SCOTT MURPHREE, tenor, is a distinguished singer of the concert, recital and opera stage. He is a founding member of the Mirror Visions Ensemble and continues to perform with them frequently. In addition to traditional opera repertoire, he has created roles in several world premieres of operas including Allan Jaffe’s Mary Shelley, Christopher Berg’s Cymbeline, Jon Gibson’s Violet Fire, and Tina Davison’s Billy and Zelda. Highlights of his performances include appearances with Central City Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Delaware, Utah Opera, Nevada Opera, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, American Symphony Orchestra, New York Festival of Song, Five Boroughs Music Festival, Aspen Music Festival and Pacific Music Festival. He has worked closely with composers such as Ned Rorem, Ricky Ian Gordon, Robert Beaser and Richard Hundley, and has premiered songs written especially for him by Yehudi Wyner, Tom Cipullo, Richard Pearson Thomas and Christopher Berg. He has served on the voice faculties of the University of Connecticut and the Yale School of Drama and currently is an adjunct professor of vocal performance in the Steinhardt School at New York University. He received his B.M. from the University of North Texas, his M.M. from Yale University, and his D.M.A. from State University of New York at Stony Brook.
Where are you from?
I'm from Orange, Texas.
How did you get into music?
I always sang. It was just something that was very natural for me. So I always sang, but I never thought I was special because it was just the norm for me to sing. I thought I wanted to be an actor, so when I was in junior high, I was in all the plays and musicals. Then I came to high school, and I was doing the same things and was taking acting classes. Then there was the musical, and, as a freshman, I got cast as a leading role. The music director for the high school musical was, like, “You know, you have a really good voice. You should be in my choir.” So she got me to be in her choir, and the rest is history.
The next year, I was in her choir, and in Texas, there’s the Texas All-State choir, which goes from the regional level to the state level. Everybody in choir was required for their grade to audition for the regional choir, so we all learned the excerpts that we had to learn for the regional choir, and I was accepted into the regional choir, but then I placed well enough to be advanced further. It was that first year, my sophomore year, I advanced all the way to the finals at the state level, and I got second place. So they're announcing the winners. They're going from second alternate, first alternate, sixth, fifth, fourth. So I'm just thinking, “Oh I thought I did so well, but you know that I'm not the first alternate. I'm not number six. I'm not number five. Well, of course, I'm not number four. Of course, I'm not number three.” Then they announced my name for number two, and I was like, “Oh, my God!” So yeah, I realized then that I was special, and I didn’t realize that before, because it was just my norm, so I didn't realize that it was unique. I became very interested in singing at that point. I got a voice teacher, and I realized that in singing, you get to be an actor which fulfilled that for me as well, and that's how I got into it.
Where did you attend your undergraduate studies?
The University of North Texas.
Did you do any young artists programs during undergraduate studies?
I did not, but my voice teacher at the time (interesting fact which plays into NYU, Professor Heldman and I had the same voice teacher at the University of North Texas) was frustrated that we weren't having enough opportunities outside of school. So she said, “Let's go as a studio to Austria, and we're going to go and study take classes at the Mozarteum.” This is my junior into my senior year, that summer.
She took all of us, you know, and she led the way to Salzburg and we took classes at the Mozarteum. That was a really eye-opening experience because I'd never really been around anybody but my classmates. So to see people from all over the world, from Japan, from Australia, and to see, you know, how I fit into all of that. You know, I did very well. I mean, I wouldn't say that I was better than anybody else, but there was sort of a benchmark moment where the very famous soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf had a class.
The classes usually were like, three to four weeks, and her class was only a week. She was a bitter old woman at the time. This was before she died, obviously. So anyway, everybody was eager to be in her class. The very first day of class, she had everybody audition, and said, “Everybody is welcome to sit in the room, but I'm only going to work with a few of you.” So all the people, you know, stood up and sang, if she let them, you know. There were people that would sing two measures and she’d say “No thank you,” and send them away. I was one of the five people she chose to work with. That was unbelievable.
