While most people think of HKUST as a university focused on science and technology, Dr Isaac Droscha is part of a group building an ardent following for arts and music.

Music crosses cultures and disciplines, and in a university known for science and technology, Dr Isaac Droscha is part of a group of individuals promoting arts, culture, and creativity to students. The operatic baritone is also co-artistic director of the Cosmopolis Festival, and music director and vocal coach of the HKUST summer musical.

“Art has a vital function in society, it is intrinsically valuable. Music is magical, everyone can feel a range of emotions. I want students to be able to live and feel it and understand how powerful that is, both on an individual and collective level,” says Dr Droscha.

Love for music from a young age

Brought up on a small farm in Mason, Michigan, Dr Droscha sang in his local church choir and played trombone in the Mason High School band, despite a high school teacher trying to convince him to quit it all to play American football. Lucky for us that never happened: he eventually arrived in Hong Kong as a temporary, and then permanent replacement for the legendary founding father for HKUST music, Professor Oliver Lo. Did it feel to him like the pressure would be too much? “I had very big shoes to fill, but luckily HKUST has a youthful spirit and people are always inspired to create new things and projects,” says Dr Droscha.

Whatever he does, Dr Droscha demonstrates a joie de vivre, and ability to inspire others along the journey, along with the necessary application to see it all through. The journey from Michigan to Hong Kong was one filled with hard work and passion for music. He made his way simultaneously across the opera and academic scenes in the US, at the University of Northern Iowa and University of Michigan, where he received a Doctorate in Vocal Performance. At Hope College he was awarded the Sakiko Kanimori award along with the Grace Marguerite Browning Scholarship, becoming a finalist in the Grand Rapids Opera Competition.

Photo credit to Jackie Leung
Performing Madama Butterfly with mezzo-soprano Carol Lin in 2018

The Shaw Auditorium will open its doors this November

Stepping up to the big stage

Recognizing his own talent for voice, he studied with some of the most famous singers globally, performing in the US with the Des Moines Metro Opera, Michigan Opera Theatre, Opera New Jersey, and Arbor Opera Theatre, performing as a soloist with the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra and the Ann Arbor Symphonette. Internationally, he has made his mark at the Estates Theatre in Prague and at the Rimsky-Korsakov Museum in St. Petersburg.

Arriving in Hong Kong to teach world music, western opera, and the art of singing at HKUST, he also worked with Pro Arte Orchestra, and featured as a special guest at the 2017 Intimacy of Creativity Festival of Contemporary Song and Hong Kong Musica Viva.

It is this skill to both be able to teach and perform that has made Dr Droscha popular among HKUST students, putting the music program into the spotlight, an unusual situation for a university that is known for science and technology.

Don’t stop the music

While the last two summer musicals have been suspended as a result of the pandemic, it is still an exciting time for music at HKUST. Dr Droscha has been expanding the range of performances experienced at HKUST to include jazz, Chinese orchestra, Cantonese music and more, while the number of music initiatives keeps on increasing — including original opera and musical productions on the horizon.

“When students find out about the music program, they become very inspired. As a science and technology institution, people simply just don’t expect it, so the challenge is making people aware that these programs actually exist. Whether hobby, passion or outlet, students are always surprised by our program because they discover new areas of creative expression that they never expected would be life-changing,” says Dr Droscha.

Many students have not only discovered a new passion for music but actually changed their career paths towards music because of these courses. Aside from musicians, HKUST students have become composers, writers, directors and artists, showing how critical a well-rounded education is. Aside from putting together the program, Dr Droscha also credits the most basic requirement for success: people who go the extra mile and put in passion and love. “The students, faculty and staff are key because we are a small program, so much thanks should go to the people who put in time and dedication,” Dr Droscha says.

All the world’s a stage

Aside from teaching and curation, Dr Droscha performs in the city as an opera singer, having featured as a theatre actor, voiceover artist, improv comedian, broadcaster for RTHK, while maintaining a partnership in music education and acting enterprises. “All this keeps me pretty busy, as you can imagine,” says Dr Droscha with a laugh.

The upcoming state-of-the-art Shaw Auditorium is set to elevate performance at the University, with impressive facilities raising the game and allowing HKUST to scale up its productions. Located near the south entrance of our Clear Water Bay campus, the threestory multi-purpose auditorium will hold 1,300 people and can be used as a concert hall; theater for performances and lectures, as well as venue for exhibitions, events and ceremonies. There will also be space for seminars, rehearsals, small performances, and gatherings both indoors and outdoors, along with hosting a stateof- the-art music production facility. Dr Droscha believes the venue could galvanize HKUST creative arts for generations to come.

“The new facility is a physical symbol that cannot be missed. No matter the age people live in, music and art connect with people’s lives, even if we talk about things that were written originally hundreds of years ago,” says Dr Droscha. For the performer and professor, performing arts will always be universal. “Love, hate, happiness and despair never go out of style,” Dr Droscha adds.