The lights dimmed, fingers hovered over the sheet music and the performance was about to begin. For a select few, this was the first time they had ever listened to a live opera performance. Fortunately for the California State University, Northridge students at the Valley Performing Arts Center for the Nov. 12 return of alumna Michelle DeYoung ’09 (Music), ’10 (Honorary Degree), they were seated next to very knowledgeable alumni.
A mentoring program, developed by the CSUN Alumni Association and offered to students from various backgrounds, assisted students as they listened to the world-renowned mezzo-soprano, who has won three Grammys.
For students studying vocal arts at CSUN, there was an air of excitement about the performance.
“If you look at her Facebook or Instagram, she’s everywhere, and she’s very accomplished,” student Will Brooks said. “To be able to see her tonight at the VPAC is amazing.”
For alumnus Genein Letford ’09 (Education), the event was an opportunity to build relationships with current CSUN students.
“Mentorship is critical in our lives, because it can take one relationship, and that can set students on a trajectory to greatness,” Letford said. “Once I saw the word mentorship, I knew that this was an event that I had to be a part of.”
This sentiment was echoed by mentor Edward Feldman.
“Students need events like these,” he said. “Even though they may have some anxieties and doubts right now, these experiences will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It’s important that alumni are here to support the next generations.”
DeYoung’s performance, which included pieces such as Kurt Weill’s September Song and Speak Low and selections of Arnold Schoenberg’s Bretti Lieder, was much appreciated by the audience of mentors and mentees and received a standing ovation.
Thor Steingraber, executive director for the VPAC, noted that alumni presence is a great asset for the university.
“Alumni are doing important things all over the world, and it’s great that they come back to CSUN to celebrate achievements and to be celebrated by their fellow alumni,” Steingraber said. “For Michelle to be here the same week that she was at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall, and then VPAC, that’s quite a celebration.”
After the program, the students walked away richer for the experience, mentee Anthony Delacat said.
“It definitely made it a lot easier to understand, having a mentor there with me, especially because it’s opera, and it’s my first time,” he said. “Being able to have somebody explain it to me, how her music generally works and what kind of person she is, really helped me a lot.”