So as an undergrad, I didn't do any of the young artist programs. I didn't do anything like that, but I did take courses at the Mozarteum. I would encourage anybody to do some sort of educational thing as an undergrad because I don't think most people are ready to do a young artist program at that age. It's really rare if you're that advanced as an undergrad, but most people are not.
What are some things (besides YAP/PCI) that you did to build your resume as an undergraduate student?
I did competitions - local competitions. Every year there were the NATS competitions, so I did those. And they were good ways for me to focus my energy besides just doing school, so that was really all I had. Living in Texas, there was not much, but there were a few local competitions, so that was a way to kind of help supplement my preparation and education.
What are some of the most useful ways for undergraduate students to spend their time to prepare themselves for the “next step” (not necessarily to build their resume)?
Study languages. That's the first thing I advise - study languages. Study the way it's used. Diction courses are important and being able to speak with good diction is great, but also, you're going to be working with so many different languages, especially the basic Italian, French, and German foreign languages, so you’ll also need a working knowledge of how the language exists in life. I took German in college. It was so hard. Oh, my God - really, really hard. I took French in high school, and then I ended up being able to continue French by going to France a lot later.
Then, in my doctorate, I took Italian. I had the opportunity to learn those languages and study them as a language, which I would say is a really important aspect of it, because words are important. It's not just, you know, the music. The words are really important. The subtlety, colloquialisms, and how the language is used and inflected in speech is important. So I would say, that would be my biggest piece of advice.
In addition to that, go to concerts and operas and watching and listening as much as you can. Just getting yourself steeped in what it is that you're learning by watching other people do it as a profession is great.
How important is GPA in undergraduate studies?
It matters as an undergrad because you'll be applying to grad school. It really matters for the high school students going into college if you want to get into an academically rigorous school like NYU. Other schools are a little more lenient when it comes to talent. NYU is not. We can beg and plead with the University for someone who's really talented, but if they say no, there's nothing we can do to change that. So for high school students and undergrads, yes, grades are important.
APPLYING TO GRADUATE SCHOOL
Does attending a more acclaimed yet competitive school provide more opportunities in the long run as opposed to a smaller school with more individual opportunities?
No, I don’t think a more acclaimed school provides more opportunities than a smaller school, but I do think that it's important to go to a school that is reputable. The most important thing about going to graduate school is finding a place where you feel like you're going to be able to grow both vocally and as a musician. Those aren't necessarily the same thing. So it’s important to be able to say, “Okay, I know I'm going to be able to get some good technique worked on by being at this school because this particular teacher is the teacher I really want to work with.”
Also finding an environment that fits your way of learning is important with the kind of school that it is. Is it a really tough competitive school like Juilliard? Or is it a sort of like, off the beaten path, but still a reputable school like the San Francisco Conservatory, which is an excellent school? It's not one that you hear about all the time, and they have really good teachers there. It’s important to find the environment that you think is right for you at that moment.
Juilliard, I find (and I've had a lot of friends that went to school there, and I've had voice teachers that teach there) can be a very tough. It can beat you down. It can be a really too challenging an environment if you're not ready for it. So it's not a bad idea to wait to go to Juilliard later, like as an artist diploma, but, for a masters degree, I don’t think it's always the best thing. You have to be ready for a school like that.
Also, the size of the school is important. You need to consider how many opportunities would be available to you? At least at Yale, a very limited number of students are admitted, so opportunities are guaranteed. They make sure that you have as much coaching as you can get and you get as much experience on stage as you can get. When there's a smaller school or a smaller class at a school, you will get more individual attention, if that's what you really need. As a bachelor's student, I went to an enormous school where most of the opportunities were given to the graduate students. So for my master’s, I needed a place where I was going to be able to get experience because I didn’t get as much experience in my bachelor's degree as I would have liked.
How do you find a voice teacher that you would like to study with?
