So as a Texas girl myself, I am always thrilled to see another native Texan on faculty!
Yes, I am in fact a native Texan – I was born on the coast, lived in East Texas for a while, and then went to school at Baylor before going away for a long time. I came back here in 1994 – I was still singing, but my parents were older and I really wanted to be closer to my family.
I’m assuming that is when you joined the Texas State Faculty?
I actually came to Texas State University in 2002. A lot of people came to audition at the university that year, and the faculty wanted to add another teacher. The chair of the university called me up and asked if I would be interested in teaching for a year. I said yes, and one year turned into two years, and now I am in my 13th year. I really like it here. I like the atmosphere here a lot – very nurturing, good teaching, and it’s a beautiful campus and city!
What are you most looking forward to about joining the faculty at ACMAF?
There are some very distinguished teachers on faculty, many of whom I have known for years. I don’t think there is anything better than being able to sing an opera like Le Nozze di Figaro in Italian for Italians, and to be around faculty and colleagues who are going to make this a magical experience for students in one of the most beautiful places on this earth!
What did your unique path look like as you transitioned from student to professional musician?
When I was a senior, I received a Rotary scholarship to study for a year at the Hochschüle in Vienna. It made such a huge impression on my life to be singing German repertoire for German audiences. I was asked to stay in Germany, but I was only 21 or 22, and I didn’t want to be that far away from home and from my family. I came back to the United States and ended up auditioning for graduate programs on a whim. I won a bunch of contests my first year in school, and I was accepted into the Merola Program with San Francisco Opera. I decided not to go back to grad school after that and joined Merola - I knew that this was really my chance and I took it. It was such a fabulous experience – I did a lot of performing and made so many connections. I learned how to be prepared, and before long I started singing for anybody who would stand there long enough to hear me out. Then as things got moving, for a good ten years I didn’t have to do any auditions, I just got along thru word of mouth.
Now I look at the path that many people have had, and I think “Wow, I have had it so easy!” When the wind blew my way, I just got into the breeze and I rode it. You know, today’s education has become so good, and there are so many fantastic singers out there, that the level of competition has greatly increased. But I believe that whether you have a career or not, music greatly impacts your life in so many positive ways. For me, music is a way of life – it doesn’t mean that if you aren’t singing professionally, you are less than those who do. It is hard to do all of the things you want to do in life, and you have to decide what you are willing to sacrifice. You know, I made a lot of sacrifices – I was never home…I was NEVER home. But I did some really great stuff, I had a wonderful time, and my career made my life very rich. Pursuing music is an enrichment experience, but you don’t have to sing at the Met to be enriched!
You seem to have pursued opera over opera/oratorio work – was that intentional?
I really didn’t want to be an opera singer – I thought it was big fat people who were screaming at each other at close range! I wanted to be Elly Ameling. But then opera took me by surprise. I had always wanted to be an actor (not a singing actor, just an actor), but I needed money. I started singing in competitions, started winning some money, and then I was just off and going!
How did you transition to the European market?
It was really the repertoire that I was singing. I made my debut in Europe doing a lot of Sophie in Der Rosenkavalier. Then people started asking for me, and that was that.
What would you say about your teaching style and how it benefits your students?
I think I have a knack for understanding people’s instruments and what they will sing well. If you sing your natural instrument in the right repertoire, I think you will be set on the right path. I believe a lot of people are singing music that isn’t exactly right for them, and I have a knack for recognizing that and knowing what repertoire would better suit them. I want to help bring people into what they should be singing, to build depth of skill-level in what naturally resonates well with them.
I also think that it’s not just about what you can do – it’s about who you are! It’s about finding who you are so that you can best tell your music’s stories.
Finally, what advice would you give to young students pursuing a career today?
Find out what your strengths and weaknesses are, and know yourself. If you don’t know yourself, you will be challenged psychologically and emotionally in ways that you won’t be ready for. You have to be at peace with yourself - then you can be open to the experience of enrichment!
Thank you Cheryl Parrish – we are thrilled to have you join our 2016 ACMAF Voice Faculty!