The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Taking on Dallas– one performance at a time

Dallas Caulkins performs at Klyde Warren Park. (Courtesy of Jon Hess)
Dallas Caulkins performs at Klyde Warren Park. (Courtesy of Jon Hess)
Dallas Caulkins performs at Klyde Warren Park. (Courtesy of Jon Hess)

The 81st Pigskin Revue hosted by the Mustang Band took place recently at McFarlin Auditorium. The crowd was entertained by various student performances and music performed by the Mustang Band. One performance included Dallas Caulkins, a first-year graduate vocal student, whose voice echoed beautifully throughout the auditorium.

Just a couple of days later, Caulkins would take her voice on the road to a local church to sing with the choir. It’s a way for her to make a little money on the side.

Caulkins is known at SMU for her voice, but what some people might not know is that she is also known throughout the area. Caulkins is one of dozens of Meadows students and faculty who performs outside of campus, which is beneficial for aspiring performers.

“Performing off-campus is very important because it exposes you to the real world,” Caulkins said.

One of the biggest benefits of going to a school in Dallas is the opportunity that students have to show their talents away from campus. Students have chances to perform at outdoor venues like White Rock Lake and Klyde Warren Park, at churches throughout University Park and act as fill-ins for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.

Local restaurants are another place that provide students the chance to show what they have to offer.

“BuzzBrews on Lemmon Avenue has an open-mic night every Tuesday, so there’s always a chance for me to sing,” Caulkins said.

Open Classical, a company that showcases classical music in popular culture locations such as coffee houses and parks, sponsors the open-mic night.

“Because of Open Classical, I was able to perform at places like Klyde Warren Park,” Caulkins said.

Performing with an organization outside of the university takes talent, but so does performing individually. Sophomore vocal performance major Vinnie Mahal performs locally, but getting the gigs takes a lot of work.

“It takes a lot of pulling strings to get certain gigs, and you have to actively be looking for places,” Mahal said.

Mahal has performed at a variety of local venues, including at Union Coffee House, a popular SMU hangout spot. However, one performance sticks out for him.

“I was able to perform at the Lizard Lounge, which was my biggest performance,” he said.

The Lizard Lounge is a popular Downtown Dallas nightclub that brings in popular DJs and electronic dance musicians. People would not expect someone like Mahal to perform there because he is an opera singer.

“I create my own music so I can have more dimensions,” he said.

Although SMU student and faculty performers enjoy what they do, they know that the road is not easy to travel. There are some gigs they do not get paid for and there are times they feel like they will not succeed.

“The music industry is very ruthless, but you cannot get discouraged,” Mahal said. “Be your own judge of your talents.”

Musicians receive a lot of criticism, especially because they are not always financially stable, but getting paid for gigs of high importance has more rewards than just money.

“I get paid to sing at churches, especially during the Christmas season, and it is such a great feeling to know that people want me to sing for them,” Caulkins said.

Meadows is known worldwide as an arts school with talented faculty. Students learn from some of the best and most experienced teachers in their fields. When many teachers are not on campus, they are performing professionally.

Jon Lee is an adjunct percussion director at SMU, and is also the drumline instructor for the Mustang Band. When he is not teaching on the Hilltop, he is either teaching private lessons at his studio or performing for local orchestras.

“I have played for groups like the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, the Dallas Wind Symphony, the Los Colinas Symphony Orchestra, the Garland Symphony Orchestra and I’ve even performed with the band Chicago,” Lee said.

For people like Lee, music takes up most of their time, but it is worth it.

“There are times I work 80 to 90 hours a week, but it is rewarding because I get to see kids do something musically that they weren’t capable of doing before,” he said.

When it comes to making money, Lee is grateful for the trust people have in him.

“I’m thankful parents want me to teach their child about music and for people who come to orchestra concerts. They could have gone and seen a movie, but they chose to come here,” he said.

The transition from professional performer to Meadows professor can be a unique one, especially for those with national success. It has been a long journey for ballet teacher John Selya, but his experience has helped him thrive at SMU, even though it is only his second year teaching.

“It is much more selfless to teach, but it is also more fulfilling,” Selya said. “When you dance it’s about you, but when you teach you’re trying to make it all about the students.”

If Selya’s name rings a bell, it is probably because he is known for his role as “Eddie” in choreographer Twyla Tharp’s 2002 Broadway production “Movin’ Out.” The musical won the Tony Award for best choreography, and Selya was also nominated for best performance by a leading actor, losing only to Harvey Fierstein, who was the lead in “Hairspray.”

“Twyla’s production grew organically, and after adding Billy Joel’s music, the musical was a perfect storm,” Selya said. “We were able to create a dance musical, and that was never heard of.”

Selya believes that performing outside of campus is beneficial, but students need to be careful that they don’t put off their training at SMU.

“Sometimes productions can compromise a student’s dedication to Meadows, so they shouldn’t take the opportunities if it interferes with Meadows,” he said. “Students should get the experience as long as it doesn’t interfere.”

Students and faculty agree that performing off campus helps a student grow, but that SMU is where the success begins.

“It’s really important for the real world experience, but SMU is the real training ground,” Lee said.

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