Students inspired to push the boundaries of musical genres at two-day residency

Maddy Copeland was one of several students who performed for Melissa Foster during the two-day residency. | Photo by Elora Hennessey

Renowned vocalist Melissa Foster visited the Peck School of the Arts for a two-day residency last month as part of a growing effort to diversify the vocal stylings and teachings at PSOA. 

Foster’s expertise ranges across genres that vocal students do not always get to work with. During the two-day residency, she led workshops and taught lectures on Motown, disco, rap, musical theatre, and more, to expose students to contemporary commercial music. 

Alexa Furuta, left, and Melissa Foster, right | Photo by Elora Hennessey

“Popular styles at UWM are gaining a lot of attention right now, which has been exciting,” said Alexa Furuta, a current PSOA voice student who attended Foster’s residency. “I feel super grateful that Melissa took the time to be with us. I took a lot of technical notes and learned a lot about the history of these genres.” 

Furuta further noted the impact that Foster had on those she worked with, thanks in part to her passion for music and education.  

“Her work is so important to students, especially those who may feel trapped by classical, musical theater and have not gotten the chance to dig into pop styles before,” said Furuta.  

Foster provided students with the opportunity to sing for their peers during performance masterclasses. These sessions revolved around songs that can be used in a variety of styles, which helps students curate a wide repertoire of audition material.

Katie Upthagrove | Photo by Elora Hennessey

Voice student Katie Upthagrove praised Foster’s ability to create a welcoming environment for students to perform. 

“When you’re new to it, it can be very scary [to perform],” said Upthagrove. “However, being surrounded by people who are cheering you on and wanting to see you succeed is amazing.” 

Aaron Agulay (Assistant Professor of Voice & Area Head of Voice & Opera) views Foster’s residency as just one example of how UWM’s Department of Music is diversifying its repertoire. 

“We continue to garner new tools for repertoire being taught at UWM to respect the pedagogy and styles of contemporary commercial music,” said Agulay. 

According to Agulay, students have gravitated toward UWM’s versatile voice concentration to work on a wider range of musical styles, making Foster an ideal artist to spend time with students at UWM. 

Melissa Foster | Photo by Elora Hennessey

Foster is a professor at Northwestern University. Throughout her illustrious career, she has pushed the boundaries of what topics and genres get covered in a vocal performance program. When not at Northwestern, Foster has been welcomed throughout the U.S. as a guest artist including at Berklee College of Music, Notre Dame University, and Penn State. 

Story by Jason McCullum ’25