My senior year at Bishop Miege High School in suburban Kansas City, I was certain - and I mean CERTAIN! - that I would be a high school choral director, and so I searched for schools that had great music education degrees. After sorting through loads of brochures, I settled on The Wichita State University, known for it's wonderful teacher programs, and as it so happened, an outstanding opera department. I didn't know about the latter until well into my theory classes: upon my arrival there seemed to be a very serious, elite "opera clique" of amazing performers that seemed much larger than life, and actually, untouchable to me. The program was run by the omnipresent, towering Dr. George Gibson - who to this impressionable freshmen seemed not just larger than life, but all-powerful and imposing on the highest level.
As I found my footing, I found that people would come from around the country to study voice with him and that he was quite a revered opera director. To me, he was the kind of presence that required you to divert your gaze while walking in the hallways, because he was THAT powerful! Somehow I got enticed into being in the chorus of Die Fledermaus that he was directing, and he was fierce in his directing, exacting in his expectations, and tolerated nothing less than the best. (His motto, which he exemplifies in every area of his life, was Dedictation, Discipline and Determination: the 3 D's!)
Well the rest is now history, but there is no getting around how influential he was on my formation as a singer, and I've told him repeatedly that when I stand on stage, there is a part of him that is standing there with me - and most happily, he continues to be an important part of my life. But the kicker is that I am just one of MANY whose lives he has touched!
Last week, while working here at the MET, I was talking with a good friend of mine, and fellow Wichita State Alum, (as well as Santa Fe apprentice!) Brian Frutiger, who is involved here in The House of the Dead. He said, "You know, Joyce - right now there are 5 WSU alums working here at the MET."
Five WSU Alumni? Five WSU SHOCKERS?
That might not be a big deal if we were talking about Juilliard or Eastmen, perhaps, but Wichita State???? 4 of us are singers, and 1 plays oboe in the orchestra.
We thought that was rather amazing. And so we organized a photo shoot!
Brian Frutiger (Tenor), Alan Held (Bass-Baritone), Susan Spector (Oboe), Samuel Ramey (Bass), myself, and Susan's daughter who, by virtue of her WSU sweatshirt, immediately became our mascot!
My thought about writing about this, is that once I set my mind on being an opera singer, there was a temptation to believe "But I have to attend one of the BIG music schools!", and it was hard not to sometimes feel inferior, because I didn't have a "big name school" as affirmation that I was "good". Instead, I realized, looking at the 5 of us, each of us takes a very different route and path to get to where we are. I attended school with a number of HUGELY talented people, but they each walked a different route to live their lives. I think the urge for younger singers to think there is ONE way, ONE key to a career is just simply misguided. Get yourself in the mind set of the "3 D's", and get about taking your very own journey, and then ENJOY THE RIDE.
My ride brought me to the MET Opera Shop on Tuesday, and it was wonderful. The fabulous Opera Shop Staff really rolled out the red carpet for me, welcomed me with open arms, and a wonderful crowd came out to meet me and have me sign their newly acquired discs. THANK YOU to each one of you for purchasing the discs! (As everyone knows, every single disc makes a difference in this industry right now!) I'll always be a bit mystified that this girl from Kansas is on this particular journey, but I never stay in that frame of mind too long. But an enormous source of my joy is knowing all the people along the way who have helped me on the way, and reveling in the journey of my colleagues as well.