Music always was a passion Payton Tanner shared with her father.

Payton Tanner
Payton Tanner

Rusty Tanner taught Payton to appreciate older country music, 1970s rock n’ roll and other genres of music. Their musical bond carried over to church, where they would sing old hymns together and harmonize.

Payton’s bond with music expanded to opera, which allowed her to showcase her vocal range as a sopranista and to experience the thrill of performing. She planned on pursuing a career in opera, but her path changed on Easter 2020 when her father suffered a massive stroke.

“The only thing that distracted him from his pain and would help him to fall asleep was when I would sing his favorite songs or hymns to him,” said Payton, who cared for her father after the stroke left him paralyzed and bedridden.

Caring for Rusty motivated Payton to blend her desire to help others with her love for music and study music therapy at Mississippi University for Women. Even though Rusty died in September 2020, Payton continues to nurture her love for opera and to use music to help others.

Last month, Payton advanced to the finals at the National Association for Teachers of Singing (NATS) National Student Auditions in Chicago, where she won Honorable Mention.

“I was so happy and entirely grateful to be a finalist out of 13,000 people,” said Payton, who said she had a cold when she competed in the semifinals and finals. “This whole experience gave me confidence I can still pursue opera while being a music therapist. My hope in the future is to work as a music therapist while also pursuing a career in opera! I hope to one day do both because who says I can’t?”

Payton sang a repertoire of four classical vocal selections for the preliminary and semifinal rounds: “Give Me Jesus” arranged by Moses Hogan; “Der Pokal” by Richard Strauss; “O, quand je dors” by Franz Liszt; and “Donde Lieta” from La Boheme by Giacomo Antonio Puccini. In the finals, Payton performed “Donde Lieta.”

Payton, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, will complete her Music Therapy Equivalency at The W in December and is working as an intern at Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) Hospice in Vero Beach, Florida, through the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) National Roster of Internship Programs, which is a systematically organized reference designed to assist music therapy students in selecting and acquiring appropriate internships after university education.

“We are all very proud of Payton’s achievement and are excited to see where her career takes her next,” said Dr. Julia Mortyakova, chair of The W’s Music Department.

Dr. Susan Hurley, an assistant professor of voice at The W, praised Payton for being the first-place winner in her category at last November’s Regional Student Auditions (a competition for singers in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi) that made her eligible to submit a video audition for the National Student Auditions (NSA). She said it didn’t surprise her that Payton advanced to the semifinals and the finals because she has a combination of natural ability, strong training, high motivation and cheerful work ethic.

“Payton is an extremely talented and upcoming young singer,” said Hurley, who worked with Payton in the vocal studio and in an Opera Workshop class, where Payton was a featured soloist. “During our time together, I saw her grow tremendously as an interpreter on the lyric stage.

“I think Payton has a wonderful future in music whether that be in performance or music therapy or some combination of the two.”

Payton thanked Dr. Hurley for her “amazing” coaching and inspiring her to pursue what she loves to do most and supporting her in music therapy. She also said she will continue to draw upon the love of music she nurtured with her father even when he was in hospice. Payton said she would practice piano in his room and he would clap whenever she played the song right.

“He was supportive and came to all of my singing events growing up and allowed me to pursue music in the first place,” Payton said. “I know he would be very proud.”

Aug. 8, 2022
Contact: Adam Minichino
(662) 329-1976

About The W

Located in historic Columbus, Mississippi, The W was founded in 1884 as the first state-supported college for women in the United States. Today, the university is home to 2,227 students in more than 70 majors and concentrations and has educated men for 40 years. The university is nationally recognized for low student debt, diversity and social mobility which empowers students to BE BOLD.

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