Bayer Fund Artists-In-Training Program Celebrates 30 Years

Opera Theatre’s Bayer Fund Artists-in-Training offers seven months of college-level voice lessons on university campuses to 20-24 high school students in the St. Louis community. Students receive individual weekly coaching and voice lessons by Opera Theatre’s professional staff; two artist residencies conducted by visiting guest artists; numerous chances to attend performing arts events; a three-day, college retreat where they learn about college life and academics and an annual trip to visit university and conservatory campuses.  Each spring they give a free public recital at which scholarships are awarded.  Distinguished adjudicators such as Betty Allen, Martina Arroyo, Christine Brewer, Nicholas DiVirgilio, Erie Mills, George Shirley, Doris Cross, Dona D. Vaughn, Shirley Verrett, Sylvia McNair, Morris Robinson, Barbara Smith Conrad, and Denyce Graves, among many others have determined the award winners. To date, more than 250 students have completed the program and $557,475 in scholarships has been awarded.

The St. Louis Business Journal and the Metropolitan Association for Philanthropy in 1995 recognized the AIT program as one of four outstanding programs in the Metropolitan St. Louis area. The program was recognized in 2001 as one of ten outstanding programs for youth in the nation by the President’s Committee for the Arts and the Humanities. OPERA America gave the program its “Success Award.”

Our alumni have performed in major opera houses and festivals across the United States and Europe, been celebrated in major US publications including The New York Times and Wall Street Journal, received Fulbright scholarships, and garnered honors at the Metropolitan Opera Young Artists Competition,  while continuing to give back to their communities as vocal instructors and teaching artists in St. Louis and across the country.  Not only do our alumni include esteemed opera singers, but also arts administrators, stage directors, educators, public servants, lawyers, scientists, and scholars.  Please enjoy testimonials from some of the OTSL Artists-In-Training Alumni below.

*Bayer Fund (formerly Monsanto) has been the program’s principal corporate sponsor since the inception of the program in 1990.

Chaz’men Williams-Ali

Jennifer Johnson Cano

“AIT offers the most remarkable opportunity that can be provided to any young person; the opportunity to explore their talents in a field which interests and inspires them.  The nurturing environment of AIT provides an unparalleled learning experience through private instruction, group lessons, and experiencing first-rate performances.  My experience in the Spring Training Program ignited my curiosity and deepened my love for music in a way that solidified my decision to pursue a life in music.  I will never forget some of the lessons learned during that short week – it changed my life.”


Jennifer Johnson Cano as Orfeo in Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice (OTSL 2018)

Jermaine Smith

Alison Moritz

“I have a very distinct memory of Vinson Cole giving a masterclass one year. At the end, he gave us all some very stern advice: “If you can imagine doing anything else with your life, do it!” As a high schooler, I didn’t know what to make of this. So much advice for young people is all about following your dreams and success will naturally follow. But so many talented singers and musicians graduate from music schools and conservatories each year – how could there possibly be enough fulfilling work for everyone? I think Vinson’s larger point was – you can have music and art be integral to your life and your sense of self, but it doesn’t have to be your career. In the end, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life, and knowing that has given me a real sense of purpose as I’ve pursued this path.”

Denise Brooks