Currently studying for her PhD in Vocal Music at West Virginia University, Agatha Ibeazor, an alumnus of the MTN Foundation sponsored MUSON Scholars programme, who was the first African to graduate with honours from Truman State University, US, has excelled in the field of opera. Agatha who was in Nigeria during the yuletide talks about her singing and academic sojourn in this interview. Excerpts
WHAT brings you home?     
Since 2013 I have always been invited by the Abuja Metropolitan Music Society (AMEMUSO) to an annual event called, Opera Abuja. This event showcases international classical musicians including Nigerians and foreign artists. It is organized in collaboration with German and French Embassies, Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory Ministry, and a host of other organisations in Nigeria. This year’s happens to be around the Christmas holidays. So I stayed in Nigeria afterwards, visited my family and sang at some concerts. One of the major ones happen to be the 2017 Ovation Red Carol.
After your graduation from the Truman State University in the United States of America, what have you been doing since?
Before I graduated from Truman in 2014, I had gotten two offers of admission for a Masters Degree program at Crane School of Music SUNY Potsdam New York and Butler School of Music University of Texas Austin. I was unable to attend either due to lack of funds. I spent the next year studying and acquiring skills to make me a suitable candidate for possibly a research fellowship or a graduate assistantship at various institutions to which I applied.
In 2015, I was admitted at the University of Central Missouri (UCM) with a full graduate teaching assistantship receiving a full tuition waiver and monthly stipend. I graduated in 2017 with a Master of Arts degree with all A’s (4.0 GPA). I won several awards and was first place winner in several competitions during my studies at UCM, some of which include the Quistorff Aria Competition and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition held in Kansas City.
I am currently pursuing my PhD in vocal music at the West Virginia University (WVU) where I received a W.E.B Dubois research fellowship. This fellowship is only open to African American/Black graduate students that are exceptional with excellent grades. I hope to graduate in May, 2020. So far, in my studies here at WVU, I won the NATS Tri-state chapter competition held in Pittsburgh.
Are you attached to any big-name opera houses or do you have your own thing?
Because I am an academic, I have not yet signed contracts with major opera houses in the US or Europe as I would love to get the highest level of qualification in the education before I begin touring the world as an international opera singer. Getting the highest level in academia is very important to me. This would equip me to be able to make the kind of impact I would like to make in Nigeria. Education first, stage appearances and signing contracts in opera houses would come later.
However, I have been very active with the opera theatre of each school I had attended, including my current school of WVU, singing lead roles in different operas. In Feb. 2016, I was afforded the opportunity to sing in the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York as a soloist with the UCM concert choir. This was a dream come true for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of performing in this hall.
Have you been able to, in any way, influence young people who have the same talent as you, but are unaware of how to go about grooming it?
Whenever I visit Nigeria, I announce on my Facebook page about giving master classes to the young classical musicians at the Muson Center. I talk to them about different careers in music and even scholarship opportunities in the United States. These visits are very dear to my heart as there are an overwhelming number of undiscovered potentials in Nigeria.
What is your relationship with the MUSON school of Music where you received your training?
Receiving an education from MUSON and being sponsored by the MTN Foundation is the one of the greatest things that happened to my career and for now, that is my strongest link with these two organisations. However, I would like a better relationship. I am using this opportunity to propose annual recitals or concerts in MUSON where the MTN Foundation can showcase a product of theirs and keep track of the successes of the students that they’ve helped, not just in Nigeria but in the world.
How do you think the classical music landscape can be revamped in Nigeria?
I think classical music in Nigeria needs a larger audience. The potential for Nigerian classical musicians being acknowledged as top artists in this field is very promising and with more awareness, we can be unstoppable.
What are your views on the Nigerian music scene generally?
Oh lovely, absolutely lovely! The Nigerian music industry is big and keeps getting bigger, and I am proud of it.
Where do you see yourself in another five years?
Well in five years, you would have to address me as Dr. Agatha (laughs)… I see myself touring the world singing recitals and giving master classes. But most importantly, I would love to take great strides in making a significant impact in my beloved country, Nigeria. I have big dreams for making Nigeria a better place; that is why getting the highest degree of education possible is a big deal to me.
Looking back to when you were still in school in Nigeria, what will you say is the best thing that ever happened to you?
As you may know, I had to forfeit an admission to study Law in Anambra State University in 2006 because my mum could not afford the fees. Being able to attend school in the first place was the best thing that happened, and this is thanks to the MTN Foundation. I was not only afforded tuition when I got accepted at the MUSON School of Music, but also transport allowance. That was the beginning of greater things to come.
How can you rate the MUSON educational standard with the one in the United States
The educational standard is very comparable. Because of the level of training I received at MUSON, my transition into the American system was a lot smoother than anticipated and for this I am grateful.
Do you have any plans of seeking corporate endorsements and collaborations with your project?
Oh yes! I have lots of plans in the very nearest future. First, I would like to start from my roots, where my formal musical training all started and the company that helped pay for it, MTN. I also have exciting musical plans for other companies and because classical music is a very unique art form, these plans are looking very promising.
How do your family members view you now?
Really, nothing has changed even with my achievements. I am still the troublesome younger sibling to my three older siblings (laughs). My mum still shouts at me when I get home late (laughs), my younger brother still thinks the world of me, and my older sisters still jokingly try to sing like me when I practice. I love my family so much and we are still very close even though not physically close. I talk to them all the time and social media has made it a whole lot easier.
What are your plans to break into the Nigerian music scene using classical music?
My plans are to record and collaborate with Nigerian pop musicians – some kind of fusion of classical music and Nigerian pop music – and I am so excited about this. Nigerian pop music is so beautiful, and it gains momentum each day. A collaboration is an efficient way to get classical music into the hearts of Nigerians. Hopefully after this, when Nigerians get used to me and my style of music, I can then record some classical albums in Nigeria.
The last edition of The Voice Nigeria had a classical singer as one of the contestants. Do you think a classical singer can win a reality show in Nigeria?
I think it would take a while before this becomes a reality, but it is very possible.
Any last words?
With the rough conditions of living in Nigeria, it is conceivable and even understandable that we young people have forgotten about the power of a dream. I want to use this opportunity to encourage us to keep dreaming, keep focusing on that dream, and keep looking for ways to make the dream a reality. The life I have now, use to be a dream.
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