Grace Wallace was just three years old when she sang for her first audience. Although her vocal chords were young, and obviously under strain, the beauty and magic in Wallace’s voice—coupled with her vibrant personality—transcended her limitations and made its presence known early in life. The young girl’s parents, both professionally trained signers, beamed with pride over this discovery, but were careful not to push her too hard in any one direction, choosing instead to allow their daughter and her blossoming talent room to grow.
During her sophomore year in high school, Wallace said her parents decided the time was right to allow her voice to undergo professional training. At the age of 16, she enrolled at Missouri Southern State University and studied under master vocalist Lawrence Stotsbery. Recognizing the strength of his student’s voice and her operatic career potential, both Stotsbery and the Wallace family began to encourage the young vocalist to pursue opera—one of the most demanding genres of music a singer can attempt.
“When you sign up to do opera, you really sign up to do it all,” Wallace says. “My parents were really supportive of the decision, but they knew it was going to be hard. I just started with an aria, a kind of solo piece, and moved on from there.”
It wasn’t long before Wallace was wowing her school, church, and anywhere else she chose to sing with the power of her unique voice. It was for this reason that Wallace found her way into MAX—MidAmerica Extreme. The event consists of competition in areas such as athletics, the performing arts and the humanities. Always a success, the MAX program introduces young people from the Midwest to MNU, attracting many talented high school students, many of whom choose to join the Pioneer community.
“Before MAX, I had never planned on coming to MNU,” Wallace says. “Like many singers, I had big aspirations of going to the biggest and best music schools, and living in the city. The MAX event changed all that.”
Joining a friend from Carthage First Church of the Nazarene, Wallace entered the MAX competition to perform a duet and a solo piece, the former winning first place and the latter taking second. It was during this event the young singer was introduced to MNU music professors Wilder and Leavitt. Wallace said both individuals applauded her performances that day, and both were eager to recruit her for the MNU music department.
“When I arrived for the competition, both [professors] were super nice and welcoming,” Wallace says. “But they didn’t push too hard. They made it clear they wanted me as part of their department, but they also explained that if it wasn’t for me they’d understand.”
After her success with the MAX competition, Wallace said her attraction to Pioneer life, and the smaller, local college environment, immediately began to grow. In the fall of 2012, Wallace transferred to MNU from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, Kansas and began to study voice under Dr. Britney Rice.
“I knew there was something special about the school,’’ Wallace says. “I knew God had brought me there, and put people like Dr. Rice in my path as a means of making me better.”
In the spring of 2013, Wallace says she was asked to act as a judge in the MAX competition, and did so for three semesters. These sessions, according to her, form the basis of her most cherished memories at MNU.
“I was judging in the competition that brought me to MidAmerica,” Wallace says. “I got the chance to work with high school kids and help make them better. That has to be my favorite memory from MNU.”
Wallace graduated from MNU last spring with a Bachelor of Arts in music with an emphasis in performance and vocal pedagogy. Accepted at the University of Missouri at Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance, Wallace is now studying under vocalist Vinson Cole and working to earn her Master of Music in vocal performance. In her first semester at UMKC, Wallace secured the role as first lady in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The opera was directed by Fenlon Lamb, UMKC’s new director of opera and assistant teaching professor, and was staged on campus at White Recital Hall. In order to put a fresh spin on what has become one of Mozart’s most frequently produced operas, Wallace says Fenlon re-imagined the composer’s original setting for the story and produced something truly unexpected.
“Fenlon transformed the original setting of the opera into something new and exciting,” Wallace says. “The opera took place in the imagination of a schizophrenic patient (Tamino) in an insane asylum. The cast and I enjoyed taking liberties and being able to put a unique spin on our traditional characters.”
This October, Wallace was given another opportunity to showcase her talents in Mozart’s revered opera, this time at Kansas City’s Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts for a Conservatory fundraiser. Joining her were fellow vocalists Alice Chung, Logan Snook, Armando Contreras, and Derrek Stark.
“The experience was unforgettable,” Wallace says. “Singing in Helzberg Hall has been a dream of mine since it first opened. This opportunity was the highlight of my semester and something I will never forget.”
As a means of building her resume and procuring further roles, Wallace says this fall she traveled with friends applying for summer internships across the nation. Most recently, Wallace visited New York City, and it was here the singer describes becoming reacquainted with her earliest dreams of Broadway, the Metropolitan Opera, and the allure of life in the Big Apple.
“New York will always be a special place for me,” Wallace says. “I think every singer has that dream.”
Despite her adept music skills and expertly trained singing voice, Wallace says trying to break through in the music industry has been difficult, and sometimes disappointing. In order to become marketable, Wallace says a professional opera singer must train her voice to its highest level of capabilities, and very often the expectations opera companies have of their singers means only the top-tier candidates—or the well-connected—manage to procure major roles.
“In this field, you’re told ‘no’ almost every day,” Wallace says. “Sometimes you think you’re holding back your personal best, only to realize your personal best has to get better.”
In her struggle to succeed as a major player in the performing arts, Wallace says that her Christian faith and belief in God are indispensable.
“For me to go into this business with no faith—no belief in God—would have never worked,” Wallace says. “You totally have to base this thing you’re jumping into—hoping that you’ll make it, because most people don’t—in a belief in God. Knowing that he has far better things planned for me than I ever could imagine—that’s what gotten me through these super difficult times.”
In addition to her studies, Wallace is a voice and piano instructor at Greenleaf Performing Arts Academy in Olathe. In what has become a Pioneer-driven endeavor, Wallace says she was also appointed musical director of the Overland Park Christian Youth Theater’s spring production of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe alongside MNU instructor Heather Tinker.
“MNU has played a huge role in my success,” Wallace says. “As a means of helping you, I believe God puts amazing people in your path, and so many of the people who helped me came from this amazing school. Making the decision to become a Pioneer is one of the best choices I ever made.”