprano voice is heard fluidly mingling with piano keys. It’s a voice from someone you would never expect was once committed to pre-med at the University of Connecticut.

“I was set on being a pediatrician,” Kurau said. “Then I got to a chemistry class with 200 students, a professor who had written the textbook and a lab instructor who I couldn’t understand.”

This initially discouraging environment ended up leading Kurau to her career. She became involved in a few UConn choirs until, according to Kurau, a professor told her she could major in music. Previously, she had never seen it as an option.

While completing her undergraduate degree at UConn's School of Fine Arts, Kurau said she met her future husband Peter Kurau.

“We met while performing,” she said. Peter Kurau also teaches at Eastman as a professor of horn in the woodwinds, brass and percussion department.

In terms of her technique, Kurau encourages students to perform “posture checks” in order to “align” their bodies for singing.

“I believe there’s one healthy way to sing,” Kurau said. “When I see screaming faces on American Idol, it makes me upset. The tiny little muscles in your neck can only take so much.”

By emphasizing the importance of the breath and body in singing, Kurau prepares students for long, healthful singing careers. At the end of four years, Kurau’s students have their senior recitals. These performances are graded and demand an hour’s worth of music from each singer.

While grading, Kurau said she “always get[s] flashbacks” to when her students were freshmen. “It’s just gratifying to see them grow,” she said.