National Opera Association Member Newsletter
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NOA Notes Newsletter
Vol. 38, No. 2
March/April 2015
Please see an important statement, below, regarding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and our January Workshop/Convention in Indianapolis.

In This Issue

From the President
From the President Elect
From the Vice-President of Conventions
From the Vice President for Regions
From the Editor
From the Finance Committee
The Catbird Seat
Impresario Insights

Upcoming Deadlines and Events

May 29: Session Proposals for the 2016 joint NOA and NATS convention in Indianapolis, Indiana due (see below).

May 30: Scholarly Paper Competition

June 5-6: Mid-year Board Meeting

June 30: Opera Production Competition
Statement to members of NOA from the Executive Committee and the Executive Director regarding Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act and our January Workshop/Convention in Indianapolis.
The past month has affirmed the power of public outcry to force changes to a misguided and discriminatory law. The Restoration of Religious Freedom Act enacted by the Indiana Legislature and signed by Governor Pence six weeks ago created a well-documented firestorm of opposition from all quarters, and certainly within our membership.
Many questioned whether we should continue our plans to meet together with NATS in Indianapolis next January, with justifiable concern. However, in the weeks that have passed since the bill was signed into law, the opposition has been swift and effective. The Indiana Legislature has bowed to public pressure and amended the law to specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Furthermore, the amended law blocks businesses from using the amended RFRA as a defense in a discrimination lawsuit.
The Conrad Indianapolis Hotel’s assurance of inclusive service is clear. We invite you to view the Declaration of Non-Discrimination issued by Mayor Gregory Ballard of Indianapolis. Also, go the Visit Indy website for detailed responses from the convention and visitors bureau.
We believe it is clear to members of NATS and NOA that our organizations respect and value the gifts of all our members. We do not discriminate on any basis and welcome all who share in our respective missions and joint passion for excellence in vocal performance and pedagogy. Similarly, we are satisfied that the actions and responses of the Mayor of Indianapolis, Visit Indy, and the Legislature, as well as an assurance from the Conrad Hilton Hotel, guarantee that all our members will be welcomed and respected in Indiana.
In light of the corrective and supportive measures that have been taken, the costly consequences we would face for breaching our contract with the Conrad Indianapolis Hotel, and the extensive efforts already made by Lisa Dawson and our local hosts, the Executive Committee of NOA has agreed that it is in our best interest to proceed with our meeting as scheduled. We hope you will agree and look forward to another outstanding collaboration between NATS and NOA.

David HolleyFrom the President

David Holley

Director of Opera and Professor of Music
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Artistic Director, Greensboro Opera

I hope that you are wrapping up your school’s year well - our January convention seems so long ago and yet (for me) like yesterday!!  It’s time to look ahead to 2016.
I’m pleased to announce that we have already secured our keynote speaker for our 61st Annual ConventionMartina Arroyo!!  I have long admired Ms. Arroyo’s stellar performing career and dedication to fostering the next generation of singers.  From her singing on the stages of the world’s greatest theatres, to the studios of the universities at which she has taught, to her wonderful Young Artist Program, Prelude to Performance, her impact on our lives and those of our students is unique and worthy of our recognition.
You’ll find the session proposal form ready for you to fill out and submit in this newsletter – the deadline is May 29!  We will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of NOA’s Legacy Initiative in Indianapolis, with a convention theme: Heritage and Hope: Celebrating Diversity in Performance and Pedagogy!  The board and officers will be meeting in early June, and we’ll be excited to see your session proposal and how you can become an integral part of our 61st Annual Convention!
All my best,


From the President Elect

Reg Pittman

Professor of Music Chair, Voice Division
School of Music, Theatre, and Dance
Kansas State University

Dear NOA Colleagues,
I hope you’re finally enjoying some spring like weather.  I just completed our spring opera production of Hansel and Gretel. Fortunately, all three performances were quite successful and we had even higher attendance that anticipated.  I’m so fortunate to work with terrific colleagues in our School of Music, Theatre, and Dance.  I’m constantly learning from these talented directors and designers.  This brings up the question of including sessions from costume, set construction/design, and lighting designers in a future NOA convention.  It seems many of our colleagues are not only serving as stage director, but out of necessity are also scenic, costume and lighting directors as well.  These are our friends that are in the trenches keeping opera alive all over the country.

An example of fantastically innovative opera happening in the heartland is the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, by composer Kevin Puts and librettist Mark Campbell.  The opera was recently performed by the Lyric Opera of Kansas City and received outstanding reviews. Based on actual events during World War I, Scottish, French and German enemies agree to a ceasefire and engage in a Christmas Eve of brotherhood. The battlefield is portrayed on a turntable with projected imagery.  The opera is sung in English, German, Italian and English. It is this kind of innovation and bold new events in our field that encourages us all to continue our work at the university/conservatory level.

