Sept. 3, 2010
Elizabeth Klipp, 404-413-1356
ATLANTA - Before the Georgia State University Football team stormed the field or the Marching Band performed its first half-time show, junior Maria Valdes stood in front of thousands of fans, making history herself.
Valdes, a 20-year-old vocal performance major, became the first GSU undergraduate to sing the national anthem before a Georgia State football game. And she did so beautifully, tackling the song infamously tricky for even the most seasoned singers.
This was no surprise to the soprano's voice teacher, Grammy-winning tenor Richard Clement in the GSU School of Music.
"Maria is very talented and very smart," said Clement, GSU assistant professor of voice. "She adapts information to her singing so quickly, it's sort of stunning."
The inaugural game was not only a historic time for Georgia State, but it was also a significant moment for Valdes.
"It's really cool to have a part in history - to play a part in the new face of our school," she said. "Our school is completely changing and we're going big places. It's nice to see that."
Valdes is undoubtedly going far as well. With bouncing chestnut curls and big brown eyes, Valdes looks younger than 20 but she's already quite accomplished in her musical career.
The Marietta native learned to read music at age five and started playing piano when she was seven. But it wasn't until high school, she said, that she realized she had a talent for singing. Once her high school music teacher presented her with classical music to sing, Valdes said she found "her voice," and she began winning state competitions and other awards to prove it.
Valdes has been equally successful at Georgia State. Last spring, though she was only a sophomore and had never performed opera before, Valdes won the lead soprano role of Micaëla in the School of Music's production of Bizet's opera, "Carmen," singing in French for the first time. Typically, upper level undergraduates or graduate students are awarded such parts, Clement said.
Valdes was also asked to perform with the Atlanta Chamber Players, as part of a young up-and-coming artists showcase. The university requested she welcome the class of 2014 by singing the national anthem at Freshmen Convocation last month.
"The teachers here are so encouraging and challenging," Valdes said. "They force me to change and grow. The opportunities are there if you take them."
This summer, Valdes took advantage of another GSU opportunity and enrolled in the Italian Studies in Perugia study abroad trip in Italy led by Richard Keatley, assistant professor of modern and classical languages. The six-week trip offered Valdes and the others students the opportunity to advance their linguistic competence and deepen their understanding of Italian culture in a full immersion setting while earning six university credits.
"It was the hardest thing I've ever done," Valdes said of the trip. "It was six weeks completely in Italian, studying 3,000 years of history, but it was so rewarding."
Along with Italian, Valdes is studying French and soon will begin learning German and Russian to help her understand and sing classical music and operas. She's also gaining valuable performance experience as a staff singer at the All Saints Episcopal Church in midtown Atlanta, where she sings choral music with orchestra or piano during Sunday services.
Before Valdes graduates, she says she hopes to study abroad again, perform in more School of Music productions and perhaps participate in training camps for young artists. With her hard work and her family's support, Valdes aims to be a professional classical singer.
Her voice coach doesn't doubt Valdes will achieve it.
"I think all she needs is the luck and that seems to be happening," Clement said. "The stars seem to be aligning for her."