Kalena Bovell ’09, B.M. in Music Education – College of Performing Arts
Born in Los Angeles, Kalena Bovell is a graduate of Chapman University’s College of the Performing Arts. She received a Bachelor of Music in Music Education in 2009, followed by a Master’s Degree and Graduate Professional Diploma in instrumental conducting from The Hartt School, where she studied with Edward Cumming. In 2018, Kalena was called “one of the brightest new stars in the world of classical music.” (Channel 3 News, New Haven) She has conducted in many venues across the country and previously served as Music Director for the Civic Orchestra of New Haven. During her tenure, she committed to deepening the artistic level of the orchestra while expanding its reach into the community. She also conducted two short operas in Hartford, Connecticut, and has held conducting fellowships in Allentown and Chicago. She made her professional debut conducting tribute concerts celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Chicago during the 2016-17 season. Kalena enjoys speaking professionally about her craft and has also recently embraced her gifts as a poet, releasing her first collection of poems titled “Dear Soul…” She currently serves as Assistant Conductor of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and is also conductor of the Memphis Youth Symphony. She has conducted numerous Pops, Education, Masterworks and Classic Accent concerts. She is talented, fierce and highly respected in her abilities to create programs that are magical.
Q&A with Kalena Bovell
We asked this year’s winners about their experiences at Chapman and what advice they have for current students.
Who was the most influential person for you at Chapman? Why?
Mark Laycock had a very profound impact on me. He was the first person I had connected with upon my acceptance and was a great mentor and educator. His passion for music and music education resonated with me as I was a music education major. He had a wealth of knowledge when it came to working with students and was always willing to share that knowledge with others. Dr. Laycock went above and beyond for his students and I am forever grateful for what I learned from him.
If you could go back and experience one moment from your time at Chapman, what would it be? Is there anything that you would do differently?
It’s not a specific moment but rather, I would love to go back and experience one more music class taught by Shaun Naidoo. Dr. Naidoo, or “Doc” as many of us called him, was an incredible teacher who passed away far too soon. While his classes were filled with humor, they were inspiring. Naidoo always pushed his students to think critically and challenge their limitations. He was one of my favorite teachers and I’ll always remember him strolling into class with his venti cup of coffee and starting the class off with a discussion on Mahler.
What were the most challenging social issues in our country/world that you faced as a young college student? What was your perspective or how did you get involved? Have your opinions on these issues changed or stayed the same? Give an example…
I was always very aware that I was a black, classical musician in a predominantly white student body. When I started Chapman in 2004, I was one of three Black student musicians in the school of music. By the time I had graduated in 2009, I was the only Black student. Throughout my Chapman tenure, I had gotten used to being the only “spot” in a class, however, looking back, this is something that shouldn’t have been normal. The thing about classical music is the lack of representation of students from underserved communities.
I strongly believe it is important for musicians of color to see role models who look like them, so that they can see possibilities. “People can’t be what they can’t see,” and often it was hard for me to see possibility beyond the Chapman bubble. As I know recruitment is a big part of building the music program, I would have liked to have seen Chapman actively recruit underrepresented students for the program.
What do you wish you knew at the time of your graduation (about life, careers, family, best place for tacos, etc.) that you know now? What advice can you give to the students and/or recent graduates of today?
I wish someone would have told me that even though I knew what I wanted to do once I graduated from undergrad, you are not necessarily going to land your first job in the field or nail the first audition directly out of grad school. It took two years for me to get into a graduate degree program. In between that time, I worked multiple jobs and while it was difficult, it was such a rewarding experience. I’m rather glad I didn’t get into a master’s program directly after Chapman because looking back on it, I wasn’t yet ready. I hadn’t lived enough life and having those two years to figure out how to be on my own was valuable.
How did Chapman prepare you for your career? How did your experience prepare you for the real world?
This is such a difficult question because I don’t feel as though Chapman prepared me for my career. Conducting is such a specialized field that it is impossible to know everything you need to know after only four years of music study, or in my case, two years of music study since I started pursuing conducting towards the end of my education degree. If anything, Chapman allowed me the opportunity to explore an interest outside of my intended degree. Since the school offered an undergraduate degree, I got to sit in on conducting classes, observe rehearsals and get my feet wet. I was supported on my journey in discovering if conducting was actually something I wanted to pursue or not. Once the decision was made to fully focus on conduction, I left Chapman knowing that I had a really strong technical foundation and that everything else would be about finding a teacher who would make my weaknesses strengths and my strengths even stronger.