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UCLA

Campus Wunderkind

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By Mary Daily

Published Jun 11, 2013 3:59 PM


This phenomenal young opera singer was discovered at UCLA, where his mom is a faculty in residence.

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Art history professor Charlene VillaseƱor Black wasn't sure she and her son Joseph Green should live with the students on The Hill. But Joseph (Joe) loved the idea and lobbied for it. So, in 2010, when he was 11, his mom joined the Faculty in Residence program, and they moved into an apartment in Sproul Hall. (An Early Taste of Dorm Life) The result has been phenomenal.

Joe, who was a student at Crossroads School in Santa Monica, took to campus life right away. He loved eating in the dorms, attending events, playing video games in Ackerman and getting to know the "cool" undergraduates. They apparently liked him, too. In spring 2011, students invited him to audition for their production of Seussical. He did very well and was cast in the lead, where he would sing 11 songs, including two solos.

"I was in a panic," Black says. "He'd had no voice training and didn't read music." Black, who majored in music as an undergraduate, had deliberately not steered her son toward music. Nonetheless, Joe's performance on opening night drew a standing ovation. "It was shocking," Black recalls. When the show's run was over, the director, Shen Heckel '12, told Black the boy should take voice training.

Meanwhile, Black had a friend whose child was part of the National Children's Chorus, so she had Joe audition there. The artistic director was clearly impressed and admitted Joe to one of his top groups, the Premier Ensemble. But he said Joe was using only 20 percent of his voice. He recommended his associate director as a private voice coach and Joe began studying with her.

Hear Joe's amazing voice

This year, the budding young virtuoso wanted to apply to Interlochen Summer Arts Camp in Michigan, so he made an audition video. The camp not only admitted him but also offered him scholarships for merit and voice.

Black thought there might be a wider use for the video and sent it to Peter Kazaras, the head of the opera program in UCLA's Alpert School of Music. He forwarded it to the voice faculty and the L.A. Opera. On a Sunday, out of the blue, Black got an email from Vladimir Chernov, professor of voice studies and renowned Russian baritone who has performed with the likes of Placido Domingo. "Could you kindly give me a call," he wrote, "and we will talk about your very talented Son Joe?" He gave her his home phone number. Four days later, Joe had a lesson with him. Chernov, an international opera star, says he's never before heard a voice like Joe's coming from such a young person.

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Joe Green studies composition with Professor Ian Krouse on the chalkboard used in the 1940s by Arnold Schoenberg, the composer for whom Schoenberg Hall is named.

But Chernov's not the only faculty member who took note. When Professor Ian Krouse, chair of the composition program, taught workshops to the National Children's Chorus last spring, Joe began writing music. This year, Krouse invited him to study privately with him. Joe is now finishing his first composition, written for a four-part choir with interchangeable piano and organ, drums and possibly trumpet. "I'm looking for a choir to perform it," he says.

After Interlochen this summer, Joe will head to the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts in the fall, where he's one of seven boys admitted to the voice program this year. But he's got his sights aimed far ahead, with a two-and-a-half-page list of what he hopes to accomplish in his lifetime. "I want to become one of the most famous opera singers of the 2000's, I want to sing on every continent, I want to compose music and I want to have private students." Those who know seem to think it's all possible.

"It's been a heck of a ride so far," he says. "I can't wait for the rest of it."

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