Southeastern prides itself on inspiring its students and community to dream big.
Recently, students have been making headlines nationally and internationally by performing and following their dreams.
Each one has a unique story and something special that inspires them, whether it be a childhood dream, a past teacher, or the feeling you get knowing you’re doing what you love. Here are a few that have been taking the world by storm.
“I have been performing since I was six years old, and what really sparked my love for it is the pride I feel just after I have finished performing a piece of music in front of an audience.”
Even at her young age, Southeastern Community Music School participant Anna Johnson has already had a love of music for years.
She has performed with the Southeastern Symphony Orchestra and the Greater New Orleans Youth Orchestra, and most recently she has taken on one of the most prestigious venues in the world—Carnegie Hall. Anna was one of a few junior finalists selected to perform in this year’s Middle School Honors Performance Series at Carnegie Hall. “The best part about getting to perform in Carnegie Hall was that I was able to perform in a concert hall that is historical and well-known throughout the world,” she said.
The Middle School Honors Performance Series is a five-day experience, taking place in Carnegie Hall, which allows students to work with master conductors and with other students from around the world while also getting to enjoy the sights and sounds of the Big Apple.
Anna gives much of the credit for her early musical success to Southeastern’s Community Music School (CMS). “My teacher, Mrs. Jivka Duke, played a huge part in getting me to where I am now. She taught me everything from basic music note sight reading to improvements in my technique and how I play something. The different programs at CMS, which include orchestra camps and seasonal recitals, give me the opportunity to meet other people my age who have an interest in music.”
Southeastern’s Community Music School offers private music lessons on various instruments and voice. It provides an opportunity for both children and adults within the community to learn to play the violin, cello, guitar, piano, and more—allowing them to gain access to professional instruction from Southeastern’s distinguished music faculty members, regardless of age or level of experience. Everyone who wants to embark on a musical journey or enhance their skills is able to at Southeastern’s Community Music School.
At the end of each semester, participants are also able to showcase what they have learned and practice performing in front of audiences during recitals.
Anna has been taking lessons at the Community Music School for the past seven years with Mrs. Duke, the director of the Community Music School, whose pride in the youngster’s talent and accomplishments is evident. “Anna is a very dedicated and hard-working violin student, constantly looking to learn more difficult pieces and seeking to excel at the violin more every day. Her love for the art of music performance, her drive, and her talent is remarkable.”
At such a young age, Anna is still unsure of what career she would like to pursue, but she doesn’t see herself quitting performing anytime soon.
“I want to use music to go to college, but I have other interests. I do hope to continue performing. Music brings joy to not only me but others as well.”
From the Stage to the Screen
“I started acting in elementary school and did musical theatre leading up into high school,” he explained. “I came to Southeastern and took my first theatre class, and I just caught the bug!”
Jaren Mitchell, a class of 2011 general studies alum with a concentration in theatre, credits Southeastern as the spark that ignited his passion for acting. Now he is regularly seen by hundreds of thousands of people as a television and film actor.
“I always loved to act, but it wasn’t like I had to do it until I got to college. Southeastern and the instructors had a big impact on me. They made me believe that I could actually act outside of just a hobby,” Jaren said.
Jaren spent much of his time at Southeastern on the stage.
“All I really did was theatre. I think the thing I did the best in regards to school was actually anything to do with the theatre department.”
During his time at Southeastern, Jaren worked with many different faculty members and built relationships with other students in the program. “My favorite thing about working with the faculty at Southeastern was the trustworthy and collaborative properties. It wasn’t just the director telling us we had to do it their way. It was an extremely collaborative experience.”
Jaren shared that the program was very helpful in getting him connected with people in the industry. “I was getting access to people from all over while still being in Hammond.”
The theatre program at Southeastern continues to offer students unparalleled hands-on experience from industry professionals, and recently it has expanded even further. During the 2021-2022 academic year, Southeastern began offering a bachelor of arts in theatre in addition to the general studies degree with a minor in theatre and an art degree with a theatre design concentration. This new program provides for the study of theatre with a focus on acting, stage management, and directing within a liberal arts environment, preparing students for successful entry into careers in theatre and film, as well as advanced academic study. There are also opportunities throughout the year to participate in productions at the beloved Vonnie Borden Theatre, which allows other Southeastern students to attend high-end performances free of charge.
Southeastern’s new bachelor of arts in theatre is the only program in the state with a theatre design concentration within the Visual Art Department, and the theatre budget is dedicated completely to undergraduate education.
Since graduating, Jaren has been a part of multiple film projects. Most recently, he has been working on the seventh and final season of acclaimed OWN series Queen Sugar, which began airing this September. He also has another project coming out later this year called The Channel.
