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You Visit Tour. Webb Lion Fountain. June 1 2017. Photo David B. Hollingsworth

Larry Giddens’ Journey to His Master’s Degree Included an International Detour

By Joe Garvey

Larry Giddens dreamed of playing college football coming out of Nandua High School on the Eastern Shore.

But he didn't receive many offers. His father, the retired sheriff of Accomack, offered some life-changing advice.

"He referenced the many bumps, bruises and scars he'd received playing college football and said, 'You can play football in college and walk around with these or you can go and try something new,'" Giddens said.

That launched Giddens on an amazing musical path that's taken him around the world and led to a Master of Music Education degree from Old Dominion University, which he will receive in December.

Giddens, who won a National Choral Student Award in high school, had a trumpet audition scheduled at ODU the day his father offered his fateful advice in 1996.

"I made the decision then to walk through the doors of the Music Department to pursue a career in music," he said.

Nancy Klein, professor and chair of the Diehn School of Music, encouraged him to become a vocalist.

"I have known Larry since he was 18," she said. "His chorus teacher called me about him right before school started. She said, 'I have a student who thinks he is going to be a trumpet player, but he is REALLY a singer. Find him and change his mind.' And I did just that."

He sang with choirs at ODU and with performing groups that Klein directed. During his fourth year at ODU, he signed a contract to sing with the Virginia Opera. Shortly thereafter, he left the University to pursue a professional career.

"The next 12 years of my life were a whirlwind," he said.

In addition to the Virginia Opera, he performed with companies in Northern Virginia before a chance meeting sent him on the next step in his career.

He ran into Alvy Powell, who was from Giddens' hometown and had gone to school with his parents. Powell was a member of the U.S. Army's prestigious "Pershing's Own" ensemble, which was stationed in Washington.

Powell helped Giddens land a position with the New York Harlem Productions company, which had the rights to the famed Gershwin opera "Porgy and Bess."

"That tour took me around the world," Giddens said. "I toured Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Australia and more with some of the best young and old singers in the world."

It also fulfilled a dream that had taken root while he was at ODU.

Klein recalled: "The ODU Choir went to New York City in 2000 on a performing tour, and we were able to get backstage passes to a rehearsal for 'Porgy and Bess' at the City Opera. Larry was transfixed, watching every aspect of the rehearsal. He looked at me with a big grin and very seriously said, 'Now THAT is what I am going to do!'"

He toured off and on with the Harlem company for four years. But he pulled back from touring fulltime after marrying Jennifer Warren, an arts administrator with the Virginia Opera and Virginia Arts Festival, in 2006 and the birth of his son, Larry III, in 2007.

"He was born in between performing engagements in Europe," Giddens said. "During the first year of his life I was gone about seven months on and off performing. After the last contract of the year, I decided to stay closer to him and be involved in his life much like my father was in mine."

He said the transition wasn't easy. He first took "odd jobs that really didn't fit me or my family's life." He still toured sparingly in Europe. After meeting Patrick Mason, a baritone voice teacher at the University of Colorado, he and his family moved to Boulder as he sought to complete his undergraduate degree.

But the need to support his growing family (the couple has four children, ages 13, 11, 9 and 6) led him back to Virginia just shy of his degree. He took executive director positions with arts organizations when, in 2018, "the desire and need to complete a degree collided."

"The desire part of it was to show my four bright and impressionable children that getting a college degree was the right thing to do, and how could I do that without doing it myself?" he said. "The need was knowing that a degree would give me access to even greater positions in my field."

He completed the remaining coursework for his bachelor's degree at ODU and then enrolled in ODU's master's program.

"Old Dominion University means the world to me because of all that it has taught me," said Giddens, who would like to pursue a doctorate and work at a college. "It has taught me how to become the person I am today. As a teenager, it taught me how to live, that life growing up on a farm wasn't the only way of living. It taught me how to make decisions, and inevitably to live with them. It taught me that there is no road that can't be traveled again. It taught me how to love. It taught me how to be humble. It taught me that the fight is never over and that with the love and support of God, friends and family, there is nothing that can't be accomplished."

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