From the Vice-President for Conventions

Ruth Dobson

Vice-President for Conventions


Call for Session Proposals
2016 NOA Convention, Indianapolis, IN
Plans are proceeding for our 2016 convention,  "Heritage and Hope: Celebrating Diversity in Performance and Pedagogy." The upcoming convention will be held in collaboration with the NATS Winter Workshop, January 6-10 at the Conrad Hotel in Indianapolis, Indiana.
The convention will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the "Lift Every Voice" Legacy Awards. The National Opera Association recognizes the importance of ethnic and racial diversity in professional opera. The Legacy Project of the National Opera Association is established to achieve that goal by recognizing the contributions of those who have led progress toward that goal, and to assist, through career development grants, those who demonstrate potential to advance the goal. The “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Award recognizes significant contributions to the operatic profession. While the majority of the recipients are recognized as leading soloists, recipients have also included conductors, directors, composers, and educators.

The Legacy Program of the National Opera Association began in 1995, in observance of the 50th anniversary of singer Todd Duncan’s contract with New York City Opera. It was the first contract for an African-American singer with a major US opera company, and has become the focal point for the National Opera Association's recognition of the outstanding contributions of African-American artists to opera in America.

The inaugural event of the Legacy Program took place in Boston in December of 1995 as the joint initiative of the NOA and the W. E. B. DuBois Foundation at Harvard University. In conjunction with NOA’s annual convention, over 300 singers, conductors, and educators gathered from around the world to honor Todd Duncan, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Robert McFerrin, and Camilla Williams as the first recipients of the “Lift Every Voice” Legacy Awards. The 2015 honorees were distinguished singers Louise Toppin and Olive Moorefield Mach.
NOA is pleased to announce that 2003 Legacy Award Winner George Shirley will be additionally honored at the 2016 convention with the NOA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Please see the proposal guidelines and form, available here:

Please consider proposing a session for the upcoming convention. The convention committee will meet in June to determine which proposals best fit our convention theme. The session proposal forms are due by May 29, 2015, e-mailed directly to:

From the Finance Committee

Carol Ann Modesitt, treasurer

Chair, Finance Committee
Chair 2015 Annual Campaign

Music Department
Southern Utah University

From the Finance Committee:
March has definitely come in like a lion to Southern Utah.  I have great hopes that it will go out like a lamb.  For those of you in the Northeast, I hope that the weather will soon give way to warmth and spring. 

E-mails were sent to the membership this year to raise money for our 2015 Annual Campaign, instead of sending letters through the mail.  Please remember that your dues cannot begin to fund all of the great programs and competitions that NOA sponsors.  It is the hope of the officers and board that our members will find it in their hearts and budgets to help support the organization as it tries to fund the needs of the directors, teachers, students, and singers who count on our organization and its special programs.  

So far this year, our 2015 Annual Campaign has raised $3,975.00!  Thank you for your contributions.

Tiered List
Director, $1.000 and greater
Carol Notestine in honor of Dr. Robert Hansen
Diva/Divo, $500 and above
Bruce Gardner
Répétiteur, $100 and above
Robert Chauls
Carleen Graham
Milton Granger
Adriana Hardy
Kathleen Roland-Silverstein
Comprimario, $25 and above
Juliana Hoch in memory of Dr. Carl Gerbrandt

From the Vice-President for Regions

Paul Houghtaling

Associate Professor of Voice
Director of Opera Theatre Director
The Druid City Opera Workshop
University of Alabama School of Music

Greetings from New York where I am preparing a fully-staged performance of the St. Matthew Passion for the Helena Symphony in Montana.  Working on this incredible music during the Easter season reminds me of how lucky I am to work in a profession that combines music and drama, our own personal voices and breathtaking pageantry, important stories and life-affirming sounds. That's opera! I'm grateful for the opportunity to be involved in such a passionate activity, and for the gift of being able to teach and inspire students to find their own pathways into this business. Isn't that part of our mission at NOA - to teach, encourage, share, support, spread the joy with and for each other?  As spring approaches, in some places more quickly than others, I hope we can all take a moment to renew our excitement about our work and about our organization.  I thank our ever-increasing network of Regional and State Governors who continue their efforts throughout the country to generate interest in NOA between the conventions and to entice new members with the organization's wide array of opportunities.  Despite the sad news recently sprung from Indiana, let's not let it dampen our enthusiasm for our work their in January.  Indeed, such a bewildering occurrence may only be overcome with more opera and by singing loudly in their backyard. Happy spring everyone!

