A Masterful Experience with Deonte Warren, M.M ’21
- Copyright 201A 6
By William Dowell ’22
Carthage’s M.M. in Music Theatre Vocal Pedagogy takes some of the best artists in music theatre and prepares them to give back to the community. One of the recent graduates, Deonte Warren M.M. ’21 will combine his professional experiences at Broadway and his educational experiences at Carthage to provide music opportunities to the middle Tennessee area as a professor and director. I talked with Deonte about his recital at Carthage, his previous professional accomplishments, and how he seeks to create learning environments that make every student feel welcome.
How was your recital?
It was really fun. It has been so long since I was able to sing live like that. I had a concert planned that was going to be like a second live album in New York last spring, which was cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While I did not get to sing that show, what I sang for my recital was a different set of tunes. It still felt like I had a moment to share the music.
How have your previous experiences with Broadway and with teaching in Chicago influenced how you approached your time at Carthage?
It was hard, because I have always wanted to get a master degree, and teaching was my long-game. I think having life experience, not just the work experience with performing on Broadway, but also performing on tours and teaching singers at varying levels of expertise–beginners to Broadway performers; all came together in the graduate program. I was able to bring all my knowledge with me and use it as a catalyst for growth. Let all that involvement help me learn new skills, reform my research, and inform my teaching. Even being in the voice studio as a student, all of the experience–updated the learning. It made everything I learned in the master program deeper and beyond the actual science of voice and philosophies of pedagogy. It permeated into my life and of who I am. That kind of learning changed me as a person, not just as a teacher and performer.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when entering the graduate program?
When I started interviewing for the M.M. program, I thought it was for the fall of 2021, and I was interviewing early. So when I realized that fall of 2020 was an option, everything happened at lightning speed. If I were to start this fall, I don’t think I would have done anything differently. I had amazing teachers and guides such as Dr. Corinne Ness is the advisor for the M.M. program, and I have never met a better educator–she is incredible. Whenever I felt I didn’t have the tools to achieve something, Corinne always showed me that I did.
I don’t think I would redo any of it, however knowing what I know now, I would just have a little more confidence. To know that I have what it takes, and my perspective does matters. To remember who I am, and who I want to be as a teacher.
How was teaching at Carthage through the music theatre program?
A blast! Before I started the program, the bulk of my career was as a performer. At Carthage, I taught boot camp in the fall and workshop in the spring. Teaching those classes really solidified my purpose, and reminded me I was doing what I was meant to do. It affirmed the inspiration I can have on students, and how I can help foster environments that support and encourage them to have a voice, even if they don’t get the answers they want to hear. Teaching these classes made my graduate experience complete.
What are some of the strategies you learned or implemented in your teaching to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for your students?
I learned from several of the M.M. faculty about action, agency, and different teaching philosophies, so I could implement my own version in the classroom. To create the capacity for individuals to act independently. For an example, not just saying “Your voices matter, and you have agency in this room,” but making sure my actions support this statement. I start each semester saying to the students:
“This is not a top-down master and apprentice learning environment; this is a collaborative learning environment. I may be guiding conversations and fostering learning, but my voice is not more important than yours. This is an environment where you can own your experiences and opinions and we are going to respect each other’s opinions.”
When you say these words, you lay the groundwork for the students in the classroom. If your actions and responses reflect what you have said, it will foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable to speak up and share their opinions. That is when we can have discussions, and really start to learn. It’s not perfect, but provides room for growth.
How are you planning on taking these skills into your future? What do you have planned?
I accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Music Theatre at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee. I am very excited as I was born and raised in Nashville. The Music Theatre program at Austin Peay is in its fifth year, and I am eager to take my experience and philosophy in education into the classroom and voice studio. The program has had exciting growth, and they are doing amazing things for their students. They are forward-thinking people, and are developing methods to foster music theatre students into well-rounded artists that have the agency over their art and their person. I very much believe in training students this way, so I am excited to join the faculty.
I am also excited about rejoining the theatre environment in middle Tennessee, not only as a performer, but also as a director and teacher. I am excited to figure out how to foster opportunities for other young kids such as my experience–who grew up in government housing or were sometimes homeless. Since people were interested in fostering opportunities for people such as me, I have been able to have incredible experiences. I want to foster similar opportunities other young people.
What has been your favorite experience at Carthage?
At the end of our performance workshop class, the students made me a card to put on my desk and has a note full of things I would say during rehearsals and a lovely painted rock. It’s one of my favorite possessions, and these are things I get to take with me. My biggest highlight is the responses from students who were previously feeling unseen and were giving up on themselves. Their feedback on how much the class meant to them, and how they felt someone was invested in their potential, really made everything worth it. All of the difficult moments of the past year was worth listening to these beautiful young artists express how this learning environment we fostered together, changed them.
What advice do you have for people entering the graduate program or just arts programs in general?
The advice I would give incoming M.M. students would be to believe in yourself, and just know that you have everything you need to succeed. This program was developed by brilliant people that will guide you. You have what it takes to make it through, but don’t forget to ask as many questions as possible. Take this opportunity to explore and decide what kind of educator you want to be. It is a unique program at Carthage, and no matter what you are looking to get out of the degree, you will never find better or more support.
For someone entering the arts as a whole, my biggest advice is to have agency. Regardless of where you are or who you are, you have agency over your art. You have agency over your person. You matter. Your voice matters. Any artistic environment you are in is collaborative, so don’t diminish yourself. Bring your heart and mind to the table. You will always be learning and growing, if you come at your art and education collaboratively.