Vocal Performance student explores business side of music in Las Vegas
Perhaps it’s fate that Dana Degnan ’17 is interning with Caesars Entertainment in Las Vegas this summer, learning the ropes of arts administration from the best in the business while rubbing elbows with the likes of Wayne Newton and Donny and Marie Osmond.
After all, as the daughter of an accomplished jazz musician, she grew up being lulled by the sounds of Ella Fitzgerald, the first lady of song, and Frank Sinatra.
Vegas is the perfect place for Degnan, a vocal performance major at Stephens College, to explore her professional ambitions.
“I have never done anything like this in my life,” she said. “But I have really enjoyed the experience because it has reaffirmed that this is what I want to do. I hope that in the coming years, I can have a successful career in entertainment.”
That’s the whole idea behind the second-summer apprenticeships tailored specifically for each student majoring in vocal performance in the Stephens vocal arts-music program. Students in the three-year, two-summer degree program spend at least 300 hours, during the summer after their second year, expanding their musical horizons through traineeships unique to their professional interests.
Besides Degnan, three other vocal performance majors are participating in summer apprenticeships. Rachel Cornell ’18 (pictured top) is exploring the business of jazz at the “We Always Swing” Jazz Series in Columbia while Emma Wicks ’18 (pictured middle) is learning how to be a freelance singer, songwriter and performer in the Okoboji (Iowa) area. Finally, Lauren Harmon ’18 (pictured bottom), who’s interested in classical music and musicology, is attending an Alexander Technique workshop in North Carolina and taking part in Summer Singers at Mizzou and La Traviata by Verde with the Missouri Symphony Society.
The students are among the first cohort in the vocal arts-music program. Last summer, the students explored their craft in a Summer Music Institute in which they engaged in
hands-on performances with guest artists, including country singer Candy Coburn and Show Me Opera’s Christine Seitz, and faculty who are practicing professional musicians.
Program Coordinator Rusty Elder, Associate Professor Pam Ellsworth-Smith and Tom Andes, an instructor, wanted to enhance their students’ musical repertoires during their second summer by providing them with apprenticeships unique to their interests and talents.
“What is wonderful about our music program is we can actually know every one of our students,” Andes said.
Degnan, who is from Villa Park, Ill., decided to pursue a career in the music industry after she won a spot on “The American Idol Experience” at Walt Disney World while on a family trip. Though she still enjoys singing and performing, Degnan would prefer a career on the business side of the music industry.
“I’ve learned during my apprenticeship at Caesars that working in the entertainment business is just as exhausting and rewarding as working in the performing arts,” she said. “Both sides work extremely hard; it’s just a different kind of work.”
At Caesars Entertainment, Degnan has been paired with the vice president of entertainment operations and has worked on creating new and exciting shows on the Las Vegas strip, where Caesars owns nine properties. She also works on projects, fills out paperwork and often comes in at night to assist or shadow employees working on shows.
“I think most of my family and friends expected I would be meeting and working with famous people every day,” she said. “That’s only a small part of the work. What I’m really learning is how to make sure that celebrities’ or performers’ showrooms are perfect for them and how to get more people in to see them.”
Before interning in Vegas, Degnan had planned to work in Chicago after graduation. Now, she’s eyeing a career in Las Vegas.
Cornell, who is from Columbia, has been impressed with the jazz musicians she’s researching for the upcoming “We Always Swing” Jazz Series. Among her duties are writing biographies about the artists for the jazz series’ brochure, and what she’s discovering is inspiring her to consider singing professionally.
“Reading how they made it makes the business seem possible,” Cornell said. “A lot of these jazz musicians have a few things in common: They put themselves out there, they practiced, networked and actually played to build up a following.
“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned, “ she added, “is procrastinating will get me nothing.”
Wicks, who grew up in Spencer, Iowa, where she began teaching herself piano chords at the age of 8, isn’t sure being a professional performer is her true calling.
“Music is not the only thing that I wake up every day wanting to work on,” she said. “I am an artist in so many different aspects: drawing, writing, video production and editing, photography, editing, music production, fashion and really just about anything creative.”
Still, this summer’s experience as a solo musician has opened her eyes to the possibility and what it would take to build a music career. She’s learning to haul her own equipment, collaborate with other musicians, promote herself online and with business cards, record her own music and write set lists.
She even had a chance to perform at a show along with Nashville star Shawn Mayer.
“It was kind of crazy, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re a live performer,” said Wicks, who added most of her performances have been on a much smaller scale.
“Still, I’ve learned through playing these small gigs that nothing is truly a small experience,” she said. “In fact, all these experiences added together have made me much better in such a short amount of time.”