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Jane Austen’s Music Meets Academia with Vocalist and YCP Educator Megan Poff

Headshot of Megan Poff

The Adjunct Professor of Voice and Listening to Music at York College of Pennsylvania teaches students about the intricacies of music as she enriches her professional journey through performances with The Jane Austen Playlist.

While most know Jane Austen for insightful and satirical novels set in Regency England, fewer know her as an accomplished musician. Megan Poff, York College of Pennsylvania Adjunct Professor of Voice and Listening to Music, is on a mission to change that.

More than two centuries after being written, Austen’s works, including “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” and “Emma,” are celebrated for their wit, keen observations, and exploration of the complexities of human character. Through The Jane Austen Playlist, a unique chamber ensemble dedicated to bringing Austen’s musical talents into the spotlight, Poff hopes Austen’s musicianship soon will be as well-known and loved as her writing.

Music as a constant companion

Born into a military household, Poff constantly moved with her family. From Michigan to California, Virginia to Nebraska, Poff’s love of music provided a firm anchor in a sea of change. Having her voice as her primary instrument meant she easily could pack it up and take it with her.

Pennsylvania became her longest place of residence, where she settled with her husband, actor and vocal artist Jay Poff, after he began working at Sight & Sound Theatres in Lancaster, PA. In 2012, Megan Poff found a home teaching at York College.

Years before moving to Pennsylvania, she had met Laura Klein, pianist and future founder of The Jane Austen Playlist, while attending Mars Hill University in North Carolina.

“We loved Jane Austen in our youth. We read the books,” Poff says. “I told her, ‘This is something you’re really connected with and they have a music library of her music.’ ”

Klein took the reins and began connecting Austen’s music library to various passages from her novels, crafting multiple shows that combine narration of excerpts from her works and performances of pieces from her music library. When the works were nearly complete, Klein reached out to Poff.

“She needed a vocalist and I said, ‘I’m here,’” Poff says. “We’ve always wanted to perform together. Let’s do this!”

A dynamic ensemble

The ensemble explores the musical side of Austen, showcasing her proficiency as a pianist and the Regency music associated with her era. The Jane Austen Playlist had its inaugural performance, titled “Love and Regency,” at York College in February 2022. 

“It was a wonderful place to start. York College is so passionate about interdisciplinary studies,” Poff says.

In January 2023, Poff performed with Klein at the Jane Austen House in England. Then in November 2023, she performed the premiere of “The Jane Austen Playlist: Pride and Prejudice” at the Jane Austen Society of North America convention in Denver, CO.

“It was a phenomenal success, which has now garnered growth in audience and public appreciation,” Poff says.

Poff shared the stage with husband Jay, a tenor. The duo sang the love duets of Austen’s romantic couples with Klein as music director and piano accompanist. The Poffs’ synergy is evident, with Megan’s structured approach complemented by Jay’s spontaneity. The performance incorporates flautists, violinists, cellists, harpists, and at times a mezzo-soprano for sister duets. The narrator (Kathy Casey Becker), who portrays Jane Austen, is also an integral part of the show. The collaboration has allowed Poff to bridge the gap between academia and the world of musical performance.

Music across disciplines

Poff’s students in her Voice and Listening to Music courses at York College often are not Music majors. Her involvement with The Jane Austen Playlist has enriched her perspective and solidified for her the importance of interdisciplinary studies. By connecting the historical and cultural context of Austen’s era with the music performed during that time, Poff enhances her students’ understanding of music as a storytelling medium, no matter what field they’re pursuing.

By bringing the musical talents of Austen to the forefront, Poff contributes not only to her personal growth but to the vibrant academic community at York College. Through her dedication to music and interdisciplinary studies, Poff hopes to inspire students to forge their own paths and find what passion speaks to them.