Paige Kenley has sung Radford University's alma mater at four Winter Commencement ceremonies, but this year there's a twist. After giving thousands of departing students the gift of song, it's her turn to graduate.
Over the past four and a half years, Kenley's voice has been familiar around Radford and beyond. In addition to singing for campus events, the ever-busy mezzo-soprano and Riner native has been active in the RU Madrigal Singers, an Honors Recital singer in the Department of Music, a Young Artist Apprentice at Opera Roanoke, a member of the Presbyterian Church of Radford choir and a student teacher at two local schools.
"It's been a lot of work," Kenley said of her schedule, "but if you work hard, you excel."
Kenley came to Radford on a scholarship to study music education. In her first year, she auditioned to sing in the Department of Music Spring Honors Recital, an event that showcases promising young artists. Kenley admits to having felt intimidated and nervous, but she secured a spot. That early success inspired her to pursue her vocal training.
"I remember thinking then that maybe I can do this singing thing for real," she said.
She sought further opportunities to develop her voice. She auditioned for RU's popular Madrigal Singers, a chamber chorus that celebrates music of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, and performed at every annual Madrigal Dinner until this year.
"This is the first semester I've missed it," she said. "It's sad, but I was student teaching, and that was an important experience to have."
Music education majors at RU are taught how to develop their talent and teach others to do the same. A requirement of the program is to spend a semester as a student music teacher. Kenley did her teaching at Kipps Elementary in Blacksburg and Christiansburg High School. "My goal is to teach high school, but I did enjoy my time at Kipps teaching the younger kids all about music," she said.
RU Professor Clarity James, who teaches voice and opera workshop, accepted Kenley for private lessons her freshmen year and has watched her student grow and change. "Paige is always willing to try new things and challenge herself," James said. "She is only going to get better and better as her voice matures."
Although Kenley's dedication to her student teaching diverted her attention from several performance opportunities, she kept her singing voice in top shape, James said. "When you're teaching and talking to twenty people at once, it can be difficult to maintain a voice. Paige is in top shape, which is a sign of her talent and dedication."
Kenley's involvement with Winter Commencement began during her sophomore year when she was approached to perform as the ceremony's solo vocalist. Her contribution was well received, and she has been invited back every year since.
Although Kenley is graduating this year, she has not let that affect her preparation for her last student performance of her alma mater. She is trying to avoid getting emotional or thinking too hard about the sentimental aspects of the event, she said.
What she has been thinking about are the great memories of her time at Radford, the performances she had given and those yet to come. Before she pursues a teaching position, she hopes to be accepted at a conservatory or graduate program focused on vocal performance.
"Before I came to Radford, I never would have had the ability to apply to grad school for my voice," Kenley said. "I got that here, from my teachers and my experiences as a performer."