There's only one way, and that’s just to have a lesson. I think you need to talk to the students of the teachers that you're interested in to see how they feel because you get a very honest opinion from someone who's in that person’s studio. But, there's nothing like having a lesson. You have to have a lesson yourself. I think it's twofold. You both need to have the lesson, and then talk to the students of that teacher.
Can you guarantee that same teacher if you are accepted into the graduate program?
That's something you'd have to talk to the teacher about. Every school has their own policy. At NYU, it's not a guarantee, but usually, it works out. It's something that you have to talk about with the actual teacher you've had the lesson with. So if you are accepted by the school, and then you write to the teacher you’re interested in and say, “I'm really excited that I was accepted. Would it be possible for me to be in your studio next year?” You have to really spell out what you want and ask because sometimes a teacher may be overly booked and not have the room to take you.
Is it more beneficial to attend graduate school or gain experience right out of undergraduate studies?
Whether or not to take time off from school is personal to everyone. It's an individual decision. I think it's most important that you continue to sing, and that you continue in an environment that's not going to tempt you to not sing. So going right to graduate school is helpful in the way that you never quite leave the safety of an educational environment. Being out in the world at twenty-two, you can easily, all of a sudden, get swallowed up by your day job and stop your daily practice. It's easy to learn to lose momentum. I would say that it’s fine to take time off from school if that's a necessary thing for you: to take the time to save money for graduate school or if you felt like you weren't quite mature enough, vocally. For instance, if you felt like you really wanted to go to graduate school, but you feel like your voice needs another year to grow, taking time off is totally fine. You just need to be very aware of remaining focused on your singing.
You have to be really mindful of staying focused and structuring your time when you're not in a school environment that automatically does it for you. My advice would be to go straight to graduate school, but I realize it's not necessarily everybody's thing. If you don't go, it must be a clear decision that you're going to structure your own life as if you were still in school.
Should you pay for graduate school or should they pay you?
I don't think it matters. I think it matters to the individual. If there's financial hardship in being able to pay for it, then yeah. Look for a school that has substantial scholarships available. Or, if there's a really good teacher at a school that didn't give you a scholarship and you felt like that was the right place for you I would - and I know parents will do this to their children, “Oh, but you got a big scholarship at Podunk University”, but you were accepted at NYU and you really felt like there was a teacher here that you wanted to work with. It would be something to think about. It's an individual decision. There are so few schools that offer enough scholarships to make it affordable. CCM has really great scholarships and Yale is completely funded, but there are so few people that get that.
How important is it to have a master’s degree?
I would say it's important because you won't be finished growing by the time you finish your bachelor's degree. So to follow my advice and continue in that bubble of an educational environment - yeah, you need a master's degree to continue the momentum that you've created in your bachelor's degree. You don't need the degree per se, but you need the environment and the experience. So if you don't finish, no big deal, as long as you feel like you've gotten what you needed to get, which is to keep you singing.
How important is it to have a doctoral degree?
It's not important unless you know that you'd like to teach later. If that's something that you know as a young person, (a lot of times people don't know) then yes, but it's not anything that is necessary. It's definitely superfluous.
Where did you attend your graduate studies?
Did you do any young artists programs during graduate studies and/or directly after?
Glimmerglass, Central City, Des Moines, and Aspen are the young artist programs [that I did]. I mean, I did not pay anything. In fact, I was paid to do them. You're employed as a young artist by those opera companies to do the roles that you're assigned. The programs have an educational component in addition to covers and small roles you’re given on the main stage. You also get many opportunities that are structured for young artists to hone their skills like dance class, acting class, or Marilyn Horne would come one week and we’d all get to sing for her. All of those programs have an educational aspect as well as the job, which is to sing in the chorus, perform a small role or cover a major role. Those were the opera companies. Aspen is a summer music school, and a lot of people will pay to go there, but I was awarded a fellowship, so I didn’t pay anything.
How did you find out about them?
