Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Soaring with the Help of Financial Support 

Soaring with the Help of Financial Support 

Peabody student Mary Burke (center) with Claire and Allan Jensen, who helped make her undergraduate studies possible.

Student Mary Burke (BM ’16, Voice), a mezzo-soprano, says the scholarships she has received during her time at the Peabody Conservatory push her to be the best singer she can be. “People are rooting for me,” she says. “I want to live up to that.”

Ms. Burke, who grew up singing in church choirs in Centreville, Virginia, has certainly done that in the last five years. While working on her bachelor’s degree, she studied with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, chair of the Voice Department. Ms. Burke remembers being a high school senior and taking her first lesson with Ms. Bryn-Julson. “The energy that Phyllis and I had was something I really wanted to work with,” she says. Ms. Burke also participated in the Singapore Joint Degree Program, spending five semesters at Peabody and three semesters in Singapore at the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore. Both countries offered different performance opportunities, she says, which provided her a well-rounded musical education.

To support her undergraduate studies, Ms. Burke received the Singapore Joint Degree Scholarship, an annual scholarship established by Tony Deering and Turner Smith. She also received the Claire and Allan Jensen Endowed Scholarship. Dr. Jensen is on the Peabody Institute Advisory Board (formerly the Peabody National Advisory Council), which is increasing its focus on scholarship support.

Today, Ms. Burke is pursuing her Master of Music degree, studying in the studio of Denyce Graves. About working with Ms. Graves, Ms. Burke says: “You’ll think you’re doing something really well, but then she’ll get into a piece, and somehow you put even more energy into it. It’s so great to have someone who is pushing you forward like that, really wanting you to dive so deep into the music.”

Last fall, Ms. Burke also starred as Hänsel in the Peabody Opera Theatre’s production of Engelbert Humperdinck’s Hänsel and Gretel. It was a challenging opera to learn, she says, because the tempo and key changes every few bars. “But it ended up being the greatest experience.”

Dr. and Mrs. Jensen, who sat next to Ms. Burke’s parents during a Hänsel and Gretel performance, were very impressed by her. “We’ve fallen in love with Peabody,” Dr. Jensen adds. “It’s good to see young kids who are working hard and to help them on their way to doing good work.”

Ms. Burke is currently the recipient of the C. Albert Kuper III Scholarship, an annual scholarship established by Al Kuper to benefit a student in Ms. Graves’ studio. “The human voice and what it can do with a melody is something absolutely delightful to hear,” Mr. Kuper says. But, he adds, “I’m also well aware of the need for extra money to help singers go those long final steps to reach performance standards. I would hope the recipients of my largesse would be able to get to that peak somehow.” Ms. Burke says the scholarship helped her decide to pursue additional training immediately after completing her bachelor’s degree because it eased the financial burden for her and her family.

Last spring at Peabody’s Leadership Lunch, Ms. Burke, who will be performing next in American Opera Scenes in May, met some of the donors who’ve made her scholarships possible. “I’m very grateful for all the scholarships I received,” she says. At the lunch, “we tried to give a little bit back to those who supported us.”

— Jennifer Walker