Frederica von Stade is one of the world’s most beloved mezzo sopranos. Since her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1970, she has sung leading roles on every major concert and operatic stage in the world. Her storied career includes all of the most iconic lyric mezzo roles, and over 100 recordings. Though she continues to perform, Ms. von Stade, or “Flicka,” as friends and colleagues call her, is now more focused on giving back and lifting up the voices of tomorrow.
One of Flicka’s biggest passions is with The Young Musicians Choral Orchestra (YMCO). Based in The Bay Area, YMCO is a special youth program for low-income, underprivileged students, which offers a unique blend of musical training, academic reinforcement, and personal development. The cost-free program serves up to 70 students with training in orchestral, jazz and choral music. Beyond music lessons, the staff provides guidance and support which leads the students to success in college and beyond. Flicka recently shared her thoughts about YMCO, and her biggest hopes for the future.
CS: How did you become involved with YMCO?
Flicka: Jim Meredith, one of their wonderful teachers, introduced me to the organization, which was then called YMP. I started attending their performances, and soon thereafter I joined the board. I just saw what these kids did, and I couldn’t believe it! They blew me away in orchestra, jazz, and singing. I worked with Jim as he supported the singers, and they were fabulous.
The program focuses on the power triangle of musicianship, citizenship and academics. I’ve been in touch with many of the kids who have graduated from the program through the years, and their careers are flourishing. They got into college through it, and these are kids who otherwise would not have the opportunity for private lessons in anything. For them to be involved in a program like this is extraordinary.
CS: What is your role with this organization?
Flicka: I love helping the board and the students. Mentoring these kids is such a joy, and it doesn’t end when they finish high school. We help them get full university scholarships, though it can be an arduous process requiring hundreds of letters and multiple trips to campuses. We continue to coach them while they’re in college, giving encouragement but also tough love when necessary. So many studies have shown how music helps the brain, and this program proves it. I agree with Daisy Newman, whose vision has brought YMCO to its current level of success. She believes strongly that these students should have the very best: the best instruments, the best instructors, and the best support. These young students have absolutely excelled; to see them thrive is so exciting. One of our focuses right now is recruiting young people, which is a challenge because of Covid-19. When I was involved at St. Martin de Porres years ago, I would just stroll onto the playground and shout, “Come in and sing with us!” Now it all has to happen online.
CS: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the music world in 2021?
Flicka: Music education has unfortunately been essentially eliminated. Very few schools have bands or orchestras, and it is heartbreaking. As maestro Michael Morgan once said, ‘A kid who is carrying a violin case is not carrying a gun.” It’s so true. And for professional musicians, it’s going to take an enormous effort to get the music industry back where we were before. There is a big push for the U.S. government to have a cultural “czar,” and I believe with all my heart that this must happen. We need emergency funding. Look at Broadway. We have to respect the wonderful artists who have lost their livelihoods. It will take a lot for all of the symphonies and opera companies to come back, and that’s only the ones who have been fortunate enough to survive the pandemic so far. It will take innovation, but it can be done.
CS: Do you have any parting words of wisdom for our Classical Singer readers?
Flicka: Music heals the soul and gives people a life they never thought they could have. It makes dreams come true. When I was kid, I never EVER thought I’d be lucky enough to have a career. I loved it. It was my passion, and I wanted to be a Broadway star. I thought it would never happen, but my early experience is a reminder that if you plant that seed with someone and give them the structure to continue, they only need a little thread to pull them through. That’s what we are at YMCO. Yes, you can sing that high C. Yes, you can do this!