The U Creates, Arts, Humanities The U Creates, Arts, Humanities
At the University of Miami, students from all facets of the arts and humanities are continually leading the charge in South Florida’s growing community. In a new “Spotlight” series, meet the creatives, thinkers, and dreamers behind The U Creates and find out what drives their innovative inspirations.

Spring 2021

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  • Thandolwethu Mamba

    MambaTell us about yourself.

    My name is Thandolwethu Mamba, but a lot of people know me as Thando for short. I’m from a small, southern African country called Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland). I’m a first-year, master’s-degree student majoring in vocal performance and expected to graduate in May 2022. My diverse passions include music, youth education, public health, and biochemical research—as well as my nappy hair and love for joy and languages.

    What inspired you to pursue music, particularly opera?

    I’ve always loved music; listening to it, singing—you name it. However, my initial exposure to organized music didn’t come until I joined the choir in my high school back home. That’s when my love for classical music and, later, opera developed. When I saw my first opera (Verdi’s “Il Trovatore”) in 2015 while I was studying in Armenia, I was drawn into the spectacle of it all. My decision to pursue a career in the arts took all four years of my undergraduate education as I was slowly allowing myself to embrace my passion for music at a level that I previously never thought feasible. My dream of becoming a doctor never got extinguished, it just got outshined by a stronger desire to live my life as an artist. Singing gives me a joy that is not only strongly visceral but also stemming from the level of intellectual stimulation that comes with being a creative artist. Even more importantly, I still get to be the conduit of joy and healing that attracted me to being a doctor.

    What drives your creative spirit?

    Collaboration. I love working with and learning from others. I am inspired by my teachers, friends, directors, and other performers. I always try to surround myself with people with a strong creative spirit, whether it is founding a start-up company, arts curation, singing, engineering, etc. I try to see the creativity that is all around us, including the creativity that usually goes unnoticed.

    How have you stayed inspired during the pandemic? What is something you are working on this year that you would like to share?

    Having moved to Miami for grad school during the pandemic, I’ve been lucky enough to move into a house with three other very talented musicians and Frost students. Their artistry and the care with which they approach their craft inspires me a lot, and I’ve been learning a lot just from observing them and learning from their many years of training that I didn’t get to have. This is also the first year in my life where everything in my schedule has been about music. So, that alone has been exciting, challenging, and inspiring. This year I’ve just been working with my teacher to develop and keep improving my technique and build a strong repertoire.

    What are your proudest achievements?

    Hmm … I’m a very grateful person so that’s a tough one. If I have to pick, I’d say graduating from Duke University with highest distinction, winning the Louis Sudler Prize in May 2020, winning the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra Rising Stars Competition and the Benton Schmidt Competition, and my debut opera role as Gianni Schicchi in Italy (2020). I also have to mention being the second-best student in my country as I finished high school, simply because it made my grandmother so proud and sort of kick-started the series of events that has seen me traveling across the world to end up where I am today.

    What are your future goals and how do you hope Frost can help you achieve them?

    My future goals are to be active in the arts world as a professional opera and recital singer and sing in as many parts of the world as I can. I love seeing new places. So, if I can do that while doing what I love and spreading joy and healing, then I’ll consider myself extremely lucky. I also would love to contribute to arts education in my home country as well as help shape the growth of the arts and theater industry. Frost can help me achieve these dreams by continuing to provide me with a world-class education, opportunities to network with some of the world’s best musicians and arts enthusiasts, and opportunities to gain quality performance experience on and off campus.

  • Jasmine Ortiz


    Jasmine OrtizTell me about yourself.

    My time here at the U has been filled with a wide array of student orgs, incredible friendships, and even business endeavors. I am also a member of the Miami Model United Nations team’s executive board as outreach chair, and the remote student senator for Student Government. I was really drawn to start my college career here, because of the incredible school spirit and sense of community that I witnessed as a senior in high school, visiting for the first time on my audition day.

    I am a Latina of Puerto Rican, Salvadoran, and Spanish heritage, so being in a city like Miami only helped me connect more with my cultural identities as well. As a member of the senior class of 2022, our ride hasn’t been the easiest with the scare of Hurricane Dorian and a pandemic cutting our sophomore year short. But I am truly grateful to have been able to persevere with other members of my class and the classes above us to make our college experience truly unforgettable.

