Music alumnae connect developing artists with rare experiences
College roommates. Best friends. Business partners.
Voice majors Katherine Sandoval Taylor and Heather McKenzie Carson Patterson have been busy performing, raising families and launching their own studios since graduating from Furman in 2004.
But their latest venture – On Stage Collective – is a collaboration between the two sopranos. Billed as a “distinctive production company that specializes in … once-in-a-lifetime” performance opportunities, it gives performers of various ages, backgrounds and training from across the country a chance to sing at top-level venues and gain experiences they don’t normally get. On Stage Collective casts a variety of performers, ages 13 through adults, including those who are interested in pursuing a career in the performing arts, some who are active professional singer-actors, along with hobbyists who have other day jobs but are interested in living out their performance dreams.
“A priority is … to not just study singing,” Patterson said. “We want them to be able to sing on a well-known stage and get that immersive experience.” In June, they took 51 students chosen from nationwide auditions.
“The difference is learning by doing,” Taylor said, “actual performance.”
After Furman, Taylor went on to earn her master’s in vocal performance from the New England Conservatory of Music. Her career includes musical theater, performing with symphonies and repertory companies. Taylor has performed professionally all over the country, experiences that included two national jazz tours, one-woman cabaret shows, as a soloist with various symphonic orchestras, and dozens of roles in musicals with both opera and regional repertory theatre companies.
Patterson earned her master’s in vocal performance from Michigan State University, then went on to sing professionally, including performing Schubert’s Mass in A-flat at Carnegie Hall in 2017 with the Masterwork Festival Chorus and New York City Chamber Orchestra.
Both women also run their own voice and piano studios, Taylor in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and Patterson in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 2019, they launched On Stage Collective and scheduled their first show for July 2020 for Feinstein’s/54 Below, which included 26 performers.
“Katherine and I wear a lot of hats in our own businesses, but this really stretched us to use all our skills,” Patterson said. “We had no staff, nobody to help us. We arranged the music ourselves. We were so excited.”
Then COVID-19 hit.
Crestfallen, they postponed the show to 2021, then had to postpone again.
“It was difficult, especially after all the planning and preparation,” Patterson said. “It was a scary time to be in the arts.”
Undaunted, they planned a show for 2022 and assembled a diverse cast from among their own students and others from the wide network of voice teachers, choral directors and theater contacts they’d made over the years who performed a variety of numbers from “A Chorus Line,” “Dear Evan Hansen,” and “Smokey Joe’s Café,” Taylor said.
They also served as producers while coaching the singers individually. Taylor also directed the shows.
It was held at 54 Below, dubbed “Broadway’s Beloved Basement Club” by The New York Times, for allowing singers to connect with audiences in an intimate setting. On Stage’s first performance was so well-received that the club’s staff – who hear professionals every night – asked to stay for the second show, Taylor said. During their week in New York, the students had master classes with Broadway stars Kara Lindsay, Kevin Massey and Jonathan Kirkland. The group also enjoyed Broadway shows, river boat cruises and other New York City adventures.
It started with Furman Singers
Taylor and Patterson became fast friends in college, where they were members of the Furman Singers. And they say their time at Furman – studying with music professors Trudy Hines Fuller and Lisa Browne Barksdale – prepared them well.
“Our professors expected excellence from us (so) we expect a lot of ourselves,” said Patterson. “All of that stems from our early experience at Furman. Though On Stage began as a passion project, the partners’ strategic plan involves adding more of these events throughout the year in New York and other cities and venues, such as Disney World in Orlando, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“As a kid in high school or college, this would have been a dream,” said Patterson. “It’s not just a great memory, but a valuable educational experience – learning by doing.” Taylor and Patterson hold virtual auditions through their website and invite anyone to audition.