December 18, 2013 — Coral Gables, FL — James R. “Russell” Young, a talented musician and former University of Miami instructor who instilled in students a passion for opera and left a musical legacy in South Florida, helping to establish a local ensemble that performed vocal chamber music throughout the United States, died on Sunday, December 8, in Marietta, Georgia, after a brief illness. He was 60.
Young, who earned a doctorate in accompanying and chamber music from UM’s Frost School of Music in 1990, served as adjunct assistant professor, program director and conductor of his alma mater’s Frost Opera Theater from 1989 to 2005.
“A powerful force in music and teaching” is how Thomas Sleeper, professor and director of Orchestral Activities at the Frost School, remembers Young.
A pianist, Young was an active vocal coach and conductor of opera and musical theatre, conducting more than 25 operas while at the University of Miami.
From 2005 to 2013 Dr. Young served as professor of Opera Theater and as vocal repertoire coach at Kennesaw State University in Georgia. He was also an official accompanist for the Regional Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in Atlanta.
While at UM Frost, Young often worked with many professors. He collaborated with Sleeper on the premiere of his one-act opera, Aceladama. “[Young’s] passion for music and positive can do attitude were infectious,” recalled Sleeper. “His production and subsequent world premiere recording of Paulo e Francesca by Luigi Mancinelli brought the UM Opera program international distinction.”
Associate professor and chair of UM Frost’s Department of Vocal Performance, Esther Jane Hardenbergh attests to his lasting effect on the opera program. “His direction saw the opera program venture into new areas of repertoire and excellence in performance,” Hardenbergh remarks. “Dr. Young was a consummate musician and outstanding teacher. He worked tirelessly and his knowledge of languages, musical and vocal styles enriched and enhanced all of the student's lives.”
Young was also a vocal coach at the University of Miami in Salzburg summer vocal program. He was also on the coaching staff of the American Institute of Musical Studies program in Graz, Austria, Taos Opera Institute, Texas Music Festival’s le Chiavi di bel Canto Young Artist Program, to name a few. He conducted productions of Donizetti's L’elisir d’amore and Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus for Amarillo Opera, and Don Giovanni for University of Houston’s Moores Opera Center.
J. Russell Young’s former students include 2009 Frost Distinguished alumna, soprano Sandra Lopez, B.M. ’96 who regularly performs with the Metropolitan Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Oper de Oviedo and other notable companies, and 2013 Frost Distinguished Alumna Elizabeth Caballero, B.M. ’99, who performs with Metropolitan Opera, Seattle Opera, New York City, Florida Grand Opera and more. Caballero posted on Facebook, “Dr. Young was one of my professors at the University of Miami in charge of the opera program which I LOVED so much. I remember him so fondly.”
Another former student Nicholas Perna, B.M. ’03, D.M.A. ’08, now assistant professor at West Virginia University recalls by email, “As singers, we are often asked, ‘Why did you become an opera singer?’ Russell Young taught me to love opera. He also taught me to love people, to love family, and in many ways taught me to be a father. He was my mentor, my friend, and the epitome of a teaching artist. I simply cannot believe that we will never sit together again and listen to rare live recordings of operas.”
Former student Lloyd Reshard, Jr, B.M. ’06, remembers Young’s training directly influenced him to continue operatic performance and recitals. “His work, diligence and kindness left such an impression upon all of us under his tutelage,” and adds, “His legacy will live on in all he has taught and mentored and he will be deeply missed.”
Dr. Young also left a wonderful musical legacy to the Miami community. With his wife and former Frost vocal faculty member, soprano Jana Young, along with Margaret Donaghue, professor of clarinet at UM Frost School of Music, Russell Young co-founded the Miami Chamber ensemble, a group committed to the performance of vocal chamber music that performed throughout the United States. He also served as pianist, organist and choir director of University Baptist Church in Coral Gables, Florida for over 15 years where he also produced their annual Miami Christmas pageant.
James Russell Young was born on September 29, 1953 on a U.S. military base in Babenhausen, Germany. He is the son of Texas natives Curtis Young and Helen Cowsert Young. Dr. Young is survived by his wife, Jana Revels Young; son, Zachary Powell Young; daughter, Anna Rosalyn Young; and brother, Kenneth Field Young, of Simi Valley, California.
The School of Music at Kennesaw State University will hold a memorial service to celebrate the life of Dr. Young on Monday, January 6 at 4:00 p.m. in Morgan Hall of the Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center. The memorial service is open to the public. A memorial fund has been instated at Kennesaw State University to honor Dr. Young’s legacy.
In addition, there will be a memorial service held in Coral Gables, Florida on Saturday January 11 at 1 p.m. at Christ Journey Church in Coral Gables 624 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33134 / (305) 448-4425. It is open to the public and all are welcome to attend.
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