Douglas Grad Jennifer Zabelsky Receives Doctorate In Vocal Performance

Posted By on May 15, 2015

by Joey Crandall,

“Honestly, being in music can really stink sometimes. It’s really, really hard. But if you have a passion for it … it comes down to what do you really want to do? What else can you do and be happy doing? You pretty much get one shot at that.”Jennifer Zabelsky, 1999 Douglas High Graduate
It’s been a life-long journey for Jennifer Zabelsky, 34. To get to this point, the 1999 Douglas High graduate has criss-crossed the country and traveled the globe. But this weekend, she’ll reach a finish line of sorts, participating in commencement exercises at Boston University where she collected her Doctoral degree in Musical Arts, Vocal Performance earlier this year.

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Jennifer Zabelsky has attained a Doctor of Musical Arts, Vocal Performance from Boston University.

Jennifer Zabelsky has attained a Doctor of Musical Arts, Vocal Performance degree from Boston University.

“I don’t know how I made it through,”Zabelsky said with a laugh. “When I look back at it, while I know what I’ve put into it and how far I’ve come, I’m still really surprised that I made it.

“With music, especially music performance, you will have some heartbreak and some misery. And a lot of expenses. There will be a lot of times you question yourself and what you’re trying to do. But those are the times you just kind of buckle down and remind yourself what you’re working toward.

“A lot of people start and don’t finish, because music is very, very personal, and you are constantly pushed to break outside of your comfort zone, and expose yourself to criticism.

“There were points where I just couldn’t see an end it to, but I think for everyone that goes through it, you just see the amount of time and effort you’ve put in and you start thinking ‘I can’t stop now, I can’t stop now.’”

Zabelsky literally grew up around music, with both of her parents involved in music education in Carson Valley. Her father, Bill Zabelsky, was the longtime music director at Douglas High School before moving on to Carson High two years ago.

Jennifer participated in virtually every available music group at the Douglas, earning many awards along the way. From there, she ventured to the University of Nevada, Reno where she earned a bachelor’s degree in music education.

She then went on to earn her Masters of Music from Dusqesne University in Pittsburgh and latered entered Boston University’s doctoral program. In between, she’s earned acclaim in the opera, performing everywhere from Germany to Minneapolis with a couple trips home to work with the Reno Philharmonic in between.

In the middle of her doctoral program, she and her husband moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan for his job.

“If I had any advice to anyone considering this path, it’d be don’t move in the middle of the program,” she said with a laugh. “Seriously, though, I highly recommend doing your homework on the schools you’re applying for, getting to know the professors and their expectations.

“Talk to students who are in the program and get their honest opinion and thoughts. Music theory, it can’t be stressed enough, for anyone in high school right now considering this, start working on your theory. Take classes in piano. Those building blocks go a long way the further you get into it.”

Her dissertation focused on Austrian-born Jewish composer Viktor Ullmann, who was killed in the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“There was a lot of research involved, and then actually sitting down and writing it,” Zabelsky said. “I would go into the library and the sun would be rising, and it’d be gone by the time I left. Time just flew by. Part of the program was I had to write on a topic that I could also perform. I researched his music and his meter, and chose pieces he wrote while imprisoned in Theresienstadt.”

As part of her work, Zabelsky travelled to both Theresienstadt and Auschwitz for research.

In sum, her work amounted to 100 pages and a final recital.

“I was incredibly nervous,” she said. “It (the recital) was basically my dissertation defense – lecturing on it, singing and reciting, presenting all the information singing the full repertoire. And then they grilled me with questions with basically 15 years of work on the line. It was an incredible experience.”

Zabelsky is in the process of putting together audition/interview packages. She’ll also direct The Clever Artifice of Harriet and Margaret at the 2015 Minnesota Fringe Festival this summer.

“I think the biggest eye-opener, having grown up in a small town, is seeing how many more talented people there are in the music path and how highly-competitive it is,” she said. “It’s an incredibly humbling experience. You can be great in Gardnerville, but you can’t settle for that. My best advice is to surround yourself with people who are supportive, but don’t be afraid to surround yourself with people who are better than you. That will make you a better musician.

“It’s like I said: It’s very personal. There are professors and other people who will put you down at any given opportunity. You just have to stay strong and really work at it. Pursue it, and don’t let the negativity get to you. Remember why you love music and stick to that.”