Rice Shepherd School’s Kellan Dunlap wins Presser Graduate Music Award for project raising awareness of school shootings

Kellan Dunlap.

Kellan Dunlap, a Rice University Shepherd School of Music graduate student studying vocal performance, is a recipient of the 2024 Presser Graduate Music Award for a musical project that will take listeners on a “thought-provoking musical journey that addresses the multifaceted dimensions of school shootings.”

Kellan Dunlap
Kellan Dunlap. Photo courtesy of Kellan Dunlap.

The Presser Graduate Music Award is presented annually to outstanding graduate music students from accredited colleges, universities and independent institutions of higher education. The program is designed to encourage and support the advanced education and career of exceptional graduate music students who have the potential to make a distinguished contribution to the field of music. The Presser Foundation has supported Rice’s Shepherd School students since 1999.

“We are honored that Kellen is joining the ranks of Shepherd School students who have received support from The Presser Foundation over the past 25 years, and extend our heartfelt gratitude to Presser for its immense generosity,” said Matthew Loden, dean of the Shepherd School of Music.

“I’m deeply honored to have been selected as a recipient of the 2024 Presser Graduate Music Award,” Dunlap said. “This award provides an opportunity to embark on an exciting artistic endeavor.”

Dunlap said his project was inspired by his undergraduate studies at Oakland University.

“I frequently visited high schools in the area as part of my music education training, including Oxford High School of Oxford, Michigan,” he wrote. “Tragically, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021, the school became the site of a mass shooting, resulting in the loss of four students’ lives and leaving seven students and a teacher injured.”

Dunlap said the shockwave from this devastating incident rippled through the close-knit community in suburban Detroit. And while he didn’t know any of the students who were injured or killed, he taught a number of students at the school and was inspired by their resilience and strength. In the midst of contemporary political unrest, he hopes his project will spark discussions and confront societal challenges through music.

As part of his project, Dunlap has commissioned Victor Cui, a Shepherd School doctoral composition student, to compose a set of songs for tenor voice and piano, focusing on the tragic topic of school shootings. Dunlap and his collaborative pianist, Lyndsi Maus, artist teacher of opera studies at the Shepherd School, will tour and present this work around the U.S. during the 2024-25 academic year.

“This project is not only a personal milestone but also a platform to raise awareness and engage audiences in a conversation about an issue that deeply affects our society,” Dunlap said.

Dunlap said he’s grateful to the faculty and staff at the Shepherd School for their support in his studies and throughout the selection process for this award.

“Their encouragement has been instrumental in my development, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to represent our school on this platform,” he said. “I look forward to sharing this powerful music with audiences and continuing to explore the transformative potential of art in addressing important social issues.”

More information on these awards is online at https://presserfoundation.org/graduate-music-award/.