School of Music alumnus named recipient of Willard J. Hines Music Scholarship
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Brandon Bell (MM, ‘17), an alumnus of the University of Tennessee School of Music graduate program in voice, has been named one of two 2021 recipients of the premier scholarship in vocal performance.
The scholarship was named in honor Willard J. Hines, a Detroit Choir director-educator. The scholarship committee, composed of his former students, aims to financially assist young leaders in music, and can be granted to vocalists of any style. Bell is a baritone opera singer, whose recent credits include Dr. Grenvil in La Traviata, the British Major in Silent Night, General Arlie/Bartender in Fellow Travelers, and Garcia/Zuniga in La tragédie de Carmen.
“I’ve been really big on trying to find the ways to or the projects that make me feel like I’m using my voice to tell honest stories,” he said. “For me, the important thing is the text. As a little kid who grew up listening to Whitney Houston and Beyoncé, I was always drawn to the beautiful voices, but also the lyrics. I used to just look at the CD liners and pour over the text.I love using my voice as a way to convey text, and I think that makes it easier to draw myself in as an actor as well as a singer. My primary goal in both is just to make sure that I’m being honest and portraying the text in the way that I feel is the most truthful.”
Singing itself has been a passion for Bell from a very young age. He was surrounded by various kinds of music, and continued to experiment with different musical styles. In middle school, he auditioned for the Governor’s School for the Arts in Norfolk, Virginia. His freshman year of high school, all of the students at the school were introduced to opera. From there, he immersed himself in the artform. Once he saw his first opera, The Tales of Hoffmann by Jacques Offenbach, he knew that he wanted to be an opera singer.
“The majority of the students there walk in knowing we love to sing, but not knowing anything about opera at all. Then you spend four years learning,” he said. “I went to the Met in New York every year, the Virginia opera three times a year, and very quickly began to find out more and more about this artform. For the first time I felt true ownership over my voice.”
Since his graduation from the University of Tennessee with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance, Bell has continued to excel as an opera singer. He is currently a Lesley Resident Artist with the Fort Worth Opera. He is featured on the main stage in multiple roles this opera season. His role also includes singing at various community, donor, and social events, performing recitals, and receiving voice lessons, language and diction coaching, as well as participating in masterclasses.
Before that, he was a two-year Resident Artist with the Utah Opera, and has performed on numerous stages across the country, including Chautauqua Opera, Wolf Trap Opera, West Edge Opera, Opera Saratoga, the California Symphony, and the Oakland Symphony. His other accolades include an Encouragement Award in the Utah District of the 2021 Metropolitan Opera Laffont Competition, 4th Place in the 2018 East Bay Opera League Young Artist Scholarship Awards Competition, and national auditions finalist in the 2018 Mondavi Center Young Artist Competition, among others.
“It’s been rewarding after all of this training to really have ownership over my voice,” he said. “My journey from school to the young artists’ program has really been a process of discovering my voice and getting comfortable with it. Now I can use it to tell the stories that I want to.”