"A supportive musical community and amazing professional opportunities make SFCM an incredible place to hone our craft and have our voices heard."
Wilford Kelly '20
I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, in a family of amateur musicians and music lovers. My first instrument was the alto saxophone, which I played for ten years. By my senior year of high school, I was leading the choir group at my school. I was also in a neuroscience degree program, which would have fast-tracked me into a career in the sciences. However, when my choir went to an all-state conference that year, I wondered for the first time if music was something I could pursue seriously. My mother saw how happy I was in a musical environment, and she encouraged me to apply to an undergraduate music program, where I was awarded a scholarship and spent the next four years developing my voice.
I’m proud to be the first person in my family to pursue music as a vocation, which is only possible because of the support I’ve received. My family contributed all that they could to my musical studies, but coming from a single-parent household, I’ve pretty much been on my own financially since age 18. Right after high school, I started working three jobs to make ends meet. To become a successful musician requires a tremendous investment of time in lessons, classes, practice, rehearsal, and performance. The only way I’m here today is because of scholarship support and the generosity of donors.
I’d heard about SFCM from a friend who’d attended, and I knew that it has one of the best voice programs in the country. When I came for my graduate school audition, it felt like the perfect fit. In the past year, I’ve learned so much studying with my teacher, César Ulloa, and have already been in ten main stage productions. I’ve had more performance opportunities here than I could have imagined, and I’ve tried to take advantage of every chance to gain experience by singing in musical theatre, opera, and historical performance productions.
When I graduate with my Master’s in Music degree, I plan to continue my training as a performer by completing an artist residency or young artist program. I hope to stay in San Francisco because I am inspired by this city, and there is never a dull moment here!
What I didn’t anticipate before coming to SFCM was that I would become committed to making teaching a part of my future plans. I’ve always wanted to give back and help young people discover music, but I didn’t know if I would be good at it. In my first year at SFCM, I taught in the school’s new after-school program, Bridge to Arts and Music (BAM), where I got to introduce grade-school children to music, teaching them fundamental skills and helping them gain confidence, which will serve them in music and in life. Growing up as a student of color, I wasn’t exposed to classical music. Many young people of color do not have access to music education because of financial barriers, which is why it’s so important that programs like BAM are free for any student to attend. Being able to share my experience with these youth and see how quickly they progress musically with one-on-one instruction has been extremely rewarding.
Music is our most useful universal language. It brings us together and makes the world feel smaller and more connected through our shared passion. I am incredibly grateful to be the recipient of your generosity and a part of this wonderful community.
Consider making a gift in support of scholarships so that students like Wilford can help others thrive through music.