Alumnus manages to survive in music business

Jeffrey Seppala, an 2004 alumnus of the Biola Conservatory of Music, is advancing his singing career at theater companies across the United States.

Robert Scott, Writer

Jeffrey Seppala, an 2004 alumnus of the Biola Conservatory of Music, is advancing his singing career at theater companies across the United States, despite fewer jobs and closing companies due to the economic downturn.

Since attending Biola, Seppala has earned a masters degree in music from the A.J. Fletcher Opera Institute at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He has been a resident artist in the Tri-Cities Opera of New York and recently performed with Opera Colorado in Denver. Seppala has performed recognizable roles such as Mr. Wickham in “Pride and Prejudice” and the father in Giannini’s rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” Seppala encouraged current music students and those about to graduate.

“Many … find the transitions in the music field unbearable,” Seppala said. “I have much I still wish to achieve, but there is plenty of time. … Whatever your circumstances, I would encourage others to enjoy the journey.”

Seppala admitted that his professional career hasn’t unfolded without its financial trials. He is on a tight budget and in regards to the economy. Seppala said that more people are vying for fewer jobs all the time.

“The economy effects … the classical music industry, [which] has a great percentage of its industry based on donations,” Seppala said. “So if the stock market tanks, people get worried and do not give money.  The result is that some opera companies have closed.”

The national unemployment rate is currently at 9.7 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Lower level employment previously available to college graduates is being granted to those laid off from higher-ranking positions. The National Association of Colleges and Employers, an organization of career counselors at more than 2,000 colleges nationwide, says employment prospects for college graduates this year aren’t optimistic. Studies by NACE show that, although half of all college graduates in 2007 had job offers after graduation, this number dropped to one-fourth in 2008, and in 2009, it was less than one-fifth.

The music industry is competitive and it is crucial for music majors to establish relationships that will lead to employment, said Lori Fulton, admissions recruitment coordinator for the music department.

Besides giving students ample performance experience before graduation, the department offers students connections to professionals outside Biola, she said.

“Each of our professors has connections with musicians in the Los Angeles area,” Fulton said. “They forward those to our students.”

Some current students of Biola’s music department disagree. Though Biola provides connections for undergrads studying classical music in the conservatory, they said a mediocre effort is made to offerprobs to those within the music in worship department.

“I’m worried about landing a job after graduation,” said sophomore Daniel Shin, a music in worship major. “Despite the poor economy, I still need a job after graduation … a job other than volunteering at a local church. I’d like to become a professional artist.”

Though his field is financially burdensome, Seppala finds his line of work to be rewarding in other ways.

“I love everything about the work … and performing for all kinds of audiences makes me very joyful,” Seppala said. “It is difficult to think of a more rewarding field that gets to entertain, educate and inspire. If music is what you must do with your life, learn how to practice. Learn how to perform. Learn how to network.”

Seppala began his musical training as a student at Biola in 2000, graduating with a bachelor of arts degree in voice performance four years later in 2004. At Biola, Seppala participated in numerous concerts and operas, including “ Carousel” and “The Magic Flute.” He held the lead role the Biola Opera Theater’s production of “Don Giovanni,” and sang two solos alongside the Biola Symphony Orchestra in 2004.

“I really enjoyed performing duets in orchestral concerts … and Dr. Robison furthered my love of the voice and theatre, and gave me wonderful opportunities to learn my craft on the stage, ” Seppala said. “This is not a gift many undergraduate programs can offer,” Seppala said.

The department maintains connections to alumni like Seppala, inviting them to return and perform special concerts on campus, such as the Alumni Composers Concert on May 12 that will showcase the work of Biola graduates during the weekly Music at Noon concert in Crowell Hall.

Fulton said that, like Seppala, the majority of graduates from Biola’s music program say they appreciate the training they received at Biola.

“They’re always coming back and thanking us,” she said. “They always feel that we’ve made an impact on them.”

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