School may be out for the summer, but Westminster Choir College’s CoOPERAtive Program is definitely in session and ready for several performances of their Operatic Arias concerts. In Bristol Chapel on the Westminster Choir College Campus in Princeton at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays July 11 and 18 and Fridays July 13 and 20, young artists in the CoOPERAtive program will perform arias written by some of opera’s greatest composers.
For three weeks every summer, young vocal artists come to Westminster Choir College for a three-week intensive program with private coaching focused on operatic style, performance techniques, dramatic presentation, language and diction, body awareness, resume and application advice. The program is directed by Westminster voice faculty members Laura Brooks Rice and Eric Riger and has been developed in consultation with professionals in the opera field.
This is just one of the many programs run by Westminster Choir College, in addition to their school-year degree granting programs. From community music school programs for students of all ages and abilities, to undergrad and graduate degree programs training professionals, to continuing education programs for both aspiring and professional musicians – among others – Westminster has helped shape the technique and careers of many opera singers, educators, coaches and more.
And, at least in my case, “and more” can also mean administrators. In the summer of 1993 (yikes!), I spent a couple of weeks participating in Westminster’s summer program for high school choristers. As a large chorus, and in smaller ensembles and private coachings, we were immersed in music- (as well as friend-) making at Westminster’s idyllic campus. Not only that, my private lessons were taught by (wait for it)… Laura Brooks Rice. Yup, the same Laura Brooks Rice who co-directs the CoOPERAtive program. Oh, and since we’re on coincidences, in my day job, it turns out that I currently work with at least one prior participant in the CoOPERAtive program.
There are three different categories for participants in Westminster’s CoOPERAtive Program:
Fellows: Graduate students or post-graduate young professionals
Their schedules are customized to suit each singer’s particular needs as they prepare for future auditions and competitions. And yes, there are TONS of opera competitions out there – with varying degrees of prestige, fame and fortune for the winners.
Young Artists: Undergraduate voice majors in their junior or senior years
In addition to coaching and performance of operatic arias, these participants also receive coaching and performance on art song. Art songs are songs written usually for one voice and piano and are often sung today in recitals. The study of art songs is seminal to young singers’ education – it helps them gain skills in foreign languages, vocal technique and story-telling, without the complexities of a full-scale opera production.
Pianist Interns: Those pianists who are interested in exploring operatic accompanying and coaching
While you probably already figured that pianists would be in high demand in the opera world for accompanying rehearsals and recital performances, you probably didn’t consider the role of coaches. Pianist vocal coaches work with singers as they work on a range of opera, musical theater and art song repertoire. Coaches help the singers with interpretation, breath control, and many other areas. They are also crucial for providing honest feedback on what’s working and what’s not for the opera singers they work with.
Get a glimpse into the CoOperative Program in this 10th Anniversary video from 2015:
With dozens of Fellow and Young Artist participants each year, many Westminster CoOPERAtive Program alumni can already be found on opera stages across the country – with many more well on their way. The journey to becoming a successful opera singer is a long one, which takes many years of dedicated study in a whole range of areas.
In addition to the actual technique of creating the operatic sound, there are many other things singers need to help them along the path to a successful career. Since their instrument is their body, singers must study physiology – and not just of the vocal cords and throat, but the whole body – learning the science of the body and practicing yoga.
Opera singers are expected to be facile in a number of languages: Italian, German, French and even Latin and Russian – and not just how to properly pronounce the words, but really knowing the meaning of each word so they can fully portray characters and feelings.
There’s also a great deal to learn about how to best present yourself in applications, recordings and auditions. You often have a really brief moment to make an impression on a director, so learning how to make the most of that brief moment to convey the strength of your talent and credentials (on paper, in a headshot, in a sound file and in person) is crucial.
Singers also need to learn how to maintain themselves and their careers – not just when working on a production at an opera company, but also in between gigs. While in school, student singers often have a set schedule, with teachers telling them what to work on and when, but once you leave school, maintaining a schedule and discipline can be a little daunting on your own.
Yeah, there’s a lot that young singers need to learn and do on their way to becoming professionals, and programs like CoOPERAtive are really vital to this career development – especially from a trusted, well-respected source like Westminster.
So when you go see one of these CoOPERAtive Program Operatic Arias Concerts (and I know you will!), don’t just enjoy the music and the performance. Take a moment to admire the hard work that these young singers and accompanists have put into all aspects of their craft, and imagine all the places they’ll go…
Westminster’s CoOPERAtive Program presents its Operatic Arias Concert on Wednesday, July 11; Friday, July 13; Wednesday, July 18 and Friday, July 20. Each concert takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Bristol Chapel of Westminster Choir College, located at 101 Walnut Lane in Princeton. Admission is free. For more information visit rider.edu/westminster.