WOOSTER – Procrastinating, Mya Vandergrift was staring at the sky, her back flat on the grass.
She was trying to come up with a name for the heavy percussion opening number she had just written when he figured it out.
“Compost opera!” she exclaimed after returning to her apartment to start writing music.
Aidan Klinges, a friend who had traveled with her, stared at Vandegrift.
“You’re the only person in the world that I would ever hear say that,” he told Vandegrift. “Someone would say ‘Compost opera’, and I know it would be you because you just Amish Country and you are writing an opera.
Vandegrift, a graduate of Wooster High, is studying music composition and filmmaking at Northwestern University. This spring, she was granted permission to write her own opera, centered on the rural community where she grew up.
With months of work ahead, Vandegrift has been working on the play all summer in hopes of debuting his opera – “SALT” – next spring.
Opera author inspired by the “simplicity of crickets”
Growing up in Wayne County, Vandegrift listened to crickets and other critters in her backyard and fell in love with music at a young age.
“Just hearing like the simplicity of crickets and insect noises,” Vandegrift said. “…We were hiking in Spangler (Creek) and…from a young age (I) had such a curiosity about how sound works.
Over the years, she played volleyball, learned to play the French horn, and sang in her church choir. When her family grew closer to Wooster while she was in high school, she decided to focus more on the arts.
In the spring of 2021, Vandegrift graduated from Wooster High School with a artistic honor diploma and is set to graduate from Northwestern University in 2025.
During her first semester there, she was paired with a counselor, Annalize Biesterfeld, to help her adjust to college life.
The two ended up talking about their mutual love for opera when Biesterfeld revealed that she was the president of the Opera Projects for Undergraduate Singers (OPUS) group on campus.
Biesterfeld shared that very few composers had written for them over the past decades and convinced Vandegrift she should give it a shot.
Vandegrift had her screenplay and general idea approved by OPUS this spring, which led to her securing a summer research fellowship so she could start writing.
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A love letter to Wayne County
Vandegrift missed her small-town life, so she chose a cattle farm as the setting for her opera.
“I want to stress that it (the opera) is really a love letter to my family and where I come from,” Vandegrift said. “… There is such natural art here and it needs to be preserved, discussed and written about.”
Vandegrift didn’t stop there. She didn’t want the story to only remind people of rural communities, she also wanted to make it accessible to them.
Some of the things people think about when it comes to opera – expensive tickets, people singing in another language, dramatic stories – are precisely the things Vandegrift hopes to get rid of, hoping to get more people to listen. his opera.
“I kind of want to do almost an anti-opera like I want it to be very vulnerable and human,” Vandegrift said. “… I’m very passionate about making opera accessible for everyone to enjoy.”
A long way to go to the finish line
Emily Amesquita, vice president of OPUS and a student at Northwestern University, said that when they returned to campus this fall, Vandegrift was several steps ahead of her.
After she finishes writing, Vandegrift will begin the play’s workshop and fundraising for the production, which she hopes to debut next spring.
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While some details are yet to be ironed out, Amesquita said she’s excited to see this all fall into place next year with the time and energy Mya is pouring into the artwork.
“It really makes all the difference to be collaborating with an artist who is passionate about what they do,” Amesquita said. “In Mya’s case…it’s very clearly personal to her, which only makes it more special for anyone who has the opportunity to connect with him.”
Contact Rachel Karas at [email protected]
On Twitter: @RachelKaras3