The accomplished emerging artists of Mercer University‘s Class of ‘22 honed their craft by using the entire city of Macon as their canvas, with connections to the wider world setting stage for the future. Here’s what some of our talented graduates have done to grow during their time in some of our fine arts departments and facilities.
Townsend School of Music
One strong feature of a Mercer education at the Townsend School of Music is its support of students in the next phase of their careers, leading to an outstanding record of Townsend graduates attending top graduate schools all over the country.
“We say often that music matters at Mercer, which makes our students confident to apply to every opportunity,” said Dr. C. David Keith, dean of the School of Music.
One example is Caroline Cooke, who specialized in vocal performance at Mercer.
Cooke hasn’t passed up any opportunities to perform during her time at Mercer. She’s taken on a number of roles in Mercer Opera like Meg March in “Little Women: The Musical,” Belinda in “Dido and Aeneas,” Stella in “The Last Sorcerer,” and Euridice/Enone/Juno in “Orpheus in Opera.” She’s also a member of the Mercer Singers and recently made her debut as the soprano soloist in Handel’s “Messiah” with the Choral Society of Middle Georgia.
Dr. Keith points out that Cooke is a Macon native, but her talent is taking her all over the country. Last fall, she won first place at the Georgia National Association of Teachers of Singing competition, and next year she will be continuing her studies at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.
“Eastman is a renowned conservatory, and they will be fortunate to have Caroline,” Dr. Keith said.
As a part of the McDuffie Center for Strings, cellist Constantine Janello has had extraordinary opportunities to perform and grow.
“Constantine came to Mercer and the McDuffie Center with wide eyes, a little quietly cautious in displaying his artistic ability. He was ready to take in all that Mercer has to offer,” said Amy Schwartz Moretti, director of the McDuffie Center.
From being part of the inaugural Macon-Mercer Symphony Orchestra to playing new compositions for chamber music, Janello has had plenty of opportunities to grow in the spotlight.
However, it’s his generosity as part of an ensemble that makes him special, Moretti said.
“He has been the best example of a McDuffie Center student. He knows who he is as a person and an artist and as Nietzsche says, continues to become who he is,” she said. “He is playing the cello with great confidence and is the most supportive, giving and gracious person.”
Janello will continue this journey of growth and giving at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where he will be pursuing his master’s degree.
At Mercer, theater is “a small program, and much the value of what you get out of a program such as ours as a student comes from what you are willing to invest,” said Scot Mann, associate professor. Mann allows students to identify self-directed goals in the program, then encourages them and gives them a stage to work with in the Tattnall Square Center for the Arts.
Laura Ashlyn Pridgen exemplifies this spirit.
“She is one of those Mercerians that you point to and say, ‘See! That’s who we want to be around here,’” Mann said.
Pridgen had the leadership skills and courage to mount a one-woman standup comedy show for her senior project, an odyssey that she had to write and direct, as well as perform.
“It was something out of my wheelhouse, but that’s why tapping into it was so fun,” she said.
This kind of adventurous attitude and openness to try something new is what the theater program hopes to foster in all its students. During her time at Mercer, Pridgen has been president of the Mercer Players and Alpha Psi Omega National Theatre Honor Society.
“Laura Ashlyn has invested of herself and has shown qualities of a true leader. Her influence will be felt for years to come,” Mann said.
Art at Mercer
McEachern Art Center (the MAC), a contemporary art gallery in the heart of downtown Macon, opened to the public in 2019 and was meant to be “Mercer’s front porch” to the wider community.
The space also gives students access to serious studio space that leads to high-quality gallery showings. Students don’t just get the chance to set their art at the MAC but to learn all facets of how the gallery runs, from public relations to installation.
That’s where Faith Reagin comes in.
She’s worked at the MAC since her freshman year, which makes her “a part of the first generation of students to engage the artists, exhibitions and studio spaces here for her entire course of study at Mercer,” said Ben Dunn, director of the gallery.
Professors admire how thoroughly Reagin has “taken full advantage of our offerings” in the Art Department, Dunn said.
“Faith brought out the best in me as a teacher,” said Eric O’Dell, associate professor. “She’s got raw talent, and she’s a hard worker who paid attention. She learned the basics, developed foundational muscle and learned to fly.”
While at Mercer, Reagin often could be found greeting guests to the MAC during open gallery hours or spending a full day setting up a show. She also frequently engages with the vibrant cultural scene of downtown Macon.
“Her openness to new ideas, engagement with contemporary fine art scholarship and practices, earnestness, and rigor make a strong case for our programming down here,” Dunn said.
Reagin’s work can be found at the MAC through May 7 as part of “Stairway Wit,” Mercer’s senior exhibition.
Dunn’s confidence in Reagin carries over to her next chapter.
“She’s very Mercer and very independent,” he said. “Faith will go wherever she wants, but she’s definitely going places.”
The Grand Opera House
The arts are essential for everyone, and roles behind the scenes are as important to making a show run smoothly as the performers onstage. There are many opportunities for Mercerians who aren’t arts majors to participate in on and off campus, even as paid student workers.
The Grand Opera House has been presenting performances since 1905 and is an integral part of Macon’s music heritage, hosting renowned performers like Harry Houdini, Anna Pavlova and the Allman Brothers Band.
Gia Jackson, a senior chemical commerce major on the pre-medical track, has been an essential part of operations in the box office at The Grand.
“Gia’s ability to connect with patrons and provide great service is unmatched,” said Chas Pridgen, director of patron services and rentals. “There is never an ordinary day at The Grand, and she is always a cheerful and hilarious presence in the office while rolling with the punches. Both of these skills will serve her well as a future care provider in medicine.”
Jackson has enjoyed being able to learn about different types of performances but said the best part of her job is connecting with Macon’s history and engaging with other attractions downtown.
Pridgen said students interested in working at the box office may email him at email@example.com.
Jackson, who will attend Mercer’s School of Medicine in the fall, said she looks forward to transitioning to buying tickets at The Grand, instead of selling them.
But she adds, “I won’t be afraid to call the box office and ask questions!”