I mean, word of mouth was the way people learned about those programs when I was in school. Now, the internet makes everything so much easier. This was back in the ’80s and ’90s. So you know, someone might’ve said, “Oh, I just came back from a fabulous summer at Glimmerglass,” and so people would hear about things through word of mouth. Musical America existed back then, but I didn't even know what that was. I could have gone to Musical America and looked those things up, but I didn't even know about that!
What are some things (besides YAP/PCI) that you did to build your resume as a graduate student?
More competitions, more programs - I did several apprentice programs.
What are some of the most useful ways for graduate students to spend their time to prepare themselves for the “next step” (not necessarily to build their resume)?
Making viable connections with people that are in New York or are at least connected to people in New York, because all roads end up leading here. All the auditions seem to happen here. So if you're working on your Masters degree, and you know you're going to be out of school soon, but you don't have a plan yet, start looking for people you can connect with, either on a friendly basis or by coaching with someone who is in New York. Find ways to get looped into being in the singer scene in New York. Find people that you know are studying with teachers here and observe them in their lessons.
How important is GPA in graduate studies?
It's really not important. I mean, just pass. I think that the classes you'll be taking are interesting enough. You'll do more than pass because they're more tailored to you and your needs as a performer.
How do you get auditions?
Classical Singer Magazine is a good resource to see who's looking for people to audition. It's best to not do a cold call - meaning that you have not been solicited. They don't know who you are. You have no connection there. You just send your resume and photo to an opera company and it’s meaningless. It's best not to do that. If you find that there is a show that's being cast and you feel like you’d really love to be considered for the cover, you need to find a way to be seen by that company when they are holding auditions.
Usually, if they're posting in Classical Singer Magazine, they'll say they're hearing people and to please send your materials. Then, you are invited to send your materials for such and such cover. So you have to find out who's casting what. I remember, when I was younger, I would look to see what the summer shows were going to be the next year at Glimmerglass and other summer companies, and I’d start preparing those arias in advance because every one of those places would want you to sing an aria for the cover that you were hoping to get. So you need to find out what people are doing, and be on the lookout for when an opera company’s season is announced. Let's say a small opera company in Kansas is doing Don Pasquale. You're like, “Oh my God. I would really love to audition for the cover of Norina!” So you find a way to see if someone has a connection at that company or see when they're going to be in New York to audition.
There are ways - and this is not always advisable, but it's certainly possible - when you know an opera company is going to be in New York, you find out where they're going to be and you can “crash” the audition. Okay, so you find out that, let's say, this opera company in the Midwest is going to be in New York for these three days and they're going to be at Shetler Studios, which is a known place for people to come in and do auditions. So you go, and you wait outside, and you wait for them to have a lull, and this is kind of like a cold call, because you've not been invited, but they're there. They've paid to be in that studio and you go and you say, “Oh, I really would love to sing for you. Would you be willing to hear me, if you have the time?” And people cancel, you know, and people get sick at the last minute, and they don't show up. Then they have this twenty-minute lull and they don't need to go to the bathroom, because they just had a break, and so what are they going to do? They're just going to sit there, so why not? So either they say, “No, thank you very much,” or, “Sure.” So I mean, there's an opportunity. So you have to be kind of sneaky and find out when these people are going to be in New York so that you can show up unannounced. It happens, people do that, and I know people have gotten gigs by doing that.
Do you need an agent?
You have to do a certain amount of singing legwork on your own that is the right level for you. Like, if you know that the kind of people that they hire for the cover of the Kansas City Opera Company is years beyond where you are, then don't even try. But do look for the levels of opportunity where you fit and audition for all of those. There are many different levels. Finding ways to do that is how you build your experience and your resume, so that then you can be attractive to a manager or an agent who will then want to represent you, because it's really rare for a manager to just scoop someone up and say, “Yes, I want to work with you.” You have no credits or anything, so you need to have some kind of experience by finding the auditions for those things that you're appropriate for and trying to get as many of those under your belt as you can. This would then lead to getting a manager or agent when you feel like it's that time.
