My first introduction to Classical Singer was in 2008 when I traveled with my parents to the convention in San Francisco. I was only 14 years old, not quite old enough to compete in their vocal competition. Even though I was still pretty young, I knew that I wanted to pursue music of some kind, especially considering I was born right into it. My operatic knowledge was quite strong because my mother and father were both singers and had recently become teachers, but I had yet to decide if this was the path for me. People often asked me if I felt pressured into becoming a singer. I wasn’t. I inherited a cherished gift and I had a joyous devotion to all sorts of musical genres like film music and jazz. The thing I knew for sure was that it was inevitable that my life’s work would be rooted in music.
That convention day I remember walking into the college expo in the grand ballroom and thinking; something’s about to begin here. It was packed with young singers not much older than I was and there was an unusual buzz around the room that was nothing I had ever previously experienced. It was almost as if everyone was recognizable to me. Growing up I likened the chance of meeting opera enthusiasts my own age to receiving good grades on my math homework: both were highly unlikely. But that weekend I was in for a delightful surprise. I later collected every pamphlet from the expo and went upstairs to our hotel room and read through everything. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a singer.
Fast forward to 2011: I competed in the high school division of the competition in Los Angeles and received third place. During each round, I was able to receive feedback from teachers and professional singers and some of those conversations I still cherish today. Meeting other high schoolers in the master classes and walking around with them made the atmosphere feel more like a community rather than a competition. We talked about our favorite singers, operas we loved and our favorite song composers. I found that each year that I attended, more faces were familiar. Many of the singers I met during the competition ended up as classmates and we are friends to this day. Samantha Hankey, who was the high school second place winner in my year became a classmate of mine at the Juilliard School. We were both there for our master’s degrees and sang together in quite a few productions. She’s now begun a wonderful career that surely makes our alma mater very proud.
After beginning my undergraduate degree at the Eastman School of Music, I used my prize money to attend an Italian immersion language and singing program called Si Parla Si Canta created by Benton Hess. I spent 4 weeks there learning Italian with some students who had been with me at the convention. I competed only once but I went to the convention many times. There, I was able to listen to singers in the upper levels (college and emerging professionals) where I discovered a vast amount of new repertoire. Each year more opportunities were added: classes on how to audition, Alexander Technique, learning to breathe (always a challenge), training the male voice (which was phenomenal, I say with some bias) or classes on German Lied. There were also talks given by artist managers on career building, what to do /not to do, website design and YAPs.
Today, it’s just me and the music. After Juilliard I started off in the young artist programs at Wolftrap and Opera Theatre of St. Louis. I then moved to Europe to begin my career. I am now in the Ensemble of Oper Frankfurt here in Germany, where I just made my debut singing Tamino in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. I knew upon leaving school I wouldn’t have much of a conservatory safety net to rely on, so I’ve put together a very small team of trusted people who I can rely on to help me work vocally and career wise in the right direction. What I absorbed from Classical Singer has played a key role in my success today. It’s become a cornerstone in my foundation, like a devoted relative who’s helped guide me along the way. I have learned to manage my own career as sort of the CEO but also find that I work tremendously hard to be a better singer, especially the day after a big success. A career in the arts is not only beautiful but a meaningful challenge to our conscience and a call to become a people with greater empathy. What began as a budding dream in a San Francisco convention hall has now turned into the beginnings of a privileged and exciting career, one that I will forever cherish and use to serve.
A big thank you to Matthew Swensen and his kind words. We hope the event continues to be a positive influence to young singers and we wish all the best to Matthew and his parents. For more information about the 2020 CS Music Convention and Competition: CLICK HERE