Oberlin Jazz Finds Its Voice - and Its First Voice Teacher

September 14, 2016

Erich Burnett

Professor Hall coaches a student singer
La Tanya Hall works with a young singer in a Kohl Building practice room. Hall is the conservatory’s first teacher of jazz voice.

Photo credit: Erich Burnett

After 43 years of jazz instruction at Oberlin, the Division of Jazz Studies has appointed its first faculty member dedicated to vocal studies. Multifaceted singer La Tanya Hall serves as teacher of jazz voice, a position that began with the start of the 2016-17 academic year in August.

The addition of jazz voice addresses a growing demand among prospective students and bolsters the experience of other conservatory students, according to Bobby Ferrazza, professor of jazz guitar and director of the jazz program.

“It strengthens our whole department,” Ferrazza says. “It diversifies our ensemble experiences, giving instrumentalists the opportunity to learn how to play with singers and learn directly how to accompany singers, which is a very important skill. It also presents new collaborative opportunities for our arrangers and composers.”

Hall herself has collaborated with a long list of celebrated performers across a variety of genres, including Harry Belafonte, Diana Ross, Bobby McFerrin, Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, and Patti LaBelle. She has appeared as a soloist with the American Composers Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony, and the St. Louis Symphony, among other ensembles. Her debut recording, It’s About Time, was released in 2008 to widespread acclaim.

Early in 2016, Hall accompanied Grammy-winner Rob Thomas on a tour of Australia and performed a series of shows with jazz singer Catherine Russell in New York City. In late April, she began a U.S. tour with Steely Dan that extended throughout the summer.

She has taught at the New School and at Five Towns College in Long Island, N.Y. , and she leads master classes with the National YoungArts Foundation.

“La Tanya Hall brings an extraordinary combination of talents and focus to the jazz division,” says Professor of Singing Lorraine Manz. “She is a premier, versatile performer and a superb teacher of singing. She readily connects to the spirit of those individuals she mentors, and she will lead Oberlin jazz singers into a most promising future.”

One of the jazz voice program’s first students is Celine Opdycke ’20 of Seattle. Raised on her father’s doo-wop records, she gradually became influenced by sounds spanning the 20th century, from Glenn Miller to Duran Duran. In only her first days on campus, she felt an indelible connection to her new mentor.

“I could tell right away that she has a lot of passion and a lot of technique,” Opdycke says of Hall. “The combination of those two is really important to me.

“She had awesome things to show me in terms of technique, and she told me that one of your main goals is to have emotion in every single word you sing—and that you need to have purpose in every word you sing, and that really struck a chord with me.”

Like many students at Oberlin, Opdycke is pursuing a double degree; in addition to jazz studies, she majors in biology.

“I’m really excited to be here,” she says. “And the more time I spend here, the more I realize that this is the right place for me.”

Hall, like Opdycke, studied diverse subjects—music and journalism—as an undergraduate at the University of Colorado Boulder.

“I respect the process and consider it a gift to be able to teach this next generation the fundamentals of the jazz vocal legacy,” she says. “This music is steeped in tradition, and I continue to be touched and amazed at the dedication of the younger generations to keep it alive.”

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