    I am passionate about songwriting, music production, performance, and recording in addition to public policy development, environmental sustainability, and the nonprofit sector. I hope to one day allow my career aspirations to overlap and use my platform as an artist to advocate for social causes I care deeply about.

    What inspired you to pursue music?

    I have always had an interest in music from a very young age. At 2, my parents tell me I was singing little melodies I made up. And at 3, I started taking piano lessons after begging my mom for months to let me. I picked up the guitar when I was 9, and pretty much got all the basics of my musicality during childhood. Since then, I solidified my career aspirations by going to a performing arts high school for jazz guitar and classical piano, and now I am pursuing a higher education in popular music.

    What drives your creative spirit?

    I would say that the main things to drive my creativity are having fun or intense life experiences. When I’m at my highest or lowest points, I create. If I’m anywhere in between, I find myself trying to use past experiences as inspiration. However, I could tell that I was growing as a writer this past year, because I finally felt that I no longer needed a recent firsthand experience or emotionally charged moment to write an emotionally impactful song. I find that the more and more I focus my energy on learning what makes a song good, the less energy I have to spend on searching for subject material—it’ll just come to me.

    How do you stay inspired during the pandemic? What is somehing you are working on this year that you would like to share?

    I would say that the first four to five months were the hardest, after such an abrupt and jarring stop to normal life and my sophomore year of college, it felt impossible to ground myself. Once we collectively got more used to the situation and learned ways to live with it and carry on with our lives safely, it became more manageable to cope with. At that point, after taking a decent break from creating, I was able to pour my heart into the new music I made over the summer and in the past few months. I have grown so much as a producer in the past year as well, learning the ins and outs of logic and starting to develop my own unique sound as an artist. I am currently preparing for my next release, “Jaguar,” which is set to be out sometime in April, and follows after my latest release “Cherry on Top” produced by TrackDilla.

    What are your proudest achievements?

    I think one of my proudest achievements is getting to come to this school and earning the Presidential Scholarship from Frost in the process. It was a surreal feeling, getting into not only my dream college but to also be awarded with that kind of accolade. Another really surreal moment for me was realizing that I had reached over a million views each on my past two music videos—"Cherry on Top” and “Trick or Treat”—in under a month for both. It was kind of crazy to think that so many people were watching my videos and engaging with my music in a way that was real and tangible.

    Who do you look up to, or are inspired by the most?

    One of my greatest inspirations is definitely Leonardo DiCaprio because of how he’s utilized his platform as a successful actor to create the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation dedicated to addressing the issue of climate change. He has gotten to speak at the United Nations about sustainability and the work he does with his foundation to combat these issues. Not only is he incredibly talented in every artistic endeavor he pursues, but he also utilizes his achievements for a greater purpose.

    What are your future goals and how do you hope Frost can help you achieve them?

    This past semester—the fall of 2020—I was remote and living in Los Angeles working nonstop on music for my next projects. I was developing as a producer and songwriter with the help of some of my industry mentors, CesarDaEmperor and TrackDilla, two incredibly talented producers. I can say wholeheartedly that I would not have been prepared for that experience without the knowledge and skill sets I have been able to grow through my time at Frost. I have developed so much as a songwriter and producer because of the courses and professors I have gotten to experience; so, I think that my time here has already had an incredible impact. Some of my future goals include working full time as a recording artist and being able to tour to perform my music. I also want to keep working as a songwriter and producer both for myself and for other artists. Long term, I see myself engaging heavily in advocacy work and potentially considering a future in law school.

  • David Cote

    David CoteTell us about yourself: your background, major, graduation year, and interests?

    My name is David Cote, and I am a senior majoring in music therapy with a minor in psychology. I am from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and though I still can hardly believe it, I will be graduating this spring in 2021! Music has been a constant throughout my life. Starting when I was very young, I have always been strongly affected by music. As a baby, I am told that I was extremely picky about what music I wanted to hear, throwing tantrums whenever something other than my favorite artist was being played. Fortunately, I grew out of that habit and enjoy listening to all kinds of genres and expanding my tastes.

