The arts, mainly music and theatre, have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Some of my earliest and fondest memories are of my brother, dad, and I riding along in our white 1985 Toyota pickup truck, affectionately named “Ol’ Whitey,” creating our own songs to sing. My dad also wrote songs to help both my brother and I remember how to spell our name. (I can still sing mine to this day!)
I remember listening to my Grampy’s melodious and smooth baritone voice sing holiday songs at the annual Christmas service in church. He would serenade us if we asked “real nice.” When I learned that my dad and his five siblings (all sisters!) would sing together (with my dad singing the high soprano part) I began to gather them at holiday functions to have them sing to all of us. I’ve always loved the act of singing and listening to live music.
As a child, I also dabbled in ballet (for a very brief moment) I remember walking across the stage in a blue dress with a flower crown in the annual production of The Nutcracker. I do believe that was my first time ever performing on stage. However, I quickly made the decision that dance was not for me and took part in choir and band in grade school.
I was diligent about practicing my instruments: voice; b-flat clarinet; flute; and piccolo until it drove my family crazy. In sixth grade I was introduced to the wonderful world of….. MUSICAL THEATRE! I had my very first solo singing “Something to Believe In” in the school’s production of T’Was One Crazy Night Before Christmas and was bitten by the bug. I fell head over heals with performing and auditioned for every role I possibly could.
In high school, I had to choose between band and choir which bummed me out, but I couldn’t not choose choir! So, I sang in two different choirs: the mixed choir (both male and female voices) and the show choir. I also auditioned and played a role in every musical theatre production we did. I was in Bye Bye Birdie, Guys and Dolls, and played the lead role my senior year of Princess Winnifred in Once Upon a Mattress. I also participated in all of the state and county choirs. I just loved learning new music and performing!
Upon graduation I knew exactly what I wanted to do… I wanted to sing! So I attended college at Radford University and pursued a degree in music business while studying voice. I still remember sitting in my “Music Appreciation” class and hearing “Dido’s Lament” from Dido and Aeneas. I was mesmerized and discovered my love and passion for opera. So now, I wanted to be an opera singer. I practiced for hours and hours perfecting my craft. Again, aggravating those around me with my constant singing of the same phrase over and over again. I would make flashcards to study pronunciation and translations while working. It consumed my every waking moment. All my practicing did pay off, I had the amazing opportunity of performing with Radford’s Opera Workshop as Gertrude in Hansel and Gretel as well as a chorus member in Opera Roanoke’s productions of Madama Butterfly, Carmen, and Il Trovatore before graduating.
While in college, I also had the opportunity to work with Opera Roanoke in an administrative role where I utilized my skills in music business and ran the box office, assisted with production needs, and various other tasks related to running an opera company. It was then I began to realize my talents could be used in the arts in a different capacity. Pursuing a career in singing just wasn’t in the cards for me.
After graduating from Radford University I quickly began looking for a way to start my career on the business side of the arts. I tried for two years to get my foot in the door without any luck. Eventually, I took a job on the production crew of the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech. It is here where I found my true calling. I had always loved performing because I could connect with people, create, and impact lives through the arts. Being back stage allows me to still act as a facilitator for the arts. I find it to be just as thrilling and exciting. I get to use my skills in planning and implementing live events. It’s perfect!
Don’t get me wrong, I still love performing and I do as much as possible. I perform in holiday concerts with great friends and fellow musicians. I get to share love by singing at weddings and I have also had the privilege of honoring lives at memorial services. I get to do it on my terms and just it, not rely on it to put food in my mouth and a roof over my head.
So, with my new career path in mind, I realized I needed more education to help me further my goals. Luckily for me Amanda Nelson and the Virginia Tech School of Performing Arts had just created a new MFA Arts Leadership program. I just had to be a part of it and soak up all of the knowledge I could. To my surprise, I applied and got in!
Now here I am, two years later tackling the third year like a boss. Since I’ve been here at Virginia Tech I have discovered so much about myself as an individual as well as artist and leader. I have had the chance to dive deeper into what it takes to run an arts organization with classes in marketing, development, finance, leadership, production management, human resources, and strategic and long range planning.
Not only has graduate school prepared me for hopefully running my own organization one day (fingers crossed), it has also allowed me the freedom to explore this very important topic of women in the arts. I feel so blessed to be able to provide a platform for this important conversation to take place.
I am a woman in the arts and I couldn’t be happier!