I was a baritone and then switched to tenor, so my journey is a little delayed in that regard. I had gotten to the level of getting good work on my own without a manager, and then I had a competition experience where I was told I needed to pursue being a tenor. I had heard that comment before, but I wasn’t convinced that it was the right thing. So this time I said to myself, “I can't keep doing this. I've got to explore what it's like to change fachs.”
Then I took some time to make the switch (which ended up being the right thing!), and I came back and did exactly what I had been doing before. I was looking for, you know, things to do at the entry-level. During the time that I was making the switch, I was still performing, which was tricky. I didn't just take time off. I was still singing concerts because I didn’t want to turn those jobs down. I was not yet quite a tenor, but I was not really a serious baritone anymore. So I was in this limbo stage.
Then I was asked to give a concert of songs that were all commissioned by a woman whose name was Alice Swanson Esty. She had commissioned all these famous composers from the ’50s, who were living at the time, to write songs for her, and I was asked to give a concert of five of her commissions. Five song cycles! So an acquaintance who had heard me when I was seriously pursuing being a baritone brought his best friend with him, who happened to be a big name artist manager. The concert went really well and it's so funny, like, I hadn't even said anything to my friend, but afterward, he said, “Oh, surprise, I brought my friend.” and I'm like, “Oh, my God, I can't believe this. I'm so glad I didn't know this was happening!” After the concert I was properly introduced to the manager, and he's say, “Hello. It's so nice to meet you. I love your signing, but you're not a baritone!” And I said, “No, I'm actually in the process of becoming a tenor.” and he said “I'd love to hear you whenever you feel like it's time!” So I received an open invitation from to call him when I was ready.
So I wasn't going to call him the moment my voice teacher said, “Okay, you're a tenor now.” I went out and got a few gigs as a tenor and did my own thing. Then, I called him and I said, “Look, I've been doing this, and I have a concert coming up as a tenor. Will you come and hear it?” and he said, “Oh, I'd love to!” So he came, and then, after the concert, he said, “I'll send you a contract tomorrow.” Everybody's journey to finding management is different. Many times, people will have a formal audition for a manager. That's more the norm, but it's not the only way. I was lucky enough that an acquaintance of mine knew an artist manager and brought him to one of my concerts which eventually led to my being represented.
WORK OUTSIDE THE MUSIC FIELD
Have you ever had to work a part-time or full-time job that does not involve music while on the track to becoming a professional musician (not including work done while in school)?
Oh, yeah. When I was first out of school, I certainly didn't have enough gigs to pay my rent and my voice lessons and everything else. So I waited tables, and I worked out a schedule that was good for me. I also worked in a law office once, doing filing. I knew nothing about law, but I could be there and file stuff away. I worked as a telemarketer once, but my main source of income that wasn't from singing was mainly food service. I worked in restaurants. I also worked for catering companies. In New York, that's a big thing, because, in New York, they're constantly doing a party at locations where everything has to be brought in. So there are these catering companies that employ people who are young actors, dancers, singers, or models that need extra money, so that's an easy way to make some extra cash as a performer.
Right out of grad school, I got a restaurant job, and I had that for two and a half years. Then, when I decided to go do my doctorate, I just had my church job. Then after that was done, I was doing catering jobs and I had a teaching job in Connecticut. Then it was just too much, so I didn’t do catering jobs anymore. I just focused on teaching and singing and that was enough to create a substantial income for me. Then I got my first university job, which was in Connecticut, and so it just sort of evolved. I eventually evolved out of foodservice and into earning my income solely from music.
Do you take private voice lessons as a professional musician?
Yeah, that never stopped. It's a once a week commitment; however, the frequency trailed off as I got older. Also, my availability would, you know, change, because I would be out of town for a job or whatever. So as needed, I would say. I mean, in the beginning, as a young professional, I would have them as often as I could. Especially having made a switch from baritone to tenor, I wanted to have as many regular lessons as possible just to stay on top of things. So yes, that's an understood thing that you need to continue to have a voice teacher.
