Soprano Chelsea Friedlander has taken on a variety of high-flying roles in her career, from Olympia in Les contes d’Hoffmann to Candide’s bejeweled heroine, Cunegonde, but now she’s taking on a new character: Staff Sergeant Friedlander. After years on the opera stage, Chelsea is pivoting to a full time role with The United States Army Chorus.
In 1956, The U.S. Army Chorus was established as the vocal counterpart of The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own.” Originally founded as an all-men’s chorus, the Army Chorus evolved into an SATB ensemble in 2021. The Army Chorus goes beyond the traditional military music and patriotic standards, venturing into pop, Broadway, folk, and classical music. It’s a natural fit for Chelsea, who has been singing and performing since she was a child. “I truly believe you can sing anything healthily! A majority of our chorus is operatically trained, like myself. It is so refreshing to expand my voice and sing new genres after singing mostly operatically for the past 10 plus years.” This elite ensemble offers singers the rare opportunity to make singing their full-time job. Chelsea describes it as “a dream,” adding that she “still will be able to concertize and explore other musical opportunities outside The United States Army Chorus.”
The chorus is currently auditioning for Alto and Soprano positions, and Chelsea was kind enough to give us the scoop on her audition process. It turns out that her years of opera auditions prepared her well, as the Army’s audition process is “very similar,” at least in the beginning. “I needed to submit a prescreening video, followed by the invited live audition. I presented a variety: an aria, golden age musical theater, contemporary musical Theater, a top 100 Pop Song, and the National Anthem (requirements for our upcoming auditions in 2024 are varied now).” Additionally, Chelsea had to prepare music – sent to her a few weeks prior to the audition – and sing with current members of The United States Army Chorus.
While the audition process may be standard, the onboarding is anything but! The members of Pershing’s Own are required to complete basic training, just like every other soldier. While Chelsea acknowledged that “everyone’s basic training experience is different,” she admits that “it was definitely one of the hardest things I have done in my entire life… I was pushed mentally and physically in ways I never could have imagined.” While shooting a weapon, throwing a live hand grenade, or rappelling down a 40-foot tower (all things Chelsea did!) may sound intimidating, “the Army is expert at crafting American soldiers.” For new recruits, Chelsea has this advice: “Think of basic training as a different kind of role preparation. If you prepare your body for the physical demands before you ship out, it is much easier to face the challenge.” She worked on her running with the Couch to 5K app. She also credits the incredible support she received from Pershing’s Own, her parents, and her husband, along with her own determination. “I believe that if you love something so much, you will do just about anything to accomplish it.”
Chelsea is only a few months in, but she’s already sung at “the White House, Lincoln Financial field (home of the Philadelphia Eagles), and for PBS Hour National Television.” Yet more than anything, Chelsea takes joy in “singing every day and making music with talented and fabulous colleagues.” Now, Chelsea is looking toward her bright future, and urging interested singers to consider this unique career path (www.usarmyband.com/careers will have all the specifics). “The chorus offers so many different opportunities—whether it’s singing solo or in a duet, quartet, or small group—there is a spot for everyone to share their voice… This is just the beginning, and there is so much more to come!”