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2024 Yamaha "40 Under 40" educator Dr. Paulina Villarreal

Dr. Paulina Villarreal

Assistant Professor of Voice
University of Memphis, Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music
Memphis, Tennessee
Founder and Artistic Director, Cantos para el Mundo

Like most higher education institutions, the song repertoire curriculum at the University of Memphis focused on “standard” Western classical repertoire. When Dr. Paulina Villarreal joined the faculty in 2020 as Assistant Professor of Voice, she was given the opportunity to reimagine the special topics repertoire courses offered at the graduate level.

“I wanted to inspire students through repertoire and expose them to ‘gems’ that they’ve never heard of before, so I dedicated special topic courses to two distinct topics: 1) Entartete Musik (degenerate music)/songs by Jewish composers who were banned by the Third Reich and 2) Iberian and Latin American repertoire,” she says. “I am proud that today, every graduate vocal student has a few selections from underrepresented groups/composers in their performance repertoire!”

Villarreal is passionate about finding songs by Latin American composers who have never been recorded and create high-quality audio and video clips for future performers to explore. She has also presented at national conferences and shared her knowledge of this repertoire with other teachers and musicians. “I am currently in the process of recording a whole album by Mexican composer Maria Grever,” she says. The album’s publication will be preceded by a performer’s guide so that singers all around the world can have access to this composer’s music!”

The Nuevas canciones vocal competition began as a collaboration with Opera Memphis to introduce singers to song and operatic repertoire from Spain and Latin America. Competitors were asked to find and perform at least one selection in Spanish during the final round of the competition.

Another area that Villareal focuses on is trauma-informed pedagogy (TIP), which recognizes that teachers and students have past and present experiences that may negatively affect teaching and learning. “It’s vital to ensure the physical and emotional safety of every student,” she explains. “Some other ways I implement TIP in the studio is being mindful of power dynamics, and always presenting myself as empathetic, open and flexible. I also constantly remind students about on-campus resources, and lead by example by engaging in self-care.”

In 2017, Villarreal founded Cantos para el Mundo (songs for the world) to promote vocal arts of the highest caliber in the North of Mexico. The concert series is in its eighth year, and has represented artists from over 12 nationalities and promoted local talent through scholarships and vocal clinics.

“The University of Memphis Rudi E. Scheidt School of Music is one of the only places in the country that challenges students to become well-rounded musicians, instead of focusing solely on one musical genre,” Villarreal says. “The school of music offers scholarships to any talented and deserving student regardless of major. Our ensembles include finance, law, anthropology and biology majors, among others.”