What’s an average cost for a professional voice teacher?
In New York, it depends. I know some people will charge $250. Some people charge $200. Some people charge $150. So between $150 and $250 - that's sort of the ballpark.
Do you have to bring your own accompanist?
Each teacher does their own thing but most teachers do provide an accompanist, which is built into their fee. But, obviously, if you have to bring your own then you have to pay for your own.
How have you diversified your repertoire?
Well, I’ve sung all of it. I always had a strong interest in songs. If I hadn't been hired to do a concert, I was always working on something, so that I always stayed active in that regard with song repertoire. Opera is what you normally work on in terms of your audition package in your lessons to get your next job. that was always a part of my singing because that was how I usually had to audition. It was rare, or if at all, that I ever auditioned for a recital. Most of my oratorio jobs were through my manager that I never auditioned for. They were jobs where they would call my management and say, “Oh, we would like a tenor for Messiah, “and they'd say, “Okay, here's one”, and I would go and do the job. So it was based on the assumption that I was at a level of being on the roster of a reputable manager and therefore good enough to be hired without an audition. It was nice to be sent out on jobs in good faith that I was going to be good enough.
There were a few that I auditioned for that were really rewarding. One time, my manager actually got the gig because I had done a concert with an organization where someone had heard me. They were going to do the War Requiem, which never gets done because it's so huge. It requires so many different things and is so complicated that no one ever does it. But it just so happened that they heard me and they thought that I would be right for it. So they asked me to come and audition, and I had to learn excerpts from the work and bring them in. So that was a formal audition for an oratorio. But, generally, I didn’t audition for oratorio jobs. They just happened organically. Some of my oratorio jobs came from me knowing conductors and having sung with a particular choral group with the conductor wanting me to do a solo. So it came in different ways.
How important is solo classical training to choral singing? How important is choral training to solo classical singing?
I think in New York, especially, there's a huge network of choral music that is paid. So I auditioned for the choral contractor of the New York Philharmonic, and I got asked to do those jobs. I had a church job, and some people at my church job said, “Oh, you should come and sing for this conductor at another church who had a concert series, and they would do these big concerts.” So I went and sang for them, even though I didn’t leave my church job. I wanted to be part of their extra concerts. That particular conductor ended up hiring me to do my first Carnegie Hall concert with orchestra.
There is a lot of choral music happening in New York, and there's a lot of networking. You can do that because most of the people in those choral jobs are professional and young professional singers that are looking for solo opportunities, which is why those choirs are so good. They're full of professional opera singers. It goes hand in hand. Both sides of it. I would say, a lot of times, people say that they're not a choral singer. I know choral singing is a thing, and it's a thing you have to be able to adapt to, but it's not anything that I would say is detrimental to you having a solo career, if you know how to sing well. If you don't know how to sing well, it can screw you up. So it's a double-edged sword. It can be really beneficial, or it can screw you up. But, in my experience, the people I met through those jobs led to other jobs for me, which were great solo gigs, as well as other choral gigs that paid well. So getting anybody to pay you to sing is great.
Some people think, “Oh, I don't do church jobs. I don't sing in a choir.” Okay, but you're missing out. And that brings me to another point I wanted to make. In college, I feel like I gained a very valuable musical sensibility which was cultivated by the conductor of my choir in college. He was a very sophisticated musician. And I feel like, years later, I can see how much of my musicianship is attributed to his guidance which was solely choral. I mean, I would completely cringe at the time, as a freshman in college, that I had to be in choir because it's part of my degree plan. But, I learned so much in choir about music. So I feel like it's something that people, especially as a freshman, will think, “Oh, that's not for me.” But I really benefited from it a lot.
Is it better to work with multiple regional companies and gigs around the country or stay with an opera company in one place?
