In Malek McDuffie’s family, and in the church of his youth, singing wasn’t really an option. The Bible says, “make a joyful noise,” so whether you are talented isn’t the point. Everyone sings.
Eventually, of course, after childhood platitudes have given way to reality, maybe you find singing isn’t your gift. Not him.
“I just stuck with it,” Malek said. “I kept singing. People were saying I was pretty good, so I started to believe it.”
Oh, he better believe it alright. The encouragement of friends and family is one thing. Winning awards from a prestigious organization is quite another.
After having won first place at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) in both the South Carolina and Mid-Atlantic regional competitions, Malek is busy preparing for NATS’ national Hall Johnson Spiritual competition, scheduled for June in Las Vegas.
Success is validation not only of his talent, but of his education and training at the South Carolina School of the Arts at Anderson University. His mentor at AU, Dr. Tommy Watson, is overjoyed not just for his protégé’s success, but for his dedication to the craft.
“It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work,” said Dr. Watson, Associate Professor of Music, Voice, at AU. “There’s nothing accidental about it. You don’t just roll out of bed one day as a successful artist. It’s grueling, and you have to be dedicated to it. The more time you put into it, the more successful you’ll be.”
No wonder Malek is so successful, then. He practices about two hours a day, not including his coursework as a junior music education major at AU and private lessons with Dr. Watson. He’s also the music director at Mount Zion United Methodist Church in Central, South Carolina, where he spends his “free time” planning music for worship services.
It’s perhaps that last role that speaks to Malek’s biggest goal as a vocal musician. Sure, winning competitions is great. More important is reflecting that which gave him the talent in the first place.
“What I have as a gift from God,” he said. “I’ve made the vow that I will use (my voice) to glorify God. No matter what, I don’t want people to see me, but to see the gift.”
For Dr. Watson, that is more important than the success of the vocal music program at AU, despite its many accomplishments. South Carolina School of the Arts students are recognized routinely at NATS competitions, after all. And Malek isn’t the only student preparing for nationals; Andrew Poston, an AU voice student of Dr. Deedy Francis, won first place in Upper College Musical Theater at NATS’ Mid-Atlantic competition as well. He could very well join Malek in Las Vegas this summer.
“I always encourage my students to realize they are servants,” Dr. Watson said. “As artists, we are chosen by God to bless the lives of people. We forget that sometimes.”
While he is confident in the training he’s received at AU – and in the talent others saw in him as a young boy in his church’s choir – Malek’s feet are planted firmly on the ground.
“It’s a humbling moment for me, to think where I started and where I am now,” he said. “I came to AU thinking I could sing. But I didn’t really understand the technical and stylistic skills I would need.”
He does now.