Growing up in a family of engineers, Marjorie Owens chose sliding scales over slide rules. Her older sister and younger brother are studying engineering, their father's career, but for Owens, music always was her first love.
From elementary school on, she sang in choirs and performed in musicals. It was in high school, at the Governor's School for the Arts in Norfolk, Va., that her musical interests turned to opera.
"I didn't want to do opera," Owens recalls. "I wasn't really thrilled with it."
Most ninth graders probably aren't. She says it wasn't until she did a school report on Maria Callas, one of opera's most accomplished vocalists, that Owens was "bitten by the opera bug."
In her high school's disciplined program, she began training and shaping her voice for the rigorous demands of opera. In her senior year, Dr. John Van Cura, Baylor professor of vocal studies, visited the Governor's School as a master teacher. Recognizing her talent and potential, he encouraged her to attend Baylor.
"The size and quality of Marjorie's voice is equal only to her work ethic," Dr. Van Cura says. Under Dr. Van Cura's tutelage at Baylor, Owens, who graduated in May with a bachelor of music in vocal performance, expanded her vocal range and strengthened her technique. Her dedication has earned her several awards, including first place in the National Association of Teachers of Singing competition for the Texoma region, which includes Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
To top off her senior year, Owens planned to audition for the Metropolitan Opera. After all, singing with that famed company is what all aspiring opera singers dream of, and Owens was no different. But a funny thing happened on the way to that audition. A friend of Owens' was auditioning for the Houston Grand Opera and convinced her to come along. She did, and that decision -- like the one to come to Baylor and train with Dr. Van Cura -- took her in an unexpected direction.
She advanced to the semifinals and then spent a "grueling hour" waiting by the phone before learning she had advanced to the finals. Of the 2,000 applicants who auditioned, she placed second, the only student from Texas, the only undergraduate and the only applicant under 25 to advance.
"I was actually very shocked," she says. "I didn't think I would place because I was up against some pretty fierce sopranos who were older than I was."
Owens had been told it could be three to five months before she would learn whether she'd be invited to join the Houston Grand Opera's young artists' studio, so she planned to go ahead and audition for the Metropolitan Opera.
The Met audition never happened. Nor did she have to wait five months to hear from Houston. In fact, she hadn't even returned to Waco when Diane Zola, Houston Grand Opera studio director, called and extended the invitation. Owens will join the company in September.
"It's an absolutely incredible thing," Dr. Van Cura says. "But Marjorie, she's so humble. To her, doing all this didn't register any more than someone who would have done well on an exam.
"Marjorie's got everything going for her. She's on a fast track to a major career."
Thacker is a graduate student in journalism and an intern in the Office of Public Relations.