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How a Real Estate Agent is Helping to Bring Vocal Music Back to Bellevue Schools


What happens when a realtor with a master’s degree in opera performance takes the initiative to learn about her community? She finds out that her passion for music is just the thing local high school kids have been looking for. 

Kristen Whalen is fairly new to Bellevue. She is also a new agent for Huff Realty. She reached out to local businesses as well as Bellevue Schools administration because Whalen says she “wanted to get to know the community and have more knowledge of my home and where I intend to work.” 

Bellevue Superintendent of Schools Robb Smith agreed to meet with her. Whalen soon learned from Smith that Bellevue High School had gone without a vocal music program for many years and the school was bringing choir class back for the 2019-2020 school year. This hit home for Whalen who grew up in Harrison, Ohio where she attended Harrison High School and participated in choir every year. “Our choir class was like a family,” Whalen says, “It was a place that I could escape.” High school was rough for Whalen, as it tends to be for many kids, and she knows all too well how much having a place to belong can mean to a kid. 

Smith says, “Anytime you have smaller community school, your numbers aren’t always conducive for large-scale programming.” Vocal music in the high school is something Bellevue has been working on since Robb Smith arrived five years ago. He says, “Now, we’re in the position that we can make that offering.”

College brought Kristen Whalen to Northern Kentucky. She graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in opera performance. Then while she completed her master's degree in opera at Miami University, she worked as soprano section leader for the choir at Saint John United Church of Christ in Bellevue. When she graduated, Whalen and her partner decided they would make Bellevue their home. 

The reality of student loan debt meant that Whalen couldn’t rely on her private lessons income alone so she got her real estate license. 

When Whalen mentioned her vocal music experience to Smith during their talk, he says, “I was thrilled to get to know someone who has that background, knowing how that could benefit our kids.” He wasn’t going to let the opportunity pass. “I strong-armed her into being a part of it.” He says, “I really didn’t give her the option.” In reality, Smith clarifies, “It was an easy sell.”

Whalen agrees. Music is her true passion and though she teaches private lessons, the idea of volunteering with a group of kids to help guide their learning and encourage a love of music... well, it just felt right to her. She says, “We started to envision a vocal music club for after school.”

Whalen hopes to cater the club’s focus and activities to the interests of the kids who participate. She wants to help them pursue music in a way that’s meaningful for them and anticipates starting with fundamentals. 

Whalen says people are often surprised to learn that she doesn’t use a microphone (no opera performers do, really). That’s what proper technique (like breathing correctly) can do for a vocalist. This seemingly simple skill can improve everything from singing to speaking in a crowd. It can even help kids cope with anxiety and stage fright. Knowing how to properly breathe deeply offers benefits that resonate through your whole body and she’s eager to share this with club participants. Whalen says,  “Breathing to ease anxiety, is the same exercise that I use in my voice lessons. It really helps.” 

Whalen is ready to dive in for the school year and get to know the kids in her community who love vocal music. Bellevue High School is equally eager to expand their programming in the arts with a vocal music program that reaches beyond the classroom. Smith stresses, “The future of education is in partnerships and when a community school can reach out and form those partnerships with our residents, there is an increased investment for both the community and the school.”

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a freelance writer and communications director of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She lives in Fort Thomas. Email: Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @writerbonnie