The thing about being a young professional is that you have to go where the work is. That's all freelance. So if you limit your work to one small area, you're not going to work very often. I would say, work wherever you can, right? That means, if you have to go 500 miles to the west to do it, you do that.
Is it better to stay in the United States or go to Europe to sing/study?
That has changed in recent years. It used to be something that people just did. They would get themselves together and go do an audition tour. It's not something I was ever interested in. I didn't want to live abroad. I love going to places and I love working in other places, but I never wanted to live there. So for me, that was not interesting, but one of my best friends from college ended up in an opera company in Germany and met her husband and stayed there. They have children that are now in college. And you know, she's been very happy with that. So I won't say that that's not an option. It's an option, but you have to be willing to live abroad.
PRIVATE VOICE TEACHER
How do you teach voice parts other than your own?
For me, it was never difficult. It just came naturally to me because I loved hearing women sing. I had a couple of female voice teachers, and it all made sense to me and never was hard for me to grasp. I guess I learned from that experience. Singing is singing. There are certain pedagogical differences, but for the most part, it's the same instrument. There are some changes in the vowels, perhaps as you modify, but I don't think there's really a big difference between how you teach the different parts.
How much do you charge per lesson?
At NYU, it’s included, but for students outside of the school, I charged $125, which is on the low side, because I know most of my students are starving artists and need a break. So I try to be under the standard.
How much does touring and traveling with high vocal demands affect you?
I've only done one extended tour. After the summer, I was an apprentice at Des Moines Metro Opera. They invited me to come back and do their educational tour in the winter. So January, until the beginning of May, I was on tour with Des Moines, going from school to school, and we had a repertoire of four shows. Some of them had to begin at 8:30 AM because of the school’s schedules, so we would be on the gymnasium floor performing by 8:30 in the morning. It was difficult, but I remained mostly in good health. It was very tiring, but I learned a lot. There was a time when I had gotten a cold and I was continuing to sing through it. In the beginning it was fine. But soon, something didn't feel right and I was alarmed. I was like, “What should I do? I guess, on my day off, I'll go into the doctor.” I went to the ENT on my day off and he said, “Look, you're just really tired. Your voice is not responding well because you have just worn yourself down. If you continue to wear yourself down, I can see how you can develop a vocal issue. So chill out.” So I began to sing more mindfully and didn't think of every performance as being the most important. It wasn't like I wasn't giving a performance, but I would give a performance that had some reserve to it that allowed me to not feel so exhausted because there's very little time to rest. It was really hard. So that requires mindfulness and pacing of your energy level so that you don't give it all up.
What happens if you are sick or unable to perform?
If I had developed some sort of like vocal issue and the doctor put me on extended vocal rest I would have had to leave the tour and go back home. They would have to cancel shows. They would have had to find a new person to fill my shoes and teach that person all the roles that he had to learn. So that would have been a big expense. Luckily, it didn't happen.
But you know, I would say from a teacher's perspective, I had a student at NYU take a leave of absence from school as a junior to go on the national tour of West Side Story. He was cast as Tony and it was a great opportunity. But I knew my student ran the risk of not being a smart enough singer to manage his vocal health. And I told him, “Look, I know you're going to get excited. And I know you're going to want to sing every show like it’s your last. But you have to be careful.” And sadly he wasn't careful. He came back with a large vocal polyp and had to have surgery. With a polyp, you have to have it removed. So he came back for his senior year and was on vocal rest for the first month because he had the surgery just before the semester began. I was very disappointed in him. So yeah, you have to be really careful. He told me that he could tell that something was wrong, but he was afraid to to find out what it was. He had all these performances to do and he felt obligated. You should never feel obligated if something is wrong. Truly, I know you have the pressure of the entire show on your shoulders if you're the leading guy. If you can't go on, they have to cancel the show if there's no understudy. You should cancel the show. There's nothing more important than your health and vocal health is a very tricky thing. If you sing when you know you shouldn't be singing, you're going to pay for it in the end.
