Meet Alyssa (Nance) Toepfer '08
Opera singer and voice teacher, Topeka, Kansas
— music major
Q. How did you choose Augustana?
A. Growing up in Sioux Falls, Augustana had always been on my radar. It wasnʼt until I made a visit to the music department and met with Dr. Bruce Ammann and Dr. James R. Johnson that I was completely sold! In a nutshell, they handed me a stack of Augie Band and Choir CDs and told me I wouldnʼt find a better music education anywhere else. It was evident immediately that I would be both challenged and nurtured at Augie.
Life at Augie
Q. Favorite class and why?
A. The Augustana Choir, probably no explanation needed. Augie Choir was music history, theory, conducting, and religion classes all rolled into one. For four years, I walked into Augie Choir every day feeling energized and excited, and left feeling musically and spiritually fulfilled.
Q. Favorite professor and why?
A. Tie between Dr. J and Dr. Monty Barnard. They taught me how to find my voice and how to communicate that gift with others. I refer to both of their teachings on a daily basis.
Q. Best Augie memory?
A. Singing in the Basilica of San Francesco dʼAssisi on the Augustana Choirʼs Italy tour in 2008. This packed performance was attended by the Cardinal Monsignor and many Franciscan brothers, and I was nervous to sing the soprano solo on René Clausenʼs “Veni.” Right before the text o lux beatissima, I felt this incredible feeling of strength, warmth, and musical guidance. I always knew what the text meant, but it was the first time I truly felt the grace of the Holy Spirit. It was the best performance I had given all tour and it felt so free and easy. After the concert, the Monsignor gifted each of the soloists with a crucifix blessed by Pope John Paul II.
Q. Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana – first job, grad school, travel, etc.?
A. I left Augustana with a plan to continue my education at The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance. At UMKC, I earned a Master of Music degree in Voice Performance. It was at UMKC that I found my place in the opera world! I consider my first mainstage debut to be Gretel in Hänsel und Gretel with Opera Omaha in 2011. Dr. Barnard even came down for the performance!
Q. Tell us about your career – whatʼs an average day like?
A. When I am not traveling for gigs and auditions, I teach voice lessons full time. I have about thirty students studying with me weekly, ages 12-adult. Not only does my “day job” give me a stable income, teaching students to sing is my passion. Since I am self-employed, it also gives me the flexibility to travel for performances. When I am at home teaching, I spend my mornings practicing piano, researching repertoire, writing, and practicing. Afternoons and evenings are back-to-back students eager to learn and grow!
Q. Greatest challenges and best rewards of your current role?
A. I am a mentor, teacher, confidant, and coach to 30 singers! It is a large task to handle but I finish my work day with energy and new ideas.
Q. Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?
A. Making music full time. I discovered pretty early that I wouldnʼt be happy doing anything else but keeping music the main focus in my career, so I had to make that happen for myself. I also sang and won the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, Nebraska District in 2010.
Q. Whatʼs next for you professionally?
A. I will be singing the soprano solo in the Brahms Requiem at The Lied Center in Lawrence, KS this spring. My first time performing this work was singing in the Augustana Choir in collaboration with the South Dakota Symphony, so this opportunity is bringing back some great musical memories. Another highlight will be singing Wanda in Offenbachʼs “The Grand Duchess of Gerolstein” with Wichita Grand Opera in October.
Q. If you could offer a prospective or existing Augie student some advice, what would you say?
A. Eat at Golden Bowl and Bagel Boy, but not too much. Turn off The Price is Right during chapel hour and actually GO to chapel once in a while.
Q. Tell us about your family.
A. I met my husband Alex Toepfer in grad school and we got married in 2012. He is the assistant director of bands at Washburn Rural High School in Topeka, KS, and is also a freelance saxophonist in the Topeka/Lawrence/Kansas City area. No kids, but we do have two cats.
Q. Whatʼs given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?
A. I walked into UMKC feeling equipped to handle whatever was thrown at me. My grad school colleagues were equally well prepared, but I felt experienced in every aspect of continuing my musical career. I nailed my first opera audition and was granted a lead role in my first semester as a grad student. It’s hard to determine, but I wouldn’t have had the amount of success that I did in the Conservatory if I hadn’t gone to Augie.
Q. A foundation for life at Augustana begins with our five core values – Christian Faith, Liberal Arts, Excellence, Community and Service. How did your time at Augustana help to ensure those values remain central in your life?
A. The core values have remained central in my life because the people I met at Augie that demonstrate those values are still influencing me today. That impact inspires me to lead, create, and better myself and my community here in Kansas. When I go home to Sioux Falls or chat on Facebook with a prof or an old friend, I feel that connection back to Augustana. We shared “God be with you till we meet again” in the receiving line at graduation, and we still share that today.