    I would not be where I am now without the support of my family and some amazing musical mentors. One of my fondest early musical memories was making a lyric book with my dad (though he did most of the work) for my favorite songs by The Beatles and singing them in the car with my grandma. Though I had always enjoyed listening to music, it was receiving the Guitar Hero video game as a gift that sparked my passion for learning instruments. I rocked through the ranks of the game and soon needed a new challenge. So, my parents signed me up for electric guitar lessons, and I started playing trombone in middle school band. Guitar and trombone are still my primary instruments, but I have fun learning other instruments too like the euphonium, bass, ukulele, and I sing in the Frost Symphonic Choir as well. 

    What inspired you to study music therapy and psychology?

    It was the summer before my junior year of high school when I first heard about music therapy. I remember the conversation distinctly. Marching band camp was about to start; my co-drum majors and I were having dinner with the band directors at a local pizza place, discussing the upcoming season as well as our personal plans for the future. At this point, I had no set plans but was thinking about pursuing biology or psychology. The main problem was that I could not see myself working behind a desk or in a lab. I expressed to my band directors: “I wish every class was band!” One of them suggested looking into music therapy, where I could combine my interests in science and psychology while continuing with music. I did some research about music therapy, and the more I read and watched, the more I was drawn to learn more. Using evidence-based musical interventions to help people physically, cognitively, emotionally, spiritually, and musically was (and is) so compelling to me. I have always been fascinated by human psychology and behavior, especially thoughts and emotions, and being able to incorporate music seemed too good to be true. I looked for schools with music therapy and found the University of Miami. I fell in love with the school; and from that point on, I made it my goal to attend the University of Miami and study music therapy.

    Now, a little more than five years later, I have almost reached the end of that goal. I have loved every day of this degree program, and not once have I doubted that music therapy is the right path for me. Of course, I have been challenged and stretched, I have struggled and been frustrated along the way, but each step I take reaffirms my commitment to becoming a music therapist.

    How do you stay inspired during the pandemic? What projects are you working on now? I see that you are part of a community arts program. Tell me about that. 

    Staying inspired during the pandemic has been tough at times. Thankfully, several opportunities kept me interacting with others and involved music and music therapy. Before the pandemic I worked at Community Arts Program (CAP) as a music theory teaching assistant for students from 6 to 15 years old. Once the quarantine started, CAP transitioned to online instruction and now I teach guitar lessons and do individual music theory tutoring sessions. This has really helped me stay engaged with music and learn to teach online lessons—a very different experience. In addition to CAP, I also started volunteering with the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) by leading online music sessions for teenagers with autism. I have continued leading these CARD music sessions virtually for almost a year now, and recently did my first in-person, masked, socially distanced session.

    What other interests do you have and why do you enjoy them?

    Since my later years in high school, I have been really interested in mental health, spirituality, mindfulness, and general self-improvement. I have also taken up learning Japanese (spurred by my fondness for anime). I started meditating four years ago and since then have attended two 10-day, silent Vipassana meditation courses. My meditation practice has changed my life in many significant ways. I would recommend to anyone who has ever considered trying to meditate to give it a try. Start small, be patient, and be kind to yourself. The rewards are bountiful. I would consider myself a fairly “internal” person. I am pretty quiet and introverted, and I like activities such as meditation where I can learn to simply be with myself and live mindfully in every moment. Another practice I started last year is the Chinese mind-body-spirit exercise called Qigong. Similar to meditation, Qigong is all about awareness of the mind and body but focuses more on cultivating life energy (Qi) through holding or moving through certain postures. Both practices have been incredibly beneficial to my overall well-being, especially during a pandemic, helping me be more aware of, and comfortable in, my own mind and body. 

    What goals do you have once you graduate and how do you think Frost will help you achieve them?

    Following the completion of my coursework, I look forward to my clinical music therapy internship at Creative Arts Therapies of the Palm Beaches, passing the board certification exam, and becoming David Cote, MT-BC (music therapist board-certified)!

