Intersections Between Choir and Opera

In educational settings, choral programs can complement opera programs beyond just augmenting the opera chorus. Collaborative master classes, social gatherings, vocal-health round table discussions, and strong attendance at performances among students and faculty aid in building and sustaining bonds of mutual scholarship and support between opera and choral music programs.

Choral programs intersect with opera programs in terms of the students they share. Healthy singing and stellar musicianship are a priority in both areas. As someone who has had professional success singing a variety of styles both as a soloists and an ensemble musician, I know that singers can and should be encouraged to learn how to be ambidextrous, striking a balance between healthy vocalism and stylistic versatility. In my choirs, singers are encouraged to sing healthfully with their naturally vibrant voices. Blend and balance issues are most often addressed with the physical placement of the singers before addressing a singer’s individual technique.

But when I do talk technique in choir, it usually boils down to posture, breath flow, and resonance. By encouraging the development and application of these three technical skills, I can hold singers accountable for being flexible with regard to dynamic contrast and vowel color. I can insist on attention to musical details, and I can work on building the singers’ aural skills so they can make intuitive, healthy vocal adjustments informed by their own ears.

For opera students participating in choir, this means employing healthy vocalism in the choral setting that doesn’t compromise their individual technique. I’m less likely to ask for a change in vibrato and more likely to ask for a change in dynamic or vowel. In this way, operatic voices actually enhance the richness and depth of the choir; the choir sounds vibrant and healthy with the ability to be stylistically versatile and musically precise.

Featured image by B Cleary /

Lift Every Voice

I think too many folks learn lessons about artistic expression either online, from television, or in other media. Maybe they aren’t even aware of their learned biases toward perfectionism and materialism. I am a singer. As a concert soprano soloist, studio vocalist for film and television, and professional ensemble singer, I have sung throughout the United States, and in parts of Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. I’ve sung background vocals for various artists including the Rolling Stones, Andrea Bocelli, Barry Manilow, and have also worked as a singer and pianist on the hit Fox Television series Glee.

But my most important singing is the singing I do at home when I have a jam session with my kids – I’m teaching them how to be expressive without being judged. Or perhaps my most important singing happens in church – I use my voice as channel for healing and wholeness with the spiritual power within and around us.

Either way, my voice has worth not because I get paid to use it, not because it is beautiful or skillful, but because it is unique and has the power to touch hearts and minds. The truth is that everyone has this power, even folks who claim they can’t sing. What if we broadened our definition of “singing?” Can all of our words and sounds be melodic, rhythmic, dynamic? Can our words harmonize and create counterpoint with the words of our neighbors?

What if we learned to acknowledge and use the power of our own ordinary every-day voices, our statements and questions imbued with the energy of singing? How amazing it would be if we used this power in other disciplines and environments so our unique song may be sung boldly for the good of the community. Can we do a better job of recognizing and cultivating the relevance and power of everyday singers? What if our communities acknowledged and harnessed the transformative power of collective artistic expression; what if everyday folks starting “singing” their song?

I recall that the Civil Rights Movement of the 50’s and 60’s was strengthened by some of the most gravitational and inspirational songs ever sung, becoming a galvanizing force behind change. In my work as a musical artist, I am dedicated to uplifting individuals, organizations, and programs that inspire and facilitate the spiritual, cultural, intellectual, and artistic enrichment of our community. With this enrichment, can we figure out how to lift every voice and find ways to change things for the better? I think we can.

Featured image by Alexander Wallnöfer /

Identity Stream of Consciousness

I identify myself as American, African-American, Black;

a musician, minister, singer, conductor, composer, teacher, coach;

a wife, mother, sister, auntie, cousin, friend, colleague;

a choir nerd, a Gemini, social activist, feminist, liberal who loves tradition.

I am both vulnerable and strong.

I’m a woman, human, heterosexual with many well-beloved homosexual friends and colleagues;

an Episcopalian, Unitarian, Baptist. I identify myself as a Christian.

I am a resonant witness to the healing, unifying power of music.

I am a high-energy instructor with a methodical approach to music teaching that incorporates improvisation and critical thinking.

I am a professional – both leader and servant.

I have become what I have wanted to be since I was seven years old: a Doctor of Musical Arts.

I am courageous.

But in saying I am courageous, I am admitting I am also fearful. I am OK with that because my courage keeps me from being hateful, sarcastic, and

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

African British composer, conductor, and teacher Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was affectionately referred to in his time as the African “Mahler.” His most popular work, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast for soli, chorus and orchestra (listen below), is a shining example of his command of musical form, texture, harmony, and orchestration, which resulted in overnight fame and respect among colleagues that few men of color could have hoped to enjoy in the early twentieth century.

After his “Hiawatha,” Coleridge-Taylor’s most well known works are his 24 Negro Melodies; his Ballade in A minor; his Symphony in A majorAfrican Dances for violin and orchestra; and a host of chamber music — his compositional output is substantial and varied. A review of the comprehensive works list compiled by famed scholar Dominique-René de Lerma reveals that Coleridge-Taylor also wrote at least 95 songs for solo voice and piano.

Because of his incredible success in a field dominated by white males at a time when racism in America was peaking, Coleridge-Taylor’s influence on African-American artists and intellectuals was powerful and far-reaching. For this reason, many consider Coleridge-Taylor to be the father of African-American art song. His legacy still leads and inspires the American musical community, just as he did a century ago.

First Street Symphony Performance

I had an opportunity to sing for a very special audience on October
10, 2015. I had never been inside a prison facility before, and I
figured this a fitting Street Symphony experience, which could aid me
in my personal preparation for the Messiah Project. We, the Street
Symphony Chamber Singers, sang Durufle, Palestrina, Moses Hogan. But
the magic truly began when the inmates sang to US. First, I taught
them a little canon I wrote called “Umoja,” the first principle of
Kwanzaa meaning “unity.” We all sang it together, joining our voices
to voices of the incarcerated women. And when we had finish and they
had heartily thanked us, the women then asked if they could sing a
song for us. They harmonized and swayed in rhythm and sang fervently,
freely. In that moment, they gave us a most precious gift: their own
hearts through music. In sharing their music with us, they showed us
were all the same and that we all have the same power to use music as
a vehicle for building relationships. And I was humbled.