Co-Founder of CCM Musical Theatre Helen Laird Honored at Memorial Service on April 7

Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance will hold a memorial to honor Helen Laird, who served as Dean of the College from 1978 to 1993, on Sunday, April 7, 2019 at the college’s Rock Hall Auditorium. The memorial will also be streamed live at youtube.com/boyercollege.

Former voice faculty member at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), Laird helped establish CCM’s BFA Musical Theatre program in the 1960s. She believed that other forms of singing should be included in a conservatory, so she lobbied former CCM Dean Jack Watson to establish a program in musical theatre, the first of its kind in the country. Watson recruited Jack Rouse to shape the program, which conferred its first BFA degree in musical theatre in 1969 to Pamela Myers. Fifty years later, the nationally-recognized program is one of the top musical theatre programs in the country.

Laird passed away on Oct. 24, 2018, at age 92. A Haddonfield, New Jersey resident for 40 years, Laird was best known throughout the Philadelphia region as Dean of Temple University’s Boyer College of Music. Her glorious soprano voice, however, had been heard previously in solo performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was among many of the leading ensembles throughout the United States and in Europe, with which she sang during her career as soloist and in opera. She became known throughout the musical academic world also for her administrative acumen, which resulted in her election as the first female officer of the National Association of Schools of Music, the primary accrediting body for college music degree programs in the United States.

Born in Harrisburg, Illinois, her exceptional musical talent became apparent from a young age. Singing opportunities came to her very early, and she matriculated at the University of Nebraska as a music major. Following a move by her family to Wyoming, she embarked upon and completed a graduate degree at Columbia University in New York City. After further vocal study and concert appearances in the United States, she went to Europe in 1953, and by 1954 had been engaged for leading roles at the Basel City Theater in Switzerland. Appointments followed at Mainz and Kassel in Germany, and for 14 years she was a leading soprano with performances of major roles in over 40 operas, averaging over a hundred performances per season. She found time to return to the United States for specific engagements. She garnered significant awards, including the first ever Blanche Thebom Award, the Laureate of International Competition in Geneva and the Martha Baird Rockefeller Award for Vocal Performance. Included among her title roles were Verdi’s Aida, Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Tosca, and Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos and others. Important also were several Wagnerian roles, including Eva in Die Meistersinger and Senta in The Flying Dutchman. Favorites included Countess in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni and Chrysothemis in Richard Strauss’ Elektra. A review of her Madama Butterfly in Kassel said, “She created the timeless destiny of Madama Butterfly with her acting ability, with conquering naturalness, and with full use of her dramatic and moving vocal resources.” Of her Ariadne, it was said in Frankfurt, “She unfolded a greatness of interpretation and bewitched the audience with her beautiful voice.” Her repertoire ranged from baroque to contemporary, with a particular attention to American works, which she enjoyed sharing with European audiences.

Seeking to expand her teaching, Laird returned to the United States and accepted the post of voice professor and artist-in-residence at CCM. She taught and administered at CCM for a decade, during which she helped establish the college’s Musical Theatre Program, until she accepted a position at Temple University. She served the university from 1978 to 1993 as Professor of Voice and Opera and Dean of the Boyer College of Music and Dance. Laird’s time at the university resulted in major growth for the school, said Boyer College Dean Emeritus Jeffrey Cornelius in an obituary he wrote for her:

“At her retirement she was hailed as an exceptional professor and administrator and as one who encouraged and followed the professional success of her students, among whom are major American figures in opera and musical theater.”

The complete obituary written by Cornelius is available at http://www.temple.edu/boyer/about/Laird.asp. The Haddonfield Sun has published an obituary at https://haddonfieldsun.com/obituary-helen-lorene-laird-ab6ad5d48a00?gi=813b1b311b2c. Legacy.com has also published an obituary at https://www.legacy.com/obituaries/philly/obituary.aspx?pid=190618951.

Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance will hold a memorial for Laird at 3 p.m. on Sunday, April 7, 2019, at the Rock Hall Auditorium, located at 1715 North Broad Street Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122. The memorial will also be streamed live at youtube.com/boyercollege.

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Betty Ireland and Marc Scorca

Opera America Office Dedicated in Memory of CCM Alumnus Jim Ireland

The National Opera Center recently dedicated its Technical/Production Office in honor of famed University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music alumnus James D. Ireland (BBA Business Administration, 1966; MM 1970), a well-respected opera administrator who helped develop Opera America into a leading organization for arts advancement in the United States.