    This July I start my six-month clinical internship, where I will transition from facilitating one hour per week in my music therapy practicum (part of my coursework) to having my own full-time caseload of clients by the end of the internship. I see myself working with children with special needs in the future, but I am open to any opportunities that come my way and expanding my clinical skills so I can work with any population. My time at UM and the Frost School of Music has pushed me to grow as a musician, clinician, teacher, and person in countless ways. I am so grateful to have had such wonderful experiences because of the music therapy program and the connections I have made with faculty members and other students. The Frost music therapy department is exceptional, and I am confident that I can turn to my peers and teachers for support in the future.




  • Madeline Harts


    Tell us about yourself: Your background, major, graduation year, and interests.

    My name is Madeline Harts, and I am a soprano and voice instructor originally from Buffalo, New York. I am a third-year doctoral candidate in the Doctor of Musical Arts in Vocal Pedagogy and Performance program at the Frost School of Music. I expect to graduate from the University of Miami this spring, May 2021.

    What inspired you to pursue music?

    I do not remember a time when music was not a part of my life. It has always been there as an outlet of joy or a form of support through difficult times. My parents gave me the gift of music when I was a child in the form of piano lessons, musical movies playing repeatedly on the box TV, and singing in the backyard. The more I was exposed to music, the more I loved it. And my favorite times were sitting at the piano, playing and singing for the family. Making music, singing or playing notes that were once only dots on a page, made me feel like I was breathing life into the world. These experiences engrained themselves in me and, more than that, made me want to share this gift with others through performance and education. It led me on a vocal performance and education career path, and I never looked back.

    What drives your creative spirit?

    My creativity is driven by expression and sharing. It has always been this way, oddly enough. Just like music was a constant, so too was the desire to encourage and help others experience that same exhilaration of the arts. In this way, I knew that I also wanted to teach. There is nothing that gives me more joy than to watch students find success and discover their voices for the first time. Even in performance, whether it be on the operatic stage or in a recital setting, sharing song with an audience is one of the most fulfilling feelings—in what other way can you lift people up and give permission to experience emotion? Music is an escape from daily life for a lot of people. It is a privilege to call myself a musician.

    How do you stay inspired during the pandemic? What is something you are working on this year that you would like to share?

    When the pandemic first started, it seemed as though the world had been pulled out from under our feet—not just mine, but the entire musical community. The thought of not performing or teaching in person was heartbreaking, especially for singers. Covering the mouth and face has quite literally meant losing connection to the voice for fear of spreading droplets. As a consequence, the entire concept of “live performance” needed to be altered.

    But the thing about artists is that creativity will always find an outlet. We are so lucky to live in a time where technology can facilitate communication as well as it does—in audio and video.  During the pandemic, I have been teaching students from all over the United States online, some of whom I would not have seen for long stretches of time because of distance. I have also sung a tele-broadcast concert with the Buffalo Philharmonic, am singing and playing in all-virtual choirs and orchestras, and I just recently broadcast a virtual lecture recital for my doctoral degree. For as long as COVID-19 lasts, I know that I will continue to find new ways to teach and make music with peers and colleagues.

    Currently, my primary project is working on my doctoral thesis, which brings to light the accomplishments of two female pedagogues (teachers of voice) who have been lost to history’s pages. This is a topic I am passionate about: acknowledging and celebrating women’s work in music, most of which has gone unnoticed for far too long. I will also be recording some a capella compositions by fellow Frost DMA student Ryne Siesky, and I am planning a virtual recital featuring Hebrew and Yiddish art song, another love of mine. Stay tuned via my website:

    What are your proudest achievements?

    By far, my proudest achievement has been attending the Frost School of Music for my doctorate in music and the opportunities that have been awarded me during my time here. While at Frost, I have sung starring roles in operatic productions and was awarded a scholarship to attend the Patti and Allan Herbert Frost School of Music Salzburg Program, where I was a winner of the Mirabel Voice Competition. I am also honored to have been the recipient of the Presser Foundation’s Graduate Music Award last year and will conduct research at Harvard and the British Library in London this coming summer on female vocal pedagogues—this will culminate in a recording project. I count myself incredibly fortunate; these are achievements I will carry with me throughout my career.