FAMILY AND RELATIONSHIPS
How has being a professional musician affected your relationships?
Yeah, because being a professional musician is all-consuming. If you're in a relationship, you need to be in a relationship where you can be understood. You know, some people are not able to be in a relationship with a singer because a singer seems so narcissistic. It's not that we're narcissistic. It's that we need to be able to think about ourselves in a way that most people don't, and so it can be seen as narcissistic. But then, on the other side, the singer needs to be able to have self-perspective to know when it's time to be a singer and when it's time to just be a person. Being a singer can be all-consuming at all times, but you have to be able to have the flexibility to say, “Okay, I need a break. Now. I can't keep doing this. So tonight, I'm going to go to the movies.” So some people just become so obsessed that it's not healthy for them or their relationships, and in the long run, it's not healthy for their careers because they get burned out. So it's important to have a balance as a person and as a singer. There is an obsessive part of being a singer, and you have to embrace that, but you also have to be willing to let go of it.
Would it be difficult to have a partner and children as a professional musician?
I know plenty of people who do, but I don't. I imagine that it is difficult, but if your partner in the relationship is someone who has the ability to pick up the slack, then that's good. That's great, but not everybody's partner has that kind of flexibility.
Do you think that it is necessary to have an active social media?
First of all, I'm not on any social media. I have a fake Instagram so that I can see my niece and nephew, but I don’t ever do anything. I don't even have a photo. So, from my standpoint and what I see now, yes, I think it's important because visibility is the reason to do it. And even if you're not necessarily well known, you still should strive to be visible so that people get to know you. I think it is essential.
Is it important to have a website?
When you have enough stuff to put on it so that you look like a professional, yes. If you're a young professional, and you don't have a lot of credits, I would say, no, it's not so important. But at a certain point, yes. Most managers will want you to have a website so that on their website, they can link to your website. So yeah, at the point where you're looking for management, I would say, is the point where you should have a website to show your manager.
Is being a musician financially difficult?
Yes. You don’t usually have a steady job, because most musicians are freelancers. So even if you get paid well, you just don't get paid often enough. I know people who can do it, and I've done it. It's just hard. You just have to constantly look for your next opportunity. It's a hardship, but if you love it enough, it is worth it.
How beneficial is it to have an accountant that is adept at working with musicians in terms of taxes?
Yes, I would say, because tax write-offs have changed in recent years, too. I'm not even sure what the changes are, but I know that they have changed. I remember looking at Classical Singer Magazine, trying to figure out who should go to to get help with my taxes because it was so complicated. I've worked in so many different states. How do I know what to claim and how to fill out the forms properly? I knew I needed help, so I went to Classical Singer Magazine and I looked for someone, and the guy I chose to go to had an ad that said, “We do Liza’s taxes!” So if he was good enough for Liza Minnelli he must be really good. He turned out to be a really quiet guy from Connecticut but worked in New York City. He was enormously helpful!
So yes, I do think it's helpful to go to someone who specializes in performing arts because you don't want to do anything wrong. You could end up paying taxes that you shouldn’t have or perhaps not pay enough tax. If your audited and they find out later that you didn’t pay enough, then you have to pay all the back taxes plus all the fines. Also, you want to make sure you're getting enough of the “right-off” benefits. It's overwhelming. It was certainly too hard for me to understand. If you have that kind of mind and do your own taxes, great, but most people I know have an accountant that specializes in that.
Where do you see yourself after NYU?
I love it here. I don’t see myself going elsewhere. I've had other teaching jobs, but to me, NYU is a great place to be. I like the kind of students we have here. I like teaching in a university rather than a conservatory because I like the kind of well rounded education a university setting allows. I absolutely love teaching and I love the different things that I get to teach at NYU. I teach song analysis, diction, repertoire, and private voice lessons. I’m so lucky to get to teach the things that I really love. I really don’t see myself anywhere else. I'm very happy here.