At the end of Jessica Perez’s vocal recital last Friday at Barton Community College, following the last notes of Verdi’s “Caro Nome,” an appreciative audience gave the soprano a standing ovation — and then the audience sang to her. The song was “Happy Birthday,” in honor of her 23rd birthday.
Perez is wrapping up three years at Barton, and will continue her studies this fall at Wichita State University as a vocal performance major with a focus on opera performance.
She sang with the Hilltop Singers and Jazz Band during the Music Endowment Concert on Monday, and she will sing at the Lutheran Church in Russell this Saturday for a Mother’s Day luncheon. She will also sing the national anthem during Barton’s Commencement on May 16.
BCC Communications Director Brandon Steinert said the opera specialist has thrived during her time in Great Bend, where she performed with the Hilltop Singers and also appeared in theater productions including the spring musical, “Sweet Charity.”
“Jessica is going to go very far,” Steinert predicted. “When the pros find out she had her training at a community college, they do a double-take.”
Perez was born in Colorado but grew up in Mexico. When her parents asked her what she planned to study in college, she chose music. An aunt who attended Barton Community College recommended BCC.
She secured several scholarships and also got a job in the dining services department.
When she came to Great Bend from Zacatecas, Mexico, Perez didn’t speak much English. She and vocal instructor Glenna Gaunt used Google Translator, sound demonstrations and pointing to understand each other. Since then, Perez has greatly improved her ability to speak English and no longer needs a translator.
At last Friday’s recital, Perez sang in five languages: Italian, German, French, Spanish and English.
Gaunt has taught voice at Barton for 23 years, and also offers private voice lessons in her home studio. When she learned she would be teaching a student who wants to be an opera major, Gaunt said, she chuckled to herself. “The average student coming into a community college does not have a desire to be an opera major, or even knows what all that entails,” she said.
“When I first heard Jessica sing I thought to myself that this dream of hers just might be possible,” Gaunt said. She was impressed with her new student’s naturally beautiful voice.
“Working with Jessica has been a joy because she can handle more difficult literature than what I normally teach,” she said. “Jessica has learned to sing a gorgeous legato line as well as much more complicated melismatic passages.”
Nearly two years of work went into some of the songs Perez performed at her recital.
After her second year at BCC, Perez auditioned for the music program at Wichita State University and was accepted. But she didn’t have all of the credits for her associate degree, and decided to stay a third year at Barton to complete that degree.
“She went back to Wichita State University, auditioning again, and amazing them with her progress,” Gaunt said. “She was accepted and offered a large scholarship.
“Jessica is extremely gifted in the area of music, but she is also a beautiful person to work with,” Gaunt concluded. “She works extremely hard, is prepared, intelligent and sweet natured. It has been a joy to get to know her and work with her these past three years. I will miss her greatly, but I hope to follow her work.”