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A soprano's song

MU student Emily Bennett has every reason to smile. At 23, she has graced the stage of Carnegie Hall and is now gaining national recognition as a soprano.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008 | 3:09 p.m. CDT; updated 4:17 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Emily Bennett smiles with her co-stars during their practice for the opera "Elixir of Love" on April 15, 2008.

To say Emily Bennett has had a busy month would be like saying Mozart wrote a few catchy ditties in his day — a bit of an understatement. While most MU students are occupied with the winding down of the spring semester, Bennett, a senior vocal performing major, has been balancing her academic commitments with gaining national recognition as a soprano.

Between March 28 and April 2, Bennett competed in the final round of the Young Artist competition in Denver put on by the Music Teachers National Association. The contest is divided into three rounds held at the state, regional and national levels. Bennett, who is from St. Joseph, won first place in the vocal division and is the most recent of three vocalists taught by MU professor Ann Harrell to receive the national honor in the past eight years.

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On April 12, Bennett was in New York with a handful of MU music students to perform at Manhattan's prestigious Carnegie Hall as part of “Mizzou on Tour.” Last weekend, Bennett played the role of Adina in the Show-Me Opera’s performance of Donizetti’s “Elixir of Love.”

Next year, Bennett will start her master’s degree in vocal performance at Florida State University.

“After that, I would like to continue performing and maybe start teaching,” she said recently. “But I would love to professionally perform, I really would. I’m interested in possibly recording vocal music that is not recorded very often, to try and make people aware of the fantastic and challenging music that’s out there.”

Here's what Bennett had to say a week before the opera:

Q How did you get into music?

A. I got into it by accident, actually. In eighth grade I tried out for choir because all my friends were doing it. My sophomore year of high school, I was around a lot of people who were really interested in music and I started to realize it was a lot of fun and knew it was something I wanted to be involved in. I wasn’t sure to what extent at that time, but I decided to keep going.

Q. How would you explain to someone what music and singing mean to you personally?

A. At this point it is my life. I don’t do much else but sing music, memorize music and study music. It’s just something that makes me happy. To perform for a group of people and affect and entertain them is very fulfilling.

Q. Just to give an idea of how much rehearsing and practicing you do, can you take me through your average day?

A. I sing about six hours a week in University Singers and then attend the majority of the two-hour opera rehearsals that are held five days a week since I have a good-sized role. Then I try and do vocal practice for about an hour to an hour-and-a-half a day. In addition to that, I do about an hour or two of mental practice by reading through my score, memorizing lyrics, working on my diction and remembering word-for-word translation. You really have to know what you are singing about to give an accurate performance.

Q. Do you have any rituals that you do before performing? I know some musicians like to eat bananas because they say it calms their nerves.

A. Oh, I like to eat apples. I do like to sit somewhere quietly before performing, maybe stretch out my legs for a little bit since I’ll be standing for a while.

Q. Obviously the Young Artist competition went well for you, but can you explain how you felt while competing in Denver?

A. I was terrified at first. I really was. You look at the list of the people I was competing against and a lot of them came from big schools. That’s really intimidating. Once I get started, though, I get really excited and am able to put aside my insecurities and worries.

Q. Can you tell me about what was going through your mind when you found out that you won?

A. If only someone had gotten a picture of my face. I’m sure I just looked shocked because I really had no idea. There was a baritone who I heard and thought he was fantastic and thought it was his. I was really excited for him, but when he got second place all I could think was, “Well, I didn’t get to hear any other people — I don’t know how they did.” But I was really just so surprised.

Q. What did the chance to sing at Carnegie Hall mean to you?

A. I was thrilled, I can honestly say since my freshman year I wanted to do it. In a way I feel like I have reached an important goal I set for myself to be able to do this. Every year I said, “I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it. I will do it.” It is a fantastic experience. Not many people can say they made their debut at Carnegie Hall at 23.

Q. Who would you say has been a significant musical influence on you?

A. This is going to sound so cheesy, but it’s true. One person who really encourages me to not just sing but to really perform is Dr. Blake. (Tiffany Blake directs MU’s Show-Me Opera.). I think she’s an incredible performer. She’s a complete singer-actress. She just has the ability to draw the audience in so that you feel what she’s feeling. It’s just very beautiful. She’d probably laugh if she knew I just told you that.

Q. Other than the fine-art style that you’ve been trained in, what else do you enjoy singing or listening to?

A. Maybe I’m just really boring. I haven’t had a lot of exposure, but on my iPod I have some Jeff Buckley and some Morrissey. I like the Doors, but I think everyone likes them.

Q. I have to ask: Do you sing in the shower?

A. I try not to because my apartment is attached to someone else’s. Every now and then I’ll do a little bit of humming, but I try not to distract or disturb them.


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