Women's History Month: Shawn-Allyce White ’95MM
March is Women’s History Month, which we’re observing in part by having conversations with several members of the YSM community. First up, vocalist Shawn-Allyce White ’95MM. Shawn-Allyce is the Associate Director of Music/Director of Choral Activities and University Soloist at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC. Shawn-Allyce earned a bachelor of music degree from Syracuse University, a master of music degree from the Yale School of Music, and a doctor of musical arts degree from the University of Kentucky. As a member of the Yale Opera, Shawn-Allyce sang the roles of Fiordiligi in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, Giulietta in Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffman, and the Female Chorus in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, in addition to appearing as the soprano soloist in performances of Barber’s Knoxville: Summer of 1915 and Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, both with the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.
Q: Who were the role models who inspired the direction and development of your career?
I am extremely fortunate and blessed with a beautiful, classy, devoted, resilient, and talented mother who shaped and molded my life. I watched my mother’s successful career path as an outstanding classical singer, musician, and educator right before my eyes. I grew up with my very own celebrity and mother/daughter duo called Barbara and little Shawn. My success in life is attributed to her encouragement, support, and unconditional and never-ending love for me. I am honored to be her daughter, a legacy of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Daughter of a Link, now called Dr. Barbara Buck and Dr. Shawn-Allyce White.
Dr. Carl Smith, then Director of the Kentucky State University Concert Choir, in Frankfort, KY (now Professor Emeritus), provided an amazing opportunity for me to become his assistant. This was my first experience at a historically Black university with a distinguished college concert choir. Under Dr. Smith’s expert tutelage, I developed conducting skills and formulated plans for concert choir performances. When I arrived to assume my duties and responsibilities at JCSU, I was extremely prepared to meet the challenges and rewards of my current position as Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities.
Dr. Helen Caldwell, Associate Dean at the School of Social Work at Johnson C. Smith University, is my mentor and advocate and provides professional advice upon my inquiry. She is an astute scholar and a strong leader with compassion.
Q: In what ways did your time at the Yale School of Music inform the work you’re done?
My time at Yale School of Music prepared me for a lifetime of performing, teaching, and traveling and studying abroad. For more than 35 years, Doris Yarick-Cross and Richard Cross developed outstanding artists in the Yale School of Music’s opera program. The late Metropolitan Opera contralto Lili Chookasian was also a voice teacher in this program. I began my early career teaching general/vocal music after completing my bachelor’s degree in voice performance at Syracuse University and performing at the Aspen Music Festival. However, immediately following my graduation from the Yale School of Music, I was more than prepared to sing and perform, serve as a choral director in senior high schools, and teach music theory.
Q: Outside of music, what do you hope your students take away from their work with you?
Through my tutelage and encouragement, my intent is to perpetuate knowledge, promote learning, and encourage discovery. I foster growth in my students by providing tools that inspire curiosity, open-mindedness, and a desire for knowledge while acquiring the need for a skillset to help them become independent and resourceful learners. Additionally, I encourage them to develop, extend, and test their insights in the broader world.
Each student is unique and there is no single style of teaching that fits all individuals. My method of developing a relationship and educational rapport with my students centers on determining the type of learning style that works best with each individual. Uncovering a balance between academic rigor and compassionate empathy is crucial to successfully reaching each student. Implementing this approach with clarity and enthusiasm effectively impacts students, thus connecting them to their passion for lifelong learning. I am committed to providing an environment that is safe and challenging, one that empowers both student and teacher in pursuing knowledge. I treat my students with respect, creating an atmosphere where they feel supported as they strive to become the best they can be.
Overall, I seek to develop an atmosphere as a teacher that is supportive, diverse, and individualized. I aim to promote camaraderie and a sense of community with my students. There is nothing more rewarding than watching a student develop, become successful, and return to acknowledge their teacher as a role model and inspiration.