“I enjoyed all of the experiences,” Jaren said of his career so far. “Most memorable would be The Purge TV series, or Queen Sugar, which is the first project with a recurring character that I have been able to stick with over multiple years. I really enjoy stage combat and using the weaponry, a lot of action stuff, and I got to do some of that with The Purge.”
From the Vonnie Borden Theatre’s stage to screens across the world, today Jaren is following and achieving his dreams—and he encourages others to have the determination to do the same.
“My favorite thing about working in film is the freedom,” he said. “It is a blessing to be able to wake up and act. I know I am very fortunate that, at the end of the day, I am getting paid to do what I like to do. When you find something you love to do, commit to it, and don’t worry about the outcome. Just keep going. You are going to find forks in the road, but just pivot around them and keep moving forward.”
Coming Together Across the World
“When I was a child, I had a dream. I saw clearly my time spent on stage wearing the 18th- and 19th-century dresses, and that is how I knew I was meant to sing opera.”
Natalia Turchin, a Southeastern master’s student majoring in music with a concentration in performance and a native of Moldova, has always had a special place in her heart for the performing arts. Through intense determination and support from the Southeastern and local communities, she recently traveled to Italy to perform and enhance her skills as a professional opera singer.
Although still a student, Natalia’s childhood dream of performing opera has already become a reality, and she is
loving every minute of it. “Music is where I can create, be free, and take on roles. It’s all about acting; you can become anyone you want to be on the stage.”
“There are a lot of different feelings when you are on the stage, when you can share something and give back. There is a contact and connection between you, the audience, and the rest of the people on the stage,” she added. “When you are on stage, you are a team.”
Her love of performing has led her to strive to find ways to continue developing her talent, and all the way from Moldova to Hammond, La. “My friend from school back home had graduated from Southeastern, and I asked her, ‘do you think I could get a master’s degree there?’” After applying, Natalia started her master’s in August of 2021.
Southeastern’s music graduate program helps students to advance their performance skills; strengthen their abilities to investigate, organize, integrate and evaluate information; and develop their overall professional expertise. Students in this program possess the self-motivation and discipline to complete the individual study, research, and project preparation that constitutes the majority of the degree program.
Shortly after arriving in Hammond, the faculty took her in and were like a second family. “Dr. Mouledous is like a mother to me,” Natalia said. “She is an example, open to help, open to giving to people. Two weeks after arriving here, Hurricane Ida was coming, and she asked me how I was preparing for it. She offered to let me to stay with her at her house. Before even meeting me in person, she also met me at the airport to welcome me and help me get settled.”
Natalia was selected and invited to attend the Festival of International Opera Italia this summer, a month-long experience for vocal performance students to have intensive training in Italian, workshops with opera masters, and a final collaborative performance.
However, when the turmoil between Ukraine and Russia began earlier this year, Natalia’s family back home in Moldova, a neighboring nation to Ukraine, started to feel the effects financially. Natalie sent all of the money she had saved for the program back to her family to help support them through this time. At a loss for how to come up with the funds, Natalia started to lose hope of attending the program.
“I was very close to giving up, but so many people were telling me not to give up.”
Then one of the professors suggested she organize a benefit concert series. “I connected with a church, and then they connected me to another church, and the church connected to people,” she explained. “And it became not just my goal, but it became a group accomplishment. I would like to thank all of the sponsors for me to be able to go to the program and the people who encouraged me to do the benefit concerts.”
Through the benefit concerts and a GoFundMe, Natalia was able to raise enough to be able to still attend her program in Italy.
Once there, she had a very busy yet extremely organized schedule. “We had lessons in Italian. We had lessons with the pianists, and we were taught how to sing the song and diction. We had voice lessons with our preferred professors, and there were rehearsals with the whole ensemble.”
The program performed a total of four shows in three cities in Italy, with ensemble participants coming from different universities all around the world. “Even though we were all totally different, we were able to come together and work together far from home,” she said.
One aspect that made these performances unique for Natalia was that the singers got to perform with a full orchestra. “It was my first time working with a full orchestra with a great conductor maestro, Joseph Rescignio.”
Natalia loved her time working with the program and shared that it was a great experience. “I would encourage anyone pursuing music to go, and it is always good to have more operas for your resume.”
Even though the experience of performing in Italy was so unique, when asked about her favorite performance she has participated in, Natalia said, “I have one; it was not a performance, but I was singing a song with a group of friends, and when I began to sing, one of my friends was so moved that they began to cry. My favorite performances are when I touch someone’s soul.”
BY CALMER DIGHTON