Alumnae vocalists return to campus for special Panther Alumni Week concert


Sarah Payne ’14 and Laura Martinez Leon ’15 are living a dream many young opera singers only hope to experience.

After graduating from FIU’s School of Music, Payne with a bachelor’s in vocal performance and Leon with a master’s in vocal performance, they both were selected to join the Florida Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program and have had the opportunity to perform at home and abroad in cities like Madrid and Salzburg.

For one night, they both returned to FIU, the place that helped launch their careers.

“It feels like home,” Payne said. “FIU was so instrumental to where I am now, opening up my eyes to what is out there and really giving me the tools I needed to start my singing career.”

Payne and Leon were welcomed back to campus along with several other alumnae with professional singing careers to perform recently in a special Alumni Vocal Concert at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

The concert featured eight vocalists who studied at the school, including internationally renowned soprano Adina Aaron ’93 and mezzo-soprano Misty Bermudez ’00 from the South Florida’s Grammy-nominated professional chamber ensemble Seraphic Fire.

“This experience is very exhilarating and inspiring,” Leon said of sharing the stage with fellow graduates. “It lets you know you can do it and you can make it.”

The event was part of the School of Music’s participation in the fourth annual Panther Alumni Week, a universitywide initiative that invites alumni back to campus to engage with students and faculty in and out of the classroom.

“We’ve sent out so many fine musicians for decades and it’s exciting to see them now well into their careers being very successful and coming back and performing for us, inspiring the next generation of singers,” said School of Music Director Robert Dundas.

Family, friends and current students came to watch the alumnae perform works by prominent composers – such as Mozart, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini – accompanied by alumna Maria Paulina Garcia ’08 on the piano.

Vindhya Khare, an adjunct professor of voice who graduated from FIU with a master’s degree in vocal performance in 2013, directed and performed in the concert.

“It was an amazing concert and a great reunion,” Khare said. “I hope as current students see alumni perform that they themselves will consider returning one day, remembering how much they were inspired by seeing them perform.”

Now just at the beginning of her career, Leon is already beginning to see how a diverse slate of classes at FIU has helped prepare her for any role thrown her way. She recently performed in a show where she had to sing while dancing with a hula hoop, highlighting that you never know when odd skills will come in handy.

“For a vocal performance career, particularly in opera, I would tell students to take courses in acting, dance, languages and anything else they can,” Leon said. “Nothing is going to be an extra course. You’re probably going to use everything.”

And, as with nearly any career, persistence and grit are essential.

“Don’t give up,” Payne said. “You’re going to get a lot of no’s in this career and the key is to stay strong and trust yourself and know you can do it.”