Traveling to London has always been an inspiring experience for JoAna Rusche. The first time she visited was as an 11-year-old singer in the Capital City Girls Choir (CCGC). That year, CCGC performed in the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral during an international music festival.

Fast forward about 10 years. JoAna was a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, returning to London for a study abroad program at the Royal Academy of Music. She was swept away by the memories of her remarkable journey with CCGC. 

“During that time, I was just reunited with my love for voice and for singing,” JoAna reminisces. “There were just so many memories. I was a part of choir in college, as well, and that’s what I looked forward to. That’s what I always enjoyed was vocal music, singing with an ensemble, making music with other singers.”

Though piano had been her first love and the focus of her college studies, JoAna returned to Chapel Hill, NC, eager to pursue a vocal music career.

“Piano was a good tool and a good resource. It is something that I’m glad I learned to do. But it wasn’t something I enjoyed to the same capacity as choir. I really do wonder if it’s all those beautiful memories with CCGC that led me after all that time back to singing pretty exclusively.”

After completing a Doctor of Music Arts at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and performing with opera companies across the nation, JoAna turned to music education. She is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Arkansas, teaching a wide range of classes in addition to private voice lessons. Her courses include diction, vocal pedagogy, song li

terature and the Alexander Technique, which she describes as “an approach to mindfulness and movement.” She continues to enjoy performance opportunities, including her most recent role as Carmen with opera company Music On Site.

JoAna is also the music director at her Episcopal church. “This is a newer role for me, but again, it kind of feels like home because of my experiences I’ve had with CCGC.”

Although the demands of a career in music have called her at times to question her path, she says “that love of music is so strong, that it’s always led me to the next thing and helped me through difficult times. Even through the pandemic I feel like I was able to remain pretty optimistic because I did have that creative outlet of music.” 

Dr. Fran Page, founder and director of CCGC, led a rigorous and rewarding program dedicated to building young singers’ music and life skills. “There was definitely an expectation that we showed up on time, and that we learned our music outside of rehearsals and really were prepared,” JoAna explains.

“CCGC prepared me for the career in music that I have today,” she adds. “I learned a lot of musicianship skills such as sight reading, singing in tune and improving my vocal technique. I had all sorts of performance opportunities.”

Aside from developing her musical craft, JoAna says that choir instilled a deep sense of teamwork. “In an ensemble, you really have to learn how to listen louder than you sing. You have to really be aware of the people around you, to be aware of what the conductor is asking you to do. So, you learn very quickly to work together as a team, like a team sport, only with music.”

JoAna shares that it was important for her to see a woman like Dr. Page in a leadership role. “I learned how to not only demand excellence from an ensemble, but how to help that ensemble achieve that excellence.”

“When I was a high school student in the choir, I was able to lead some sectional rehearsals and even accompany some rehearsals, since back in the day I was going to be a concert pianist. I was so grateful to Dr. Page for giving me an opportunity to use those skills and to be able to lead.”

JoAna now dedicates most of her time to leading voices to a strong, beautiful sound, a lot like Dr. Page, who had a very high standard of excellence. ​​”She taught me how to help students reach their full potential. I’m so grateful to Dr. Page; it’s not easy to try to literally corral that many young, talkative girls to make beautiful music together and get us all to focus!”

“In order for students to achieve a goal, the teacher has to be very clear as to what that goal is,” JoAna says. “And that’s definitely what I experienced in CCGC. Dr. Page was such a strong musician herself, in that she was able to give us the tools we needed in order to get there. You want to see [your students] go out into the world and do great things. But you also know they’re not going to get there unless you challenge them in some way and provide good solid musicianship tools so they feel they can do it without getting too discouraged.”

It may be difficult for young people to see the tremendous rewards that come from challenging themselves. But JoAna offers wise encouragement: “The experiences you have early on in life make you who you are and have a huge impact on the rest of your life. So even if you choose not to have a career in music, the skills you develop will help you no matter what you decide to do.”

This is her philosophy, JoAna says. “Even if someone isn’t going to have a career in music like I did, there are still so many wonderful experiences to be had and memories to be made that will shape the rest of your life, whether you’re aware of it or not.”