Jim Ireland

Jim Ireland

Ireland passed away at the age of 69 in September 2012 after a brief battle with lung cancer. The ceremony and dedication took place this past November at the Opera America headquarters in New York City. Numerous friends and family from around the country were there to honor Ireland, including his sister and UC alumna, Betty Scott Ireland (BS Education, 1967).

“To know Jim was to love and admire him,” said Opera America President/CEO Marc Scorca during the dedication. “With cherished memories and enduring affection, let’s be joyful that James D. Ireland has a permanent home at the National Opera Center in good company with other dynamic leaders who forged an American opera industry.”

“Dynamic leader” is an appropriate moniker for Ireland, who had a long and storied career in the arts. A native of Charleston, West Virginia, he made a name for himself locally, often performing with the Charleston Light Opera Guild and playing organ for several area churches.

Ireland began studying voice at CCM under the tutelage of Helen Laird in 1965, shortly before Laird established the conservatory’s Musical Theatre Program in 1968. During his time at CCM, he also studied conducting with Elmer Thomas and piano with John Quincy Bass.

After graduating from CCM in 1970, he worked heavily behind the scenes to promote opera across the country. From 1972–79, he worked with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and created their opera/musical theatre arm. It was also during this time that he began working with Opera America, which has since developed a glowing international reputation.

From there, Ireland transitioned into one of the leading opera company administrators in America. For 22 years, he served as Managing and Producing Director of the acclaimed Houston Grand Opera and helped the reputation of the company grow through numerous world premieres and other artistic endeavors.

He later served as Director of Hartford Stage in Connecticut (2002–05) and the President and first CEO of the Orlando Opera (2006–09). At the time of his passing, he was working as a consultant for numerous opera organizations across the country.

JoAnne Greiser (BA English, 1968/BS Education, 1969), who was friends with Ireland when they were both students at the University of Cincinnati, attended the dedication with her husband Ron Nyhan.

“In a field that is, by definition, focused on performance and its stars, only a knowledgeable, opera-loving giant on the business side of the house could command the attention of the opera field to make significant changes behind the scenes,” she said. “Jim was that giant.”

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Story by CCM graduate Kevin Norton (DMA Saxophone, 2015)

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Photography by Mark Lyons.

CCM Named ‘Best Musical Theatre College For Broadway Success’

The educational news site Learn U has placed CCM at the very top of its list for Best Musical Theatre Colleges for Broadway Success. The report states:

“In terms of bang for your buck, CCM’s program comes out the winner – it’s the school we gave the #1 ranking to in our list of the best MT programs, and it’s also one of the more affordable options.”

Long lauded as the “gold standard” of BFA musical theatre programs, CCM Musical Theatre is the oldest program of its kind in the country. Establish in 1968 by Helen Laird, with Jack Rouse serving as its first chairman, the program served as the model for the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and the National Association of Schools of Theatre (NAST) in creating their guidelines for the accreditation of musical theatre programs in the United States.

Photography by Mark Lyons.

CCM’s Mainstage Series production of ‘Carousel.’ Photography by Mark Lyons.

The Learn U report observes, “The thing that really makes CCM stand out is the tremendous success that alumni have had on Broadway. The list of alumni who have gone on to have careers in the entertainment industry is extensive and reads like a who’s who of Broadway stars.” You can learn more about the impressive successes of our alumni by visiting ccm.uc.edu/theatre/musical_theatre/alumni.

You can read Learn U’s full report of top musical theatre programs here.

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CCM’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Receives Four League of Cincinnati Theatres Awards

League of Cincinnati Theatres

CCM’s fall Mainstage production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! has earned four awards from the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT). Diana Lala, the show’s choreographer, as well as three student performers — John Riddle, Julia Johanos and Eric Huffman — were recognized for their contributions to the show.

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CCM Continues A Must-See Mainstage Season with ‘Oklahoma!’

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CCM presents an All-American classic as it continues its 2011-12 Mainstage Series with the production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. Presented Nov. 17 through Nov. 20 at Corbett Auditorium, the musical features celebrated guest artist Pamela Myers, an original alumna of CCM’s Musical Theatre program.

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