Erika Wheeler embarks on opera career through Italy’s Operafestival di Roma Summer Program

For the past four years, Erika Wheeler has spent hours working to become a standout singer and performer in the Department of Fine Arts. As her journey at Alcorn comes to a close, another one is on the horizon, as she prepares to showcase her talents in Italy this summer.

Wheeler will participate in the Operafestival di Roma Summer Program in Rome, Italy from May 22 to June 15. She will perform in several operatic productions with a full orchestra. The Festival is a highly acclaimed summer program for music majors to hone their skills and work with renowned musicians in the field. The 20-year-old program is based in Orvieto, Italy.

The chance of a lifetime fell in Wheeler's lap when her vocal instructor, Dr. Byron Johnson, also an associate professor of music, handed her the flyer and suggested she enter the audition. It was his encouragement that helped her land the opportunity.

"Dr. Johnson sent me an audition flyer from LSU and insisted that I give it a try," said Wheeler, who will receive a bachelor's degree in music with a concentration in education and psychology. "So I submitted my audition tape to Operafestival staff at LSU (Louisiana State University) and was selected."

Although Wheeler is confident in her skillset, she believes that she can be even better. She anticipates watching the moves of seasoned instructors and applying her newfound knowledge to her future performances.

"I am looking forward to more classically styled vocal training and the stage productions presented in the world of opera by seasoned instructors."

The love of music has been a part of Wheeler's DNA her whole life. The Vicksburg, Mississippi native remembers singing at different local events growing up, but it wasn't until she started her journey at the Alcorn when she discovered her real talent and passion, classical music.

"Growing up, I've always sung in church, at school, and various events. It wasn't until college that I realized I had a passion for classical music. After my sophomore year, being in a recital class, and competing in the National Association of Teachers Singing Competition, I knew classical music would be where I envisioned my future."

She credits Johnson's strategic teaching methods and skills as a vocal coach for her improvement as a singer.

"Dr. Johnson has shaped my singing ability through his challenging coaching and lessons. He has helped me become better in every aspect of my vocal ability during his voice, vocal pedagogy, diction, and aural skills courses. Aside from his teaching, my recital class has helped me develop as a performer."

Johnson expressed high praise for one of his star pupils. He feels that she is an excellent representation of the talent that Alcorn has to offer.

"Miss Wheeler represents the best that this department offers in terms of music, performance, and excellence," said Johnson. "Her admission into this reputable and prestigious summer program is evident of the many good things that are happening in the department."

Wheeler's pursuit of musical greatness doesn't stop this summer. In the fall, she will attend the University of Mississippi, where she will pursue a master's degree in music with an emphasis in vocal performance.