As a winner of the VSA International Young Soloist Award, CCM voice student Natalie Sheppard performs at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage at 6 p.m. on Thursday, May 25. This year marks the 33rd anniversary of the VSA International Young Soloists Competition, a Jean Kennedy Smith Arts and Disability Program that recognizes talented, emerging artists ages 14-25 with disabilities from all over the world.
In addition to Sheppard, the concert features her fellow award winners including pianist Elliot McClain of Tennessee, pianist Kohlin Sekizawa of California and classical saxophonist Jessica Tucker of Nevada. The award winners each receive $2,000 and the opportunity to perform at the Kennedy Center’s Millennium Stage. The performance will be live streamed on the Kennedy Center’s Facebook page and on kennedy-center.org.
Sheppard, a mezzo-soprano, begins her junior year at CCM in the fall, studying with Professor William McGraw. She praises McGraw for “his complete knowledge of the voice, the way he nurtures young artists and his kind heart.”
“He knows how to push his students toward success and gives us the tools we need, but never allows us to be too hard on ourselves,” Sheppard adds.
Sheppard says she has dealt with anxiety and depression for most of her life but that music has been a source of therapy for her. She studies voice and international human rights, and hopes to combine the two disciplines in her work. She currently works with children with disabilities and uses music to teach them life skills.
“I have always believed that as artists and musicians, it is our duty to use our unique medium for good,” Sheppard says. “As a singer, we carry grand responsibility. We posses a public voice. I really want to be a voice for minorities and those who have faced extreme hardships around the world. I plan to combine activism work with recitals.”
At the Kennedy Center concert, she plans to sing a song cycle titled Love After 1950 by Libby Larsen. It features collected poetry written by women. Sheppard will also work with Larsen this summer as a Colburn Fellow at SongFest in Los Angeles.
“Art is an outlet for many,” Sheppard says. “It is crucial that we become more accepting of those with mental illness, and come together as collaborators, not as competitors. I have many friends who suffer from very similar mental disorders. I encourage them to apply for this same award and to be a strong voice for those with all types of anxiety and depression.”