Alumni Spotlight: Olivia Van Goor '19
Olivia Van Goor ‘19 has worked at establishing herself in the jazz music industry. We did a Q&A with her to share her experience throughout the process of recording and releasing her first EP, When The Shadows Fall, as well as what role her Denison education played in her journey.
What were you involved in at Denison?
I was a music and economics double major with a focus on voice for my music major. I sang in chamber choir, jazz ensemble, jazz band and even sat in on some other ensembles like the new music ensemble and the wind ensemble. I was involved in the Denison chapter of Habitat for Humanity and led it my junior and senior years. I was also in Ladies’ Night Out and held the position of music director my junior and senior years.
What did you do after graduation?
My parents had moved to a suburb outside of the metro-Detroit area right before I studied abroad my junior year. I ended up loving the community which led me to stay [near Detroit] instead of moving out of the midwest entirely. I took the rest of 2019 to begin my career as a performing musician and teacher until [the 2020 pandemic] derailed that.
What has been your career path? What are you doing now?
I began teaching private lessons at a studio right after graduating, and on the weekends and free nights I went to jam sessions in Detroit and Ann Arbor. I found every opportunity I could to meet musicians and play music. I began gigging as a solo artist with just singing with my guitar, but after meeting enough musicians, learning how to form a band and building my book, I began gigging as a jazz vocalist with a variety of groups. I spent most of 2020 studying, practicing and taking lessons from musicians to help further my jazz knowledge. Once things began opening back up, I got more gigs at restaurants, bars, nursing homes and other community events with my band. I used these opportunities to try out everything I had been learning. I recorded my first EP titled When The Shadows Fall in summer of 2021 which was released in November 2021.
Can you tell me about your new EP?
It is titled When The Shadows Fall and contains 5 songs, all of which were created with my quartet (Will Bennett on keys, Samuel Chase Harris on bass, and Eliza Salem on drums) and two featuring my friend and colleague Sami Blosser on saxophone. It was recorded in Macomb, MI at The Sound Shop with recording engineer Josh Ford and mixed/mastered by Mark Byerly of Longview Sounds in Rochester, MI. I tried to represent all aspects of what have been my favorite and most proud musical moments so far as a jazz vocalist. Each tune is a cover, however, my first single Hershey Bar is an instrumental bebop tune that I wrote my own lyrics for. I had first heard that tune on an Anita O’Day recording, but she had kept it to scat syllables. I was so interested by the melody and title that I had to use it as inspiration, especially since loving chocolate has always been a part of my identity! Willow Weep For Me and No Moon At All are both tunes that I have performed at the Metro-Detroit Jazz Workshop, an experience that is very near and dear to my heart since it is where I first met so many Detroit jazz musicians including my mentor, Scott Gwinnell. Shadow Waltz is a tune I had first learned in high school when I played the role of Dorothy in 42nd Street, and I was inspired to take it from its show-tune stylings and turn it into a jazz tune. The final song, Lilac Wine, is one of my favorite ballads and is particularly moving to me. I had a super fun time working on each tune as an arranger and can’t wait to create my next project hopefully sometime soon! You can support me by ordering a copy from my website, oliviavangoor.com, or streaming it on all platforms.
Any Denison connections that may have helped along the way?
I really appreciate the support my former professors like Pete Mills, Stephanie Henkle, Carolyn Redman, Ching-Chu Hu and many others have sent me along the way. I also really appreciate Arts at Denison interviewing me and promoting my work!
What is a piece of advice you would give to current students or recent grads?
After graduating and deciding to pursue music as a full-time career, I wasn’t sure if I made a mistake and should have gone to a music conservatory or somewhere that I could have specialized in jazz studies. A lot of people have asked me where I studied and have not heard of Denison (even though it’s only a state away!), but I have found even greater value in the well-roundedness and balance of my education. It is a very unique thing to have learned from a liberal arts background and I see it to have shaped the way I approach work (and life) every day!