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Music Alumnus Orson Van Gay II to Perform Concert, Hold Master Class

Orson Van Gay II ('09) didn't plan to become an opera singer. He originally came to Old Dominion University to study communication, now, as a professional singer working in Los Angeles, he can't imagine anything else: since his graduation he has embarked on a professional opera career, making his debut at Carnegie Hall, performing for the LA Opera, and in the opening of "The Central Park 5".

Looking back, he says should have known singing was in his future: his parents are both musicians (his father, a Motown artist and his mother a classically-trained opera singer); as a child actor, he was drawn to shows with singing, including his first gig as a teen named Tyler on the show "Kids Incorporated," and he would even sing around the house ­secretly, trying to avoid being heard by anyone with his parents pretending not to listen.

But it wasn't until he came to Old Dominion University in the mid-2000s that Van Gay finally took to singing, changing his major from communication to music. By chance he was encouraged to audition for the Virginia Opera, and the rest just fell into place, he said.

"I never wanted to be an opera singer when I first went in [to college] and I didn't sound like an opera singer, but I fell in love with the art form," Van Gay said. "I couldn't fake it.

Van Gay, who now lives and performs in Los Angeles, will return to the area for a concert in Portsmouth on February 21, and a free master class on Feb. 22. Moving to LA was a challenge, and outside of his comfort zone, but it was the leap he needed to take for his career, he said.

Now, Van Gay says he's not only excited to perform in Portsmouth with his former ODU teacher, Sally Copeland, but to help the next generation of students through the master class. In a master class, a number of students perform for the visiting artist, and receive tips and lessons on their craft.

Working with young people is something else Van Gay is passionate about. He has served as Ambassador of Opera with the LA Opera since 2014, and recently performed on an episode of the Disney Channel show "Coop and Cami Ask the World" to bring opera to young viewers.

"There's this idea that opera is staunch, intangible, of the aristocracy, and archaic - and it can be- but my goal was to make it and show young people a character you can hopefully relate to," he said.

Copeland was Van Gay's piano teacher at the university; although he pursued singing, the students are required to have a level of proficiency in piano before graduation from the F. Ludwig Diehn School of Music.

"I love all of my students, but there are just some that you know are going to do something exciting, and he was one of them," Copeland said.

The concert, which is part of the Portsmouth Community Concerts series, was more than two years in the making, Copeland said, and was booked before Van Gay's Carnegie Hall and Broadway debuts.

But Van Gay says that no matter where he performs ­- whether Broadway or Portsmouth's I.C. Norcom High School auditorium ­- the same work ethic is key for musicians, and that students should "learn what you need to learn and eat up all the meat you can, and spit out the bones in life."

"You don't have all the answers, but you can get the knowledge you need," he said. "Disappointment is a part of life and you may not book that audition or land that job, but book the room. They will remember who you are if you bring your excellence."

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