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HomeEducationAPSU vocal professor Penelope Shurmate to perform in National Finals on Saturday

APSU vocal professor Penelope Shurmate to perform in National Finals on Saturday

Austin Peay State University - APSUClarksville, TN – Austin Peay State University (APSU)’s own Dr. Penelope Shumate is one of 12 finalists in the Artists Division in the Camille Coloratura Awards vocal competition. The competition began with almost 90 national contestants. The finalists’ concert can be viewed on Facebook on October 9th, 2021 at 7:00pm.

Shumate is a lyric coloratura soprano. She sings arias, which are self-contained selections for one voice from larger works. Coloratura arias are full of vocal runs, trills, wide leaps and other virtuosic elements. Shumate’s two entries are comprised of long legato lines, which are smooth and flowing lyrical phrases.

There are operas, which contain a plot, and oratorios with no plot. Shumate did arias of both types for her entry. Arias are always solos.

Shumate applied to the Camille Coloratura Vocal competition last year. She faced stiff competition from around the United States and didn’t make the finals.

“I thought I needed more exciting arias, so I learned three new coloratura arias and made a much higher quality video,” Shumate said. “I hoped that extra work would help me, and it did.” 

Shumate picked arias with fast-moving coloratura.

“The other singers are extraordinary so I’m just happy to be included with them,” Shumate said.


Dr. Penelope Shumate performs “Let the bright Seraphim” from Samson by Handel with pianist Jeffrey Burnham.

‘Practicing Seven Days a Week’

A day in the life of Dr. Shumate begins at 5 in the morning seven days a week. If she’s preparing for a new opera or competition, she first charts when she’ll sing. Then she’ll work on each section or aria a little bit at a time. If she’s singing in a foreign language she works on her pronunciation and writes the translation by hand.

“It’s a matter of practicing seven days a week. Sometimes I prepare for a year before I get it to where I want it to be. There’s no other way for me to be completely organized and get things done with excellence,” Shumate said.

The business of an opera singer is built on being rehired. If Shumate skirts the line or cuts any corner, she could lose out on future engagements.

“I can’t risk it. I have to be overly prepared,” Shumate said.

Shumate finds vocal competitions to be less stressful than live operas. Competitions come down to the temperament of the judges at the time.

“I can be sitting next to another voice teacher, and we can disagree on who the best singer is in a competition,” Shumate said. “For me, it’s just a fun opportunity to perform and if someone happens to like my artistry, great, and if not, no problem, because I’ll just do another competition.”

Her journey to Austin Peay State University

Shumate started singing as a child in church. She then went on to earn a bachelor of TV and radio broadcasting. Her junior year an opera singer came and showed a performance of Carmen by Georges Bizet.

“I had never seen human beings be able to make that sound with their voice. I didn’t know that was possible. It’s fascinating to me that an opera singer uses their body to resonate and carry sound,” Shumate said.

Shumate then added vocal performance to her undergraduate degree. After graduating with her bachelor’s, she moved to Philadelphia and earned a master’s in vocal and opera performance from Temple University. She then traveled around the country performing.

Eventually she had a child and wanted more stability. She’d been teaching since her master’s degree, so the transition was easy. She earned her Doctor of Musical Arts from Louisiana State University and joined the music faculty at Western Illinois University in 2014. This fall she was excited to begin her new journey as the director of opera and voice teacher at APSU.


“The teaching and the performing have coincided from day one. My singing makes me a better teacher and my teaching makes me a better singer,” Shumate said.

Singing Competition goes Digital

COVID-19 Coronavirus caused the event to go digital.

“Because it’s online, on Facebook Saturday, they’re going to present one video from each finalist. Then they will announce the winners.”

Shumate’s upcoming engagements include returning to the Quincy Symphony Orchestra Association for their production of Te Deum by Dvo?ák, and returning to the Muddy River Opera Company in the role of Adina in L’Elisir d’Amore. Shumate will perform the title role in the new opera Kassandra for the CD recording at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music.

She is also featured as a soloist in the upcoming fall 2021 CD release from Klavier Records of the chamber music of James Stephenson. Shumate can also be heard as the soprano soloist in the 2020 CD “Messiah Refreshed” recorded with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at London’s historic Abbey Road Studios.


Shumate will also perform Beethoven’s tour de force, Italian concert aria, “Ah, perfido!” with the APSU Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, October 17th in the APSU Mabry Concert Hall at 4:00pm.

To learn more about Shumate, visit her website at www.penelopeshumate.com.

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