    What are your future goals and how do you hope Frost can help you achieve them?

    My goals are in progress! I am currently submitting applications to be a professor of voice at a university, and I am continuing to teach aspiring singers to find their voices with excitement and enthusiasm. I also aim to continue to sing and make music while maintaining an active research presence in the vocal pedagogy community. Vocal habilitation is a field that is on the rise, helping singers who have suffered vocal trauma once they are back in the voice studio. And I want to make an impact. 

    Frost has helped me achieve so much during my time here. It has been an experience unlike any I had imagined. I hope that they might have me back one day so that I can give to them what they have given me: the gift of music.

  • Paris Rene James

    paris jamesTell us a little bit about yourself (name, major, graduation year, interests, what makes you, you?)

    My name is Paris James. I am a freshman majoring in architecture who is expected to graduate in May of 2025. Since I was a kid, I had a strong interest in music, more specifically songwriting. I loved creating melodies and sculpting lyrics, for it always brought me great joy. The way my heart would jump out of my chest when I would finish a song or create the most catchy chorus felt rejuvenating. My love for creating music led me to loving to create art with a multitude of other mediums. My driven, innovative personality, along with my curly hair, is what makes me who I am.  

    What is something you are working on this year and would like to share? Or something that you are really passionate about? And Why is it important to you?

    I am passionate about solving intra-community injustice. Whenever given the chance, I talk about colorism within the black community because I strongly believe if I further the discussion and educate those who are unfamiliar about it, then I am helping to dismantle it. I have always been taught that community, love, and support starts from within. Therefore, I believe that a healthy community starts within the circles we connect ourselves to. If we build ourselves and each other up, then we are all helping to build a better community. This is true of political, racial, and ethnic communities, or even communities that seem small and obscure.

    This year, I have made it a point to work on a number of things. The first being to get organized and to figure out what it is I want in the short term. Throughout high school I neglected making short term goals which caused me to not fully live in the moment but to always worry about what was ahead. The second being to dedicate time to working on my music. Since I was sixteen, I had been planning this huge album that I wanted to release, and I think it’s time for me to focus on what I want. Thirdly, I want to get involved in building up my community back home. New Orleans is known for gentrification and racially divided neighborhoods. In the Big Easy, you get used to pot-holed streets, rotten, abandoned shot-gun houses, and grimy corner stores covered in graffiti. However, if you turn to the next block you would wonder if you were even in the same neighborhood. You would find big beautiful houses, perfectly trimmed lawns, and dazzling Mardi Gras beads dripping from the French engraved balconies. Ever since I watched Bryan Lee’s TED Talk on architecture and race, he made me really want to address those issues and he helped me decide on choosing architecture as my major. 

    How has living through a pandemic changed the way you create?

    I went to two high schools. Benjamin Franklin and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). I was so used to creating everyday, whether it be a short film, a dance routine, music with my band, or just a quick poem. I was used to being around other artists who have a need to express themselves and address the issues in their communities through their art. On March 13th, 2020, we were told that school would be online, and I sort of lost hope in creation. I had to begin to tell myself that being an artist isn’t about what others see or whether you're inside or outside, in a huge crowd or isolated, etc. It was definitely difficult, but what helped me was being the master editor for my senior class’s documentary ‘Lost and Found’. Editing this documentary reminded me why I am an artist and it’s because of the stories I get to tell, the issues I get to advocate for, and the emotions I get to release. The pandemic made me approach creating in a more sensitive way. Before the pandemic, I thought creation was about the end result instead of the process. However, living through a pandemic with no clear end in sight made me truly appreciate the quality of my art instead of the quantity.

    How do you nurture your creative spirit?

    It makes me seem a bit crazy, but, to nurture my creative spirit, I talk about it with myself. (I promise I don’t answer me). But on a serious note, I either journal it out, make bullet points, or turn on my phone’s voice recorder and record my thoughts, lyrics, or whatever it is I need to get out. Other moments, I go over it with my friends and/or my bandmates. I observe other artists as well that can give me confidence or can introduce me to something new.