Jeffrey Seppala has a bachelor’s degree in music from Biola University, a master’s in music from University of North Carolina School of the Arts, and a Doctorate of Musical Arts in voice performance and pedagogy from the University of Colorado Boulder. He teaches applied voice, vocal diction and vocal pedagogy. Before joining Truman State University, Seppala taught at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and has performed in works from the early Baroque to contemporary premieres.
How did you end up at Truman State University?
I greatly enjoyed teaching at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley last year, [but] I decided for a myriad of reasons it would be best to search for a new position. There were a few positions I was interested in and almost accepted until I spoke with my brother-in-law, who happens to be a guidance counselor. After I mentioned to him there was an opening at Truman State University, he said ‘Oh, you have to apply.’ Upon my visit, I met with the wonderful faculty and heard about the quality of students. The decision was not an easy one, but I am extremely pleased with my choice and excited to be at Truman.
Have we lived up to the hype?
Absolutely! My colleagues have been tremendously welcoming, and the students at Truman are hard-working and focused. They sometimes even over-stress their studies to a fault. I try to encourage my students to keep their life priorities in perspective — place as much time and concern into their studies, but with a correct understanding of its place in their lives and a focus on their life goals as they enjoy the ride of life.
What originally interested you in music? In teaching?
You know, I don’t know if I had an option, in a good way. I started playing violin when I was three and was in boys’ choirs by age four. I loved it and still do. I find when people come to me with vocal problems, trauma, injuries or just a desire to develop their voice, their personal insecurities or issues often have a direct correlation with their voice. When I see a student gaining vocal freedom and believing they can actually sing, they start livening up, their speaking voice changes, their personality starts changing, and I love that. I’m not a counselor in any way, I’m a very technical vocal teacher, and yet I get to see people start changing as a result of them finding their free voice. I love the freedom it brings to their life, and their enjoyment in music runs parallel with this journey.
Have you seen a difference in the jobs you’ve had?
As a performer singing opera and musical theater you have to travel around a lot, and even though I loved it, it’s not very family-orientated. So I pursued my doctorate so that I can do my other love — teaching. However, my greatest joy in teaching is one-on-one vocal instruction. In vocal lessons, I tell my students that as long as you work your hardest the grades will reflect your dedication. It is when voice students focus solely upon their grades that they tend to lock down instead of opening up, and that can be difficult for vocal development. As long as they go for it, they accomplish both.
What has been your favorite work to perform?
The generic answer is typically ‘the one you’re working on right now,’ [which] has almost always been true for me. I will be performing Haydn’s ‘Creation’ in October in Colorado. I’ve never sung that before so it’s really interesting. One of my favorite pieces to perform was Falstaff — this 400-pound character who is overbearing, boisterous and disgusting. It is fabulous playing a part so different from who I am. Another fun role was portraying the stepfather in Rossini’s Cinderella, “La Cenerentola.”
Is there a style of music you enjoy teaching or performing more?
There’s not. I love opera, but I also like musical theater an immense amount. The training I give to my students is geared to what they would like to go into and their specific vocal goals. For my performing, I’ve primarily sung classically, — however, I enjoy rock and contemporary music as well, it’s just not where my voice goes. Everyone has a unique instrument and mine is not particularly geared or trained in that way. It would be like trying to play the tuba in a string quartet — it might not work very well.
Do you have a favorite song?
I have a couple favorite composers I like a lot. I greatly enjoy Verdi and Mahler. I like Wagner too. In musical theatre, I think Sondheim’s brilliant — I just love singing his music.
Have any advice for students?
I want them to go and explore life. Become lifelong learners now. Take advantage of classes we have for non-majors. Be in the voice class — explore music and art. It will enrich your mind and allow you to think more creatively, outside the box, in anything you do and will absolutely aid in any career. If you have any questions or are interested in performing, let me know.
This appeared in the Oct. 6 issue of the Index.