The Muses combines talent, kindness
The Muses Creative Artistry Project is celebrating 10 years in Hot Springs this year and continues each year to thrive and expand. According to The Muses website, the project is a regional performing arts touring company that employs professional artists, musicians, and teachers from within the state and across the country to create diverse performance opportunities and presentations in all genres of highest quality artistic collaboration including instrumental and vocal music, fine art, literature, poetry, drama and dance.
Deleen Davidson, The Muses’ founder, general director and artistic director, is a classically trained soprano who relocated to Hot Springs from New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina took everything from her. Toni Spears, The Muses’ company manager and head of its Educational Outreach and Healing Arts Chapter, followed after “taking the long way around,” she said, relocating first from New Orleans to California in 2005, then to Hot Springs in 2009.
“Deleen and I are dear friends,” Toni said. “We go back — I could lie — we go back over 20 years.”
The Muses was born from a vision that began for Deleen in New Orleans, and Toni helps to execute that vision.
“We didn’t know what it was going to eventually be but the seeds of the ideas began to germinate even in New Orleans, before Hurricane Katrina changed all that. We each lost everything, so we knew it was time to relocate,” Toni said.
The Muses consists of three components: the performing arts, the creative arts, and the healing arts.
Toni said the troupe believes that “art heals” and she presents quarterly seminars on whole and holistic healing and well-being. She is also a certified life coach.
“I get to work with some of the performers. We get performers from all over the country. Life has its challenges. One of the reasons they like coming here to Hot Springs is because of its charm and its quaintness, and the people are good and kind. And we take very good care of our performers,” she said. “We give them this great platform. We also draw people who are not only talented, but kind and nice. That’s one of the things we require.”
One of The Muses’ mottos is “be nice or leave,” she said, adding, “because you can get talent but to have that combination of kindness and talent is extraordinary.”
One of The Muses’ regional performers, Ruth’e Korelitz, is a classically trained vocalist with a repertoire that spans from opera to jazz, performing with various opera and theater companies from Mississippi to California. Locally, Ruth’e is a soloist for area churches and private venues. She is also a founding member of the Hot Springs Village vocal ensemble Voices Rising.
Ruth’e came to The Muses in 2009 after meeting Deleen by accident at a Hot Springs Music Festival after-party.
“I was looking for live classical music because that’s one of the things that’s not easy to find in the Hot Springs area. Deleen invited me to come and sing with her church and I said yes, and it sort of got me back into the arts again, which I had missed so sorely. I had left kind of a bad situation where I was, I was going through a divorce and I had lost some people who were very close to me all at the same time. I was kind of looking for something to comfort my soul and that’s when these ladies showed up in my life.”
The project also mentors its performers through its Young Artist Program. Toni describes it as a “layered mentoring process.”
“You’ve got the high level, highly trained professional artists, you’ve got regional performers, and you’ve got recent college graduates who are teaching and maybe not performing but still want to keep their chops. Then, you’ve got college music students and you’ve got high school. What we’ve seen is the professionals end up mentoring directly the other professionals, the other professionals mentor the college, the college mentor the high school.
“When the high school students see these professionals still practicing, working, preparing to get on stage, it’s not like, ‘Oh, I’ve got this, I don’t need to practice’ — they are running lines, they are singing, so it informs them on another level. What we know is that the skills that they acquire are transferable. It doesn’t mean you have to become a singer or performer, but what it does is it connects to that part of us that want excellence. Not perfection, but excellence, so you can bring that to any walk of life. That’s basically the bottom line,” Toni said.
The Muses Young Artist Program also allows college or graduate aged music students to perform alongside professional performers from other areas.
“We usually have about six to 10 college-age students that audition for me throughout the year. They’re already in their music degree, they’re already practicing their craft, but they join us in first the ensemble and then, as their talent increases, as they get more experience onstage, then we give them small roles and eventually step them up into larger roles,” Deleen said.
“The advantage to a college student of having a platform to practice their craft is so different than the experience that they’ve had in the university setting, no matter how excellent their school training is. They need that interim position to step out, do it in front of an audience, work with skilled professionals that they can model. So it’s a mentoring program. They stay with us as long as they can until they go to their next level,” she added.
Deleen said they have students that have gone through the Young Artist Program and went on to perform in bigger cities such as Chicago and New Orleans.
“It’s real world experience that they could not get anywhere else,” Toni added.
In addition, the students are taught entrepreneurship, the business side of a creative profession, how to self market, how to promote, and “how to know that it’s not a regular 9-5 bank teller job,” Deleen said.
“You have to constantly be responsible for your own career; you are your own manager. Teaching them that, showing them that, giving them the tools to do it, helping with their resumes, helping them with their recommendations, getting that practical side of it in there, it all makes it much more likely that they’re not going to bail on an artistic life and go sell insurance,” she added.
The project also works to mentor teachers who aren’t necessarily looking for a career in performing arts, but are teaching students who are.
“We give them that platform. They nourish their own talent and they’re able to not only spot talent in their students but they’re able to use some of the techniques and the skills that they’ve learned through The Muses Project and mentoring and developing their students,” Toni said. “It’s seeing the evidence of a whole other generation benefiting from their experience.”
When asked where she sees The Muses in 10 years, Deleen said, “I know we’ll still be dedicated to the same mission of the classical arts.”
She said she expects the Young Artist Program to have expanded to include college students from around the state, not just Little Rock and Arkadelphia. She also said that because of a growing need for live performance in smaller communities, she expects the troupe to do a lot more touring in the future and bring the philosophy of The Muses and the philosophy of excellence and inspiration to a broader geographic region.
The Muses’ seasonal subscription series consist of its Celtic Spring concerts during springtime, its Broadway concerts during summertime, its Opera concerts during fall, and its upcoming Voices of Angels concerts during Christmastime.
This year, The Muses will present its 12th annual Voices of Angels sacred Christmas concert tour, performing five shows in Hot Springs, Hot Springs Village, and El Dorado. Tickets are $35 and show dates are set for Dec. 6-10. Visit http://www.themusesproject.org or call 501-609-9811 for information.
The 2016 cast of The Muses perform during the opening number of the Broadway Cabaret at the Hot Springs Cultural Center.