When Maegan Pollonais left T&T 12 years ago to pursue tertiary studies, she planned to study sociology to become a criminologist. In pursuit of that dream, she enrolled in a degree programme at SUNY Plattsburgh in New York.
Her plans changed after a professor heard her singing and encouraged her to switch to music as a major. Maegan didn’t need much convincing.
She revealed in a recent interview: “Although I wanted to become a criminologist, I always secretly nursed the hope of continuing my musical training.”
That proved to be a right choice as on May 2, she graduated with her Doctor of Arts Degree in Music with a Concentration in Educational Psychology and a Certificate in Gifted and Talented Education from Ball State University.
Born in New York City, Maegan came to Trinidad and Tobago at age six and was raised here. Music was a part of her life from early on. She attended Mucurapo Girls’ RC, then Holy Name Convent where she got the opportunity to participate in and win several Music Festival competitions.
“I was an avid member of the Marionettes Chorale that gave me numerous solo singing opportunities and made me fall in love with performing. Thank you to them,” she said.
Once she realised that music was her true calling, there was no turning back for Maegan. In 2012, she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Music and Sociology with a minor in Theatre Arts. Also, she was awarded the 2012 Outstanding Performer Graduating Senior Award, Graduating Senior Award in Jazz Performance, and the Mertle Mehan Award.
During the four years as she worked toward her first degree, Maegan got a taste of performing and musical training.
“I was thirsty for more,” she said. “I was very fortunate enough to be awarded the Winifred. O. Stone Presidential Scholarship for Bowling Green State University, Ohio, where I was able to pursue a Masters of Music Degree.
“During this time, I was offered and attended many Young Artist opera performance programmes in Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States. I was one of 30 singers chosen to participate in the OperaWorks Emerging Young Artist Programme in Los Angeles, California that auditioned over 300 singers. My love for opera performance was growing and the opportunities kept presenting themselves.”
As she attended auditions and travelled to different parts of the world, Maegan noticed there were very few musicians of colour.
She said: “This was truly disappointing to see and experience, having being raised in a country so rich in diversity and inclusion. This desire for representation and equity created a new found passion in me. I wanted to help minority students find their voices and create their legacies.
“I wanted to lead. I wanted to guide and shape the minds of minority students who may not have had the experiences and opportunities that I had. I wanted to help correct some of the biases and ignorance that many diverse students encounter.
“I cannot tell you the number of times people asked me “If all we sing is day light come and me wanna go home” in Trinidad and Tobago, ignorant of the fact that while in the Marionettes I sang Beethoven, Mozart, and Handel to name a few. There were a lot of stereotypes, prejudice and ignorance that I wanted to address and to educate.”
Maegan enrolled in the Doctor of Arts in Music at Ball State University in Indiana. While there she was the Graduate Assistant for the PhD. Pathways Programme in the Office of Institutional Diversity and had the opportunity towith high achieving minority students.
The programme helps these students get into graduate school and hopefully start them on their way to a Ph.D.
Maegan, who described it as “one of the most rewarding experiences I have had in my life,” worked with students who were the first of their families to attend college
“My desire to work with these under-represented minority students was solidified and compounded throughout these three years of working in the Ph.D. Pathways. At Ball State, I was also a Graduate School Ambassador, the Student Coordinator for the Pan African Leadership Programme, nominated for the Graduate Assistant of the Year Award in 2017, as well as nominated by Ball State for the Patricia K Cross Future Leader National Award in 2019.
At Ball State Maegan was able to develop her craft under the guidance of voice professor, Dr. Mei Zhong. She won Ball State’s 10th Annual Voice Competition in 2016 and the Great Composer’s International Voice Competition in 2017.
“I was also invited to sing in master classes for the George Shirley (the first African American tenor to sing a leading role at the Metropolitan Opera) and Grammy Award-winner Isabel Leonard. What amazing experiences that I will cherish forever,” she said
“One of the highlights of my singing career at Ball State University, was when I was invited to sing the National Anthem of the United States of America at the Worthen Arena at the Fall 2019 Commencement Ceremony.
“What an honour and privilege. An article by the Ball State University Alumni Magazine was written about me and featured my performance prowess and my work with student life. To date, my favourite role to perform would be, The Witch, in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. I enjoyed this role so much so that I was able to make my professional operatic debut performing this role with the Saltworks Opera Company in Virginia in their production of Hansel and Gretel.”
Maegan had long had a desire to incorporate diversity, equity and her Caribbean heritage in ber musical endeavours. In 2017, she saw what was possible when London based T&T composer Dominique Le Gendre presented Songs of the Islands, a 12 song collection.
She attended the première presented by the Picoplat Music Development Foundation and “quickly became intrigued and excited.”
She revealed: “I was adamant in bringing the song cycle to the United States, and in 2018, I presented a lecture recital on the polycultural elements in Le Gendre’s Songs of the Islands, thus making its International Premiere. I had found my dissertation topic. Since then, I have performed and been invited to perform Songs of the Islands at over six other universities in the US.”
Under the guidance of Dr. Don Ester, Professor of Music Education at Ball State, Maegan spent two years doing research, study, and performance of these songs and their origins. She latr wrote more than 200 pages on the importance of multicultural music education to diminishing the achievement gap between minority students and their counterparts, the discovery and exploration of Caribbean art song, and a pedagogical guide to performing Le Gendre’s songs.
“It is as if both my passions combined to form this totally unique project. I am currently working on getting my work published as my first book,” she said.
Maegan is currently Assistant Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion and a Resident Hall Director at Manchester University in Indiana. However, her dream is to create an enrichment programme for primary and secondary schools in T&T. It can take the form of an after-school programme where students participate in ear training (aural skills), vocal training, self-esteem building, and performance techniques.
She said: “What I have ultimately learned from everything I have studied is that music has a transformative power that can aid in the development of a strong sense of self, teaches discipline, and create opportunities that may not have presented themselves, because I often think about what would have happened had I not chosen to add music as a major? Would I be Dr. Pollonais today?”