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LSU Alumnus Credits LSU for His Successful Teaching and Performing Career

Louisiana State University has been home to many famous faces including politicians, actors, and athletes. But sometimes it is the faces that do not appear in the spotlight that matter the most. Without the help of teachers, coaches, or mentors, many of those people would not be where they are today.

LSU alumnus Bruce Kolb is one of those individuals outside the spotlight. He has taught, trained, and motivated singers and actors from the Metropolitan Opera to Broadway, including Tony Award winners Glenn Close and Liza Minelli, as well as Bette Midler, Patrick Stewart, and Stockard Channing.

His Muse

Growing up the oldest of four boys in Mississippi, Kolb never dreamed his life would take him where it is today. He can remember the days when his mother would sing with joy while doing daily chores around the house. It was her spirit and inspiration, along with singing in the church where his father was pastor, which contributed so much to his love of music. At the age of 10, Kolb convinced his parents to buy him a piano and allow him to take music lessons.

Throughout his youth, Kolb was always involved in his school’s choir and music classes, but it became clear that music was more than a hobby after his family moved to Winnsboro, Louisiana. There, he met his high school choral director, Everett “Mac” McClung, and McClung’s wife Paula, who became his piano teacher while in high school.

“[The McClungs] were very inspirational and were responsible for my musical education that prepared me so supportively and completely for college,” Kolb said.

Learning the Rudiments

This inspiration was helpful to Kolb’s college career, but it also took him a long way throughout his high school days. He competed in regional and state auditions for piano and voice and was involved in his high school plays. In the process, he remained at the head of his performance classes. He usually had the highest ratings in all of his competitions and was asked to be the piano soloist for the All-Parish Music Festival in Winnsboro.

After high school, Kolb headed back to Mississippi to attend Mississippi College in Clinton. During his sophomore year there, he met an LSU professor, Dallas Draper – now retired – who was in Jackson conducting a choral workshop. Kolb decided to audition for admission to his voice studio and the LSU A Cappella Choir. He was happy to learn the audition was successful and that Draper would become his voice teacher and choral conductor if he were to transfer to LSU. Draper took time to talk to him and encourage him, pointing out that LSU’s Music Department would be an ideal place for him to improve and strengthen his vocal abilities and career choices. After much thought and consideration, Kolb packed up his belongings and moved back to Louisiana to attend LSU.

“Dallas Draper was a tremendous influence on me with his voice teaching and his choral directing, in addition to his joyful spirit and his ability to cultivate that spirit in others,” Kolb said.

With plenty of support, Kolb made a move that pushed him to achieve more than he thought possible – a move that sparked a professional music career he still enjoys.

Kolb said he enjoyed every aspect of LSU, “but the quality of the teaching and the music program, combined with the spirit of the department, the school, and Baton Rouge,” helped him achieve the musical talent he would go on to share with the world.

While at LSU, Kolb became very involved as a member, soloist, and assistant conductor of the LSU A Cappella Choir, which, at the time, was directed by Draper. With the help of Wallace McKenzie, Kolb’s music history teacher and advisor, he became a founding member of the LSU Collegium Musicum.

“Dr. McKenzie has been a wonderful ally and support to me personally and professionally throughout my career,” Kolb said.

All the World is a Stage

After years of studying and performing at LSU, Kolb graduated with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in vocal performance from the School of Music. Upon graduating, Kolb jumped into the world of teaching and performing. After several years in his first position as voice teacher and choral conductor at Central College in Pella, Iowa, Kolb took a position as voice teacher at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey.

There, he found himself auditioning and performing in New York, New Jersey, and Boston, where he later moved to teach at Boston Conservatory.

For the next few years, he performed in opera, oratorio, concert, and music theater throughout the Northeast, including the American Globe Theater in New York City, where he performed as an actor and singer. He also served as music director for the company and performed internationally in Bermuda, Central and South America, and Europe.

After years of juggling roles as a teacher and performer, Kolb discovered that as much as he loved being on the stage, teaching was his real passion.

“I love the role best that I am doing at the moment; different times and occasions call for different hats,” he said. “They all come from the same source, but teaching has been my calling!”

Finding the Right Note

After nine years of teaching and performing in Boston, Kolb took a position as voice teacher and choral conductor at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while simultaneously teaching in his private studio, Bruce Kolb Voice Studios, in New York City.

Over his years of teaching, Kolb has watched his students perform in leading and supporting roles at the Metropolitan Opera, the New York City Opera, and on Broadway. Many of his students have also performed in opera, music theater, concert, and early music ensembles throughout the world, while others have been first-place winners and finalists in national and international competitions.

In March 2001, Kolb was invited to teach in Vienna, Austria, where he taught the cast of Mozart, a crossover music theater show, at the historic Theater an der Wien. He has also taught in other European countries including England, Germany, and Switzerland.

“I loved teaching in Europe. The students were very open, cooperative, friendly, and available for the work,” he said. “They also tend to have a broader world view than American students, not to mention better language skills.”

It is his passion for teaching and love for his students that keeps Kolb inspired every day. He said it is not the shows he has performed in or the stages he has performed on that have given him the greatest rewards; it is seeing his students excel in their performances and knowing it was his help that made it happen.

“The biggest accomplishments are really the little, unnoticed moments of calling a student forward into new insights and skills, and witnessing the blooming of an artist in unexpected ways,” he said. “The top awards that I have received are the personal, individual ‘thank you’s’ and the looks of recognition from students who have benefited from my teaching.”

Besides teaching vocal lessons in his own studio, Kolb travels around the country to coach students in singing, acting, movement, vocal pedagogy, and voice therapy. He has taught at workshops and seminars for theater companies, music schools, and colleges, as well as for the National Association of Teachers of Singing. Additionally, he works with students in the areas of performance anxiety and stylistic/vocal issues for cultivated versus vernacular singing styles.

The Outro

These days, Kolb does not limit himself to singing and acting lessons. He is known as a writer, composer, and conductor. He also finds himself working behind the cameras as a voice consultant and media coach for many celebrities. In fact, he teaches NBC’s news anchors and correspondents “vocal production, diction, on-camera performance, voice-over work, and physical expressiveness.”

Over the years, Kolb has learned from and worked with the most talented musical teachers in the country. But it was his education, preparation, and guidance at LSU that he credits the most for his accomplishments.

“My training and support from the faculty at LSU was entirely responsible for launching my teaching and performing career,” he said. “The individual professors who nourished the whole person and helped me to develop my self-esteem were critical to my success. In addition, the wonderful spirit of my classmates, with whom I still maintain contact, helped sustain me.”

Recently, Kolb has returned to LSU to teach in McKenzie’s American Music History class and perform and sing in programs honoring both Draper and McKenzie. He said he would love to come back to LSU and help out when he is not too busy in his voice studio or on the road teaching workshops and seminars. With his wide variety of teaching skills, Kolb said he would be happy to “teach a workshop with the voice department, the acting department, and/or the journalism program.”

Kolb’s unique teaching ability, along with his passion for music, gives his students the skills, the desire, and the power to excel in his or her performances. Kolb’s diverse abilities and distinctive skills have made him one of the top musical talents in the country. His love for music and teaching will always keep him going, while his students’ performances will always keep him smiling. He will always be a role model to students, and he is living proof that dreams do come true with a little hard work and dedication.

Abby Gravois | LSU Office of Public Affairs
Spring 2007


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