Growing up in rural North Carolina, the music of Monteverdi was about as distant a thing as the Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s David. It was something that I vaguely knew existed and imagined was beautiful but something with which my life seemed to have little chance of intersecting. My family was musical in a casual way, mostly around our attendance of Baptist church services. My uncle was the music director for our church and sang in a gospel trio. My aunt was a talented singer who often sang the church “special,” a quaint way of describing solos performed in church. My dad had a beautiful voice when he sang along with George Jones on the radio. My early training as a musician was earnest and thoughtful even if it was short on technique. About age 8, I joined my elementary school choir. Our teacher at that time, Mrs. Pierce, decided to play for us a recording of Smetana’s The Moldau and showed us a series of paintings and pictures depicting the course of the musical work and of the river. I was hooked! The music was beautiful and expressive and depicted in an emotional, visceral way the drama of the river and lives of the people it touched. I was later exposed by thoughtful teachers to similar stalwarts of the orchestral canon to equal effect.
My mom thought it would be a good idea for me to enroll in piano lessons, which I loved and at which I excelled. Many of my early piano solos were of the popular variety, the theme from Chariots of Fire, Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All, to name a few, but I always asked my teachers for more traditional classical repertoire and was deeply curious to learn how it worked. I quickly outstripped my teacher’s ability to assign me interesting classical repertoire, but also if I am honest, I reached the limit of my natural aptitude as a keyboard player. One teacher finally said to me that she didn’t know very much about that kind of music but that she could see I loved it and passed on to me a multi-volume series of anthologies filled with Bach and Mozart and Haydn, which I still have. I would pour through them for hours, sitting at our little spinet at home.
I continued throughout my school years to play piano and to sing in choirs at school and church and was often given solos. I picked up the clarinet and even more briefly the tuba along the way. I loved music immensely but looking around me I had little in the way of role models for what a professional musician did, let alone a professional singer. Late in high school, I started private voice lessons with our choir director. She proclaimed that I was probably a tenor but she didn’t like the way tenors sang so she was going to train me as a baritone. She gave me an Estelle Liebling Book of Exercises for Baritone, but a copy of the 24 Italian songs and arias in the high key! I loved them! I sang Gia’l sole dal Gange and Danza, danza fanciulla and other solos like The Holy City (my mother’s favorite) and Bach’s Bist du bei mir (in English). I won a few local vocal competitions and was briefly the regular pianist at our church (an unpaid position), but music seemed to me a thing people did for pleasure and meaning but they did something else for work.
After I was accepted at Duke University, all of that changed. I had intended to major in Environmental Science, but wanted to keep up my singing so I auditioned for the Chorale. A pleasant woman greeted me on my way in to audition for the conductor, the audition went well and as I was leaving, she said she could hear me through the door and wanted to invite me to join her Vespers Choir that specialized in renaissance music. I told her honestly that I didn’t really know what that was but it sounded interesting and fit my schedule – a momentous coincidence! The music we performed was unlike anything I had ever known, swirling clouds of overlapping voices and harmonies, intricate constructions of polyphonic lines all designed to fit perfectly together in an ecstatic whole. This was the first place I sang Monteverdi, William Byrd, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Palestrina…a whole world of sounds I could never have conceived. Not long after this I changed my major to Music.
At Duke I saw what it meant to be a working professional musician, even a professional singer. I heard the Tallis Scholars live, but also great performances by Thomas Hampson and Fredericka von Stade. Here I was nurtured and offered technique and training and exposed to an immense variety of types of music and performing. But while I loved this earlier repertoire, I loved lots of other music too.
It wasn’t until arriving in Boston for graduate school at Boston University that I began to see the intriguing world that was historically informed performance. After a short-lived attempt at a more traditional operatic career path, I remembered how much I loved the music of Bach and Monteverdi and Byrd and quickly found my way through the myriad opportunities that the Boston early music community offers.
I fell in love not just with the music, but with a young man named Frankie, now my husband of 22 years. He taught me in real life about the joy of and longing for love expressed so beautifully in this extraordinary music. He continues through his tenderness and support to teach me about love and help make my life and work possible. It didn’t take long before I met and worked with Scott Metcalfe, a key figure in the Boston early music scene, who became a fast friend and strong mentor. Through my work with Scott in Blue Heron and with the Boston Early Music Festival, I also came to know other highly regarded members of the early music scene - luminaries like Stephen Stubbs, Paul O'Dette, Gilbert Blin, Dan Stepner, and Robert Mealy - but also dearly loved humans like Aaron Sheehan, Teresa Wakim, Zachary Wilder and Paul Guttry. There are many people that you work with and call friends, and it’s true -- they are. What we do in performing music demands an emotional connection that makes you close to the people with whom you share it; but these amazing folks are true, lifelong friends and it is my honor to perform with them and my joy that it is so frequent. This music and these people are my home.
As you can see, the web of connections among us does not really feel like a structured work place, but is much more like a family. While I certainly hope that the work we do showcases the skill and years of technique that each of us employs to produce it; more than that I hope you can feel the sense of connection that we all share with each other and the repertoire and what that trust and love brings to the music.