‘The life i have now used to be a dream’

Agatha on stage

An alumnus of the MTN Foundation sponsored MUSON Scholars programme, Agatha Ibeazor, at a very young age, has taken over the opera stage like a shining star. After her training at MUSON, she gained admission into Truman State University, United States of America, where she became the first African to have her name on the honours board. She has won several awards including the Quistorff Aria Competition and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition held in Kansas City, USA, among others.

Just recently, Agatha was home for the 2017 Ovation Red Carole and the Abuja Metropolitan Music Society (AMEMUSO), where she thrilled the audience with her angelic coloratura soprano. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE, the talented singer spoke on her journey from local singer to an international star.

What brought you home this time, are you here for Christmas?
Well, since 2013, the Abuja Metropolitan Music Society (AMEMUSO) has always invited me to their yearly event tagged Opera Abuja. This event showcases international classical musicians, including Nigerians and foreign artistes. It is organised in collaboration with German and French Embassies, Transcorp Hilton Hotel Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory Ministry and a host of other organisations in here I Nigeria. This year’s edition happens to be around the Christmas holidays.

So, I stayed in Nigeria afterwards, visited my family and sang at some concerts; one of the major ones happen to be the 2017 Ovation Red Carol.
Since your graduation from the Truman State University in the United States, what have you been doing since?
Before I graduated from Truman in 2014, I had gotten two offers of admission for a Masters Degree programme at Crane School of Music SUNY Potsdam, New York and Butler School of Music University of Texas Austin; I was unable to attend either due to lack of funds.

So, I spent the next year studying and acquiring skills to make me a suitable candidate for possibly a research fellowship or a graduate assistantship at various institutions to which I applied.

In 2015, I was admitted at the University of Central Missouri (UCM) with a full graduate teaching assistantship, receiving a full tuition waiver and monthly stipend. I graduated in 2017 with a Master of Arts degree with all A’s (4.0 GPA). I won several awards and was first place winner in several competitions during my studies at UCM, some of which include the Quistorff Aria Competition and the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition held in Kansas City.

I’m currently pursuing my PhD in vocal music at the West Virginia University (WVU), where I received a W.E.B Dubois research fellowship. This fellowship is only open to African American/black graduate students that are exceptional with excellent grades. Selection is competitive on the basis of academic merit and potential for success in graduate or professional study. I hope to graduate in May, 2020. So far, in my studies here at WVU, I won the NATS Tri-state chapter competition held in Pittsburgh.

Are you currently attached to any big name opera houses or you are just doing your thing?
Because I’m an academic, I have not yet signed contracts with major opera houses in the US or Europe, as I would love to get the highest level of qualification in the education before I begin touring the world as an international opera singer. Getting the highest level in academia is very important to me; this would equip me to be able to make the kind of impact I would like to make in Nigeria. Education first, stage appearances and signing contracts in opera houses would come later.

However, I have been very active with the opera theatre of each school I had attended, including my current school of WVU, singing lead roles in different operas. Some of which includes Lucy in The Telephone, Euridice in Orfeo ed Euridice, Laetitia in The Old Maid and the Thief, Serafina in Il campanello di note, Queen Dido in Dido and Aeneas and others.

In Feb. 2016, I was afforded the opportunity to sing in the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York as a soloist with the UCM concert choir. This was a dream come true for me. For as long as I can remember, I’ve dreamt of performing in this hall.

Having made a mark, how do you intend to influence other young singers, who have the same talent as you, but are unaware of how to go about developing it?
Whenever I visit Nigeria, I announce on my Facebook page about giving master classes to the young classical musicians at the Muson Center; I talk to them about different careers in music and even scholarship opportunities in the United States. These visits are very dear to my heart as there are an overwhelming number of undiscovered potentials in Nigeria. The aim of these master classes is to encourage these young people and show them by example that it is possible to achieve their dreams and that if I could make it, they too can make it. The road may be long, but it is surely doable.

What is your relationship with the MUSON school of Music where you received your training, as well as the MTN Foundation?
Receiving an education from MUSON and being sponsored by the MTN Foundation is the one of the greatest things that happened to my career and for now, that is my strongest link with these two organisations. However, I would like a better relationship. I am using this opportunity to propose yearly recitals or concerts in MUSON where the MTN Foundation can showcase a product of theirs and keep track of the successes of the students that they’ve helped, not just in Nigeria but also in the world. I owe my success story to these two organisations and would like a better relationship with them. Perhaps, a yearly concert could be a start of a more solid relationship.

Some people believe you are an unsung Nigerian celebrity, who has passed through all odds to get to where you are today. What can you say of this assertion?
I have had to work very hard to receive recognitions, fellowships, and scholarships in academia, and I’m very proud of my accomplishments. As for being “unsung”, it is a process, one that could be hastened with financial backing; some people have got the popularity they need to be more successful through this means. I have got where I am with lots of hard work and being diligent, and I believe in time, I will climb to the level of stardom that is rightfully due.

Where do you see yourself in another five years?
Well in five years, you would have to address me as Dr. Agatha. I see myself touring the world singing recitals and giving master classes. But most importantly, I would love to take great strides in making a significant impact in my beloved country, Nigeria; I have big dreams for making Nigeria a better place.

That’s why getting the highest degree of education possible is a big deal to me; I’ve learned that we cannot better our nation by only looking to improve our station as individuals. For making sacrifices for others cannot only improve the lives of a greater number, but it enriches your own life far beyond that of mere monetary treasures.

Looking back to when you were still in school in Nigeria, what comes to mind?
As you may know, I had to forfeit an admission to study Law in the Anambra State University in 2006 because my mum could not afford the fees. So, being able to attend school in the first place was the best thing that happened, and this is thanks to the MTN Foundation. I was not only afforded tuition when I got accepted at the MUSON School of Music, but also transport allowance. That was the beginning of greater things to come. Because of the level of training I received at MUSON, my transition into the American system was a lot smoother than anticipated and for this, I am grateful.

Do you have any plans of seeking corporate endorsements and collaborations on your project?
Oh yes, I have lots of plans in the very nearest future. First, I would like to start from my roots, where my formal musical training all started and the company that helped pay for it; MTN. I also have exciting musical plans for other companies and because classical music is a very unique art form, these plans are looking very promising.

And your family, what’s the relationship like now?
Really, nothing has changed even with my achievements. I’m still the troublesome younger sibling to my three older siblings. My mum still shouts at me when I get home late; my younger brother still thinks the world of me, and my older sisters still jokingly try to sing like me when I practice. I love my family so much and we are still very close even though not physically close. I talk to them all the time and social media has made it a whole lot easier.

What do you have to say to other young Nigerians struggling to survive?
With the rough conditions of living in Nigeria, it is conceivable and even understandable that we young people have forgotten about the power of a dream. I want to use this opportunity to encourage us to keep dreaming, keep focusing on that dream and keep looking for ways to make the dream a reality.

The life I have now, used to be a dream. I dreamt of the things I have now; I remember dreaming of going to the United States, singing in Carnegie Hall and getting a degree. I was able to do all these and even more because I kept my eyes on the prize even when it all seemed impossible with my family’s financial background. Don’t just work hard; work with a focus and with a dream in mind. And if you do not have a dream, please get a good night’s sleep, for only dreamers can be achievers.

In this article:
Agatha Ibeazor
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