Blog Post: March 31, 2022
Meet Our Team: Tai Oney, Administration & Fellowship Manager
Do you ever wonder what exactly OTSL staff members do? Here’s your chance to find that out, and more! In this series you’ll learn about what it takes to bring a season to life, across our organization. The fourth installment of this series features Tai Oney, our Administration & Fellowship Manager!
You aren’t new to OTSL; could you share a bit about your history of working with us?
I was a principal (Thelma Steward Endowed Artist) in 2015 performing in the production of Richard the Lionheart. I sang the role of Oronte – a Syrian prince. It’s hard to believe that was nearly seven years ago. It seems like yesterday I was having an individual session with Seán Curran on the proper technique of dancing with a scimitar!
Please tell us about your career journey, and what led you to apply for your current position!
My career journey has been an interesting one. I will try to give you the reader’s digest version. I come from a musical family. Everyone either plays an instrument, sings, or does both! We performed for various churches and community functions, and at the age of four I was given my first solo. This led to me going solo and eventually landing my first recording contract at the age of 12. I sang mostly – what was called at that time – Urban Gospel music. I was one of the opening acts and shared the stage with many well-known Gospel artists during that time (i.e. Kirk Franklin, Vickie Winans, Shirley Caesar, Karen Clark-Sheard) and appeared on the Bobby Jones Gospel show several times.
My songwriter and producer worked with groups/artists such as Take 6 and Brian McKnight. Unfortunately, due to company changes, I was dropped from the label a few days before my 16th birthday. I spent years in the studio and traveling to promote my album but, alas, it was never released. I was pretty devastated by this and vowed to never perform again; however, I was tricked into joining my high school choir and the love for music and singing began to show up again. During this time, I also developed this desire to teach others and help promote the arts, so I decided to major in music education, which is what I hold a bachelor’s degree in. During my undergraduate studies, a friend of mine asked if I ever considered performing as a countertenor. I knew nothing about a countertenor but once I did some research, I realized what I felt was normal singing for me was a legitimate voice type. With the help of Dr. Craig Maddox, my voice teacher at the time, I decided to study and perform as a countertenor. That decision allowed me to win and place in several major competitions which is what in theory brought me to OTSL in 2015, and the rest is history! A few years ago, I decided to return to academia to pursue a doctorate in music education and began teaching privately as well as in schools. I still consider myself to be a performer but have added the roles of educator and, most recently, Administration & Fellowship Manager to the list. I am someone who likes to have their hands in various things at once. I have a passion for the arts and feel called to contribute in different ways, capacities, and spaces. Although priorities may shift, I try to not limit myself to just one thing
What exactly does the Administration & Fellowship do?
I help to manage staffing initiatives which include the Clayco Future Leaders Fellowship program and the Administrative Internship program. I provide additional project support for the Administration Department and will help to support the work of the EDI Committee of the Board of Directors. I like that my role is specifically centered around the needs and support of people. I enjoy building relationships, making connections, and supporting others.
What are you looking forward to most in your new role?
Potentially being able to have a small part in someone’s journey as a founder of an opera company, a general director, or an artistic administrator, especially for those who are underrepresented in opera and arts administration, and particularly those who identify as BIPOC. I want to see more people who are making the decisions not only look like me but to also have had similar experiences as me—as a BIPOC artist. Representation not only matters but is crucial. My voice is not the only thing that I can use to contribute to this industry; I can also help others along the way. All it takes is opening the door and leaving it open for others to follow.
Do you have a favorite opera?
There are too many to choose just one! This may seem somewhat pedestrian to some but I love a good, old-fashioned La bohème. It was the first opera I saw, and it happened to be at the Met. I think that’s when I truly fell in love with opera. I’m also a Verdi fan: Aida, Macbeth, La traviata… You can’t go wrong with Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor! Giulio Cesare…there are so many! I lean more towards the dramatic ones. Yikes, what does that say about me?
What music do you enjoy listening to? What’s been on your playlist lately?
I hate when people say this, but I truly listen to everything. It depends on the mood I’m in that day. One minute I may be listening to The Barrett Sisters or The Clark Sisters, the next it’s Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, or Andra Day. If you look at my playlist, you’ll find a little bit of everything. A lot of Leontyne Price! Janet Baker, Derek Lee Ragin… Beyoncé, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald…The Beatles, Daft Punk, Allen Stone, Johnnyswim… I listen to whatever speaks to me
Outside of work, what keeps you busy? Any fun hobbies?
I’m still a performer so I try to practice and vocalize daily. I’m currently learning a new chamber work for countertenor, viola, and piano that will be premiered in Boston in February. I’m also a doctoral student at Boston University. I have completed my coursework but still have a final qualifying examination and dissertation to complete, so there is quite a bit of reading and writing going on at the moment. My husband and I purchased a 117-year-old home last year, so a great amount of time has been spent working on the inside and outside. I have a love-hate relationship with gardening and renovating spaces. The rest of the time is spent loving on our two dogs: Russell (Whippet/Italian Greyhound mix) and Tucker (Italian Greyhound). And, no, they are not named after streets here in St. Louis.
What are some of your favorite spots in St. Louis?
I haven’t explored St. Louis as much as I would have liked to since officially moving here one and a half years ago but some of my favorite restaurants include Olive + Oak, Juniper, Polite Society, SweetArt, and a host of restaurants on South Grand Blvd. On the weekends, you’ll probably catch me ordering coffee and a bagel from Kitchen House Coffee or walking through the farmer’s market in Tower Grove Park when the weather is nice. And as someone who likes to drink wine from time to time—my motto is Cabernet any day—33 Wine Shop & Bar is a place where I usually meet up with friends.
What are you looking forward to most this coming season?
Returning to a normal season! I’m excited to see and hear all the wonderful artists, directors, and designers in their element creating art! Being able to witness the journey of each show from its beginning to the end will undoubtedly be the highlight of my year.