Singing Down the Barriers

“Singing Down the Barriers” is an intensive introduction to the repertoire of African American composers for the college student, apprentice, voice teacher, coach, choral conductor, or professional singer. In tandem with a directed curriculum of readings, resources, recordings, reflective exercises, and performance, the Institute seeks to help participants overcome the barriers that prevent successful engagement with and performance of African American concert repertoire including art song and spirituals.

Attendees will take part in lectures and panels with scholars and artists specializing in this repertoire, join in discussions on practical topics, and explore repertoire in small group breakout sessions. From poetry analysis and historical background to surveying the songs of contemporary African American composers today, attendees will leave with a stronger understanding of the cultural context and performance practices needed to successfully sing this repertoire.

SDtB Institute is an adult summer intensive of the U-M SMTD and is offered in partnership with the Hampsong Foundation via the Classic Song Research Initiative. For 2021, this institute will be administered completely online.

Session Dates: June 28, 2021 – July 2, 2021
Priority Application Deadline: April 1, 2021
Priority Admissions Notification: May 1, 2021
Final Application Deadline: June 1, 2021
Final Admissions Notification: June 10, 2021

Performer Track: $500
Auditor Track: $300

*A non-refundable application fee of $50 will be required for all applicants

No refunds will be offered after June 10, 2021.


Louise Toppin, Director, Professor of Voice & Music, University of Michigan
Christie Finn, Hampsong Foundation & Classic Song Research Initiative, University of Michigan
Caroline Helton, Associate Professor of Music, University of Michigan
Scott Piper, Associate Professor of Music / Chair of Vocal Department, University of Michigan
Emery Stephens, Assistant Professor of Music, St. Olaf College

With Special Guest, Thomas Hampson

Donnie Ray Albert
Lawrence Brownlee
Marquese Carter
Roderick Dixon
Michael Harper
Alisha Lola Jones
Randye Jones
Tammy Kernodle
Marquite Lister
William C. Nyaho
Kenneth Overton
Marcia Porter
Rosephanye Powell
Robert Sims
Jean Snyder
Lauren E. Stewart
Darryl Taylor

B.E. Boykin
Julia Bullock
Julia Wright Costa
Cedric Dent
Ashe Gordon
Denyce Graves
Anthony R. Green
Max Jefferson
James Lee, III
Jessie Wright Martin
Shawn Okpebholo
Melissa Rose
Braxton Shelley
George Shirley
Nicole Sonbert

all times EST
For performance and auditor participants

  • 09:00 – 09:45 Mornings resources session
  • 09:45 – 10:00 Break
  • 10:00 – 10:45 Musicology overview (pre-recorded / live)
  • 10:45 – 11:00 Break
  • 11:00 – 11:15 Performance (pre-recorded / live)
  • 11:15 – 12:00 Zoom breakout sessions
  • 12:00 – 01:00 Lunch
  • 01:00 – 01:45 Musicology overview (pre-recorded / live)

For performance participants only

  • 02:00 – 03:00 Masterclass
  • 03:00 – 03:30 Conversation/discussion
  • 03:30 – 05:00 Individual coaching sessions (30 minute sessions)
  • 05:00 – 07:00 Dinner
  • 07:00 – 08:00 Evening Performance (pre-recorded / live)

For performance and auditor participants

  • So You Want to Sing Spirituals: A Guide for Performers by Randye Jones (Rowman & Littlefield)
  • Anthology of Art Songs by Black American Composers (1977) by Willis Patterson
  • The African Diaspora Anthology (2021), available from Classical Vocal Reprints

For performance participants only
Select and prepare by June 28, 2021

  • 1 Spiritual
  • 1 Art Song by an African American or African Diaspora composer (1900-1950)
  • 1 Art Song by an African American or African Diaspora composer (1951-Present)

Applications are due April 1, 2021

To apply to the Singing Down the Barriers Institute, you must complete the following three steps. Your application will not be considered complete until all of the below requirements have been received by the Office of Engagement & Outreach.

  1. Complete the Online Application
  2. Pay the non-refundable $50 application fee
  3. A one-page introduction of the applicant, including why they are interested in participating in this program

Performer Track Application
Applicants who are interested in the performer track should submit the following materials:

Audition videos can be uploaded through the institute application.

MPulse Summer Performing Arts Institutes
Office of Engagement & Outreach-Youth & Adult Programs
University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance
Stearns Building │ 2005 Baits Drive │ Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Phone: (734) 936-2660