“I love to teach, I love to sing, and I love to do karaoke,” says Brittany Benningfield, Transy’s interim director of choral activities. Born into a musical family in Hodgenville, Ky., Benningfield had already experienced a lifetime of singing gospel and country music when, at the age of 16, a guidance counselor encouraged her to attend the Governor’s School for the Arts.
At GSA, her exposure to classical music and technique opened her voice and artistic sensibility; her introduction to a variety of people and talents expanded her understanding of the world. She’s been a cultural ambassador ever since—often speaking up for art forms and individuals to those who haven’t had the same opportunities to grow.
Her sense of curiosity and openness has led to interesting areas of research and exploration. As part of her D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) work at the University of Kentucky, Benningfield has been singing and writing a performance guide to the 22 songs that composer John Jacob Niles set to the poetry of Thomas Merton. She’s had the good fortune of learning from Jacqueline Roberts, the soprano who worked with Niles during the composition of the songs. Roberts happens to live only a few blocks from Transy. “These kinds of things just fall in my lap,” Benningfield says.
But it’s more likely her welcoming approach and interest as a teacher. When friends who were transgender asked her to give them voice lessons, she gladly accepted, but quickly found no pedagogical literature to guide her through the new challenges. Her plan, once she finishes her DMA, is to complement her trans voice teaching with additional research and then share the results of her work.
At Transylvania, she relishes the camaraderie in choral work and the fact that so many of her students aren’t music majors. She enjoys watching their self-confidence grow. “Their path is academic—pre-med, neuro, whatever they choose,” she says. “But what I teach them is that with a good technical and classical foundation, you can sing anything you want and sing it well.” For Benningfield, a thriving choral director, D.M.A. candidate, private teacher, UK Opera and community theater performer and karaoke singer, it’s the pure love of singing that brings it all together.