Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hi, my name is Amy and I love music. I spent most of my life in the west and midwest until moving to New York City about 4 years ago, and this place feels like home. I am an opera singer by profession, and I have been lucky enough to sing on some great stages with stellar orchestras, including Carnegie Hall—the best spot in NYC! Singing in that space feels like my instrument is as true as it can possibly be, and the hall envelops my voice. But I love and respect music so much, it is impossible for me to limit myself to just the classical repertoire. I’m writing and exploring all of it. For me, creative living is the most fulfilling way to live, and so I strive to lead with curiosity and love for the art, gathering other creative souls around me to inspire and collaborate.
You were a pianist, a dancer, and a singer from a young age. Did you ever think at that point that it would be something you would do for a living someday?
I recognize that I am very fortunate to have had opportunities to train and perform as a child, largely because of my mother’s insistence on lessons as a top priority. She was my first piano teacher, and my grandmother was my first dance teacher. I inherited a spirit of joy and musical expression from these amazing women, and I loved the challenge and satisfaction of practice and improvement. My mother would have my siblings and me practice ear training by singing in rounds and in harmony, creating descants to hymns and occasionally playing the game “sing the same song at the same time in different keys.” So music was always a part of my life, but no, it never occurred to me to have a career in music. I didn’t really know it was an option and never considered it until midway through college.
You started to pursue a career in music after a trip to audition in New York for Young Artist Programs. What was it about that experience that prompted you to take the plunge?
When you’re just a young kid, you don’t know any better. I needed someone to show me what the possibilities were for a career in music. The forward-thinking, dedicated voice teacher Darrell Babidge knew that he had to take his students out of Utah to give them a real chance to make a mark in the musical world. I don’t think I would be having a career in music were it not for him. I applied to audition for whatever companies were hearing singers for the week we were in New York, not really understanding what they were or how they could impact my career. Kim Witman at Wolf Trap Opera believed in me and hired me to be a studio artist for the summer. Wolf Trap Opera has since become a musical home for me, and I cannot underestimate how my training there shaped my life. After that, it was just taking one step at a time, and it seems as if the opera world chose me to be a part of it.
How would you describe your musical style?
Boy, has that shifted! Truly I am drawn to so many styles! Recently I recorded an album of Bernstein’s vocal music, which will come out in April. Bernstein wrote opera, musical theater, jazz, pop, art song, and everything in between, and most of that is represented in the album. So I’d say that pretty accurately represents my style! I like to explore new compositions and collaborate with other people and find ways to bring other people’s creations to life with my own interpretation. My original music is derived from influences of theater, with big personality and fun melodic lines.
How difficult is it to stand out in today’s music scene with so many diverse and talented artists?
Oh, it’s impossible. The market is so saturated, and there are so many talented people out there. The key for me is to not focus on standing out as much as just being my authentic self and creating from my own impulses. Trying to find a niche or target a market doesn’t give me room to create in a meaningful way. Since there is so much commercialized art out there, I think the only chance someone has in the independent music scene is to just be themselves. The people who are looking for that will be drawn to it.
You have a new project album coming out on March 15th called HAETHOR. How did you come up with that name and what’s this project all about?
HAETHOR is a collaboration with composer and producer Howard “Merlin” Wulkan. He really is a wizard with music! The name is a derivative of “Hathor,” the Egyptian goddess of music, joy, and dance. The symbols associated with her inspired several tracks on the album, particularly the ones about stars or magic. This project was a leap of faith, a quest with no destination, an exploration in collaboration and creation. We didn’t know where we’d end up when we started, but we were able to write together in such an organic and joyful way. Pretty soon, we had an entire album of music that we love!
What was it like to work with Howard Wulkan of Farmadelica Sounds?
Howard is so talented and open-hearted. His studio in Bokeelia, Florida is an amazing space to find creative freedom. I highly recommend him as a producer! As a composer, he is thoughtful and flexible, and it was really neat to see how our different aesthetics combined to create something wildly different. He comes from an electronic and industrial background, and I, of course, come from opera and musical theater. It’s like a chemistry experiment… “What will happen if I mix this and this? Let’s try it!” Luckily we didn’t blow anything up except our own minds. 🙂
The first single from HAETHOR is called “Discreet”. What can audiences expect from this song and what can you tell us about the inspiration behind the music video?
“Discreet” is an amazingly fun tune. I’ve heard it’s pretty catchy, so watch out for the ear worm! It’s jazzy and theatrical with a bit of a 1940’s vibe. Horn player Marc Gelfo really helped it come to life with his improvised solo on plastic trumpet.
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The video was conceived of, directed, choreographed, filmed, and edited by up-and-coming filmmaker Wilder Troxell, a truly talented and hard-working guy. He distilled the idea of confrontation (the topic of the piece) into the symbolism of a blue vase. Throughout the video, I’m carrying around this blue vase which seems cumbersome and out of place, until finally at the end I drop it and it shatters. This song is about facing physical, emotional, or spiritual clutter in our lives and using a bit of humor to help build up the courage to finally let it go.
Do you have any live shows coming up? What’s the experience like for those that want to see you perform live?
I have several performances coming up in the classical music sphere. On February 20th, I’m performing with the New York Festival of Song. The mission of this organization vibes completely with my own: “No song is safe from us.” They present Schubert alongside the Beatles and everything in between. This next concert will focus on “Hyphenated Americans,” meaning composers who have immigrated or represent two cultures: Chinese-American, Persian-American, Brazilian-American, etc. It is such a great experience to collaborate with composers, and the young composer Daniel Sabzghabaei wrote his piece specifically with me in mind, so it fits my voice in a really special way. It has been quite the challenge preparing this music because I have to sing in Farsi and Chinese! But I’m excited. Everyone should come out and see how the classically-influenced composers of our time are incorporating sounds of different cultures into their work. It’s good stuff!
What advice would you have for aspiring singers/songwriters?
My only advice would be to keep fear in the back seat by leading with curiosity and love for what you’re doing. Getting feedback is important, but mostly you just have to be yourself and try everything. I’ve had some ideas that turned out to be, well, not good. But I had to try them! Consistently letting ideas flow—without judgment—leads to real creation.
What’s your life like outside of music?
It seems that my whole life is music, even if I’m not actively engaging in music-making. I experience music when I’m eating breakfast and listen to the birds singing on my fire escape. Sometimes my brain turns off language comprehension and experiences conversation as music. I like to run outside every day without listening to anything, and the rush of the wind and the sound of my own breath translates into music too. My life is full of friendship and kindness and hard work and collaboration. Also travel, which is arguably not very musical. Three things keep growing in importance for me: writing, reading, and one-on-one intentional conversation. These things feed my soul, and I try to do all of them every day.
Let the readers know where to find you online.
Follow me on Facebook and Instagram @colorfulsoprano ! My website is amyowenssoprano.com, where you can also sign up for my newsletter.