From the Editor

Kathleen Roland-Silverstein

Assistant Professor
Setnor School of Music
Syracuse University


Folks, you will be happy to know that your NOA board members are hard at work putting together another fantastic convention for next January. But we need your participation and contributions.  You'll find a link in this newsletter to session proposals. Now is your chance to be a part of what for many of us opera education proposals is the highlight of our year. Share with us your ideas, discoveries, presentations and innovations, all the while enhancing your resume and tenure materials! That's right, one of NOA's reasons for being is to help those of us who are junior faculty and need to show our contributions in the field of music and opera education. 

So what are you waiting for? Send in that proposal by May 29th!

Onward and upward,

The Catbird Seat

Elizabeth Kirkpatrick Vrenios

If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?    John E. Lewis
This is such a great quote, and one that I have begun to think about seriously.  Launching the UN gender equality campaign, the actress Emma Watson brought world leaders to their feet using this quote in the fight for the roles of men and women in the struggle for equality.

However, this Catbird article is not about gender equality, but about arts equality!

Sometimes all of us have to be reminded that what we do is important.  What?  You may ask – how can opera be important in the face of the political maelstrom we are facing, and the unemployment rate, losing our young scientific talent to other countries, facing the daily threat of terrorism, etcetera, etcetera.  It makes our lives seem insignificant.  While I was contemplating how to tackle this subject, lo and behold, an e-mail appeared from Melia Tourangeau, President and CEO of the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera, and a board member of Opera America.

She represented Opera America as well as the opera and symphony fields by testifying in front of the U.S. House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.  How excited I was to see that we have a vocal advocate for opera and for the National Endowment for the Arts.   While we are indeed enmeshed in the feeding and training of the young opera animal, ultimately what she is asking for is what we should all be concerned with – federal funds that give incentives to nonprofits in order to sustain their missions and provide quality programs to their communities.  If we perceive that we are small, the country will ignore us and generate funds for war and funding Monsanto.

How can my small voice be added to this important issue?  EVERY VOICE COUNTS!  On May 6, make your voice heard, for that is Opera Advocacy Day.  Go to Opera America’s Opera Conference 2015 site and register for OPERA Advocacy Day by April 10.  There are other small things we can do.  While we are not a sister member of the Performing Arts Alliance, our individual voices as members of NOA can be still heard.  The Performing Arts Alliance is a national network comprising the professional, nonprofit performing arts and presenting fields. For 30 years, the Performing Arts Alliance has been the premier advocate for America's professional nonprofit arts organizations, artists and their publics before the U.S. Congress and key policy makers. Through legislative and grassroots action, the Performing Arts Alliance advocates for national policies that recognize, enhance and foster the contributions the performing arts make to America.

Visit the Performing Arts Alliance website to communicate with members of Congress, access an Advocacy 101 guide, read rules on inviting members of Congress to performances and events, view the congressional voting records and see summaries of current legislative issues.

They recommend other things we as educators and Opera Administrators can do:

Peer-to-Peer Conversations
Raise awareness of the impact of the arts on individuals through informal peer-to-peer
conversations. As part of the opera field, everyone around you should know and
understand the impact of what you do and why it enriches your life. Try to have
informal conversations with unlikely peers, such as your child’s teacher, a local business
person or a neighbor.

Audiences as Ambassadors
Integrate advocacy into your organization’s communications. By just including an
advocacy message in the development and marketing work you are already doing, you
can arm your audiences with advocacy facts and tips. For instance, a “Did you know?”
advocacy sentence at the end of your marketing material, on your website or as the
signature to your office e-mail is a great way to spread the word on the power of the arts.
Inspire your audiences to engage in peer-to-peer conversations, as well!

Singers as Advocates
Encourage singers and other staff in your opera organization to speak out and clearly
communicate why opera matters. Both professional singers and singers in training alike
may not realize the impact they can have if they speak effectively about the significance of
the arts. Whether it’s during their training programs or even later in their careers, it’s never
too late to engage singers as advocates.

Tips for Engaging Singers as Advocates:
  • Share information with singers and administrative staff on how your organization impacts the community.
  • Organize advocacy workshops with singers and staff.
  • Invite singers to attend legislative meetings at the city, state and federal levels.
I was encouraged to learn that there is a growing voice for the arts.  If you have the will
and time – here is one way to insure a future for our art form.

If not now, when?  If not us, who?

Impresario Insights

Impresario Insights is where NOA members—directors, conductors, coaches, voice teachers, stage managers—may weigh in on creating successful opera experiences for the next generation of opera singers. If you would like to contribute a column to Impresario Insights, please send your column to the editor, Kathleen Roland-Silverstein, at
By Carleen Graham
Recently, I had to review 24 years of course evaluations and noticed that on occasion, a student (always new to the opera ensemble) would make a comment about how they feel they should be able to do blocking on book.  It caused me to reflect on why I began this practice and why I still firmly believe it is the best way to work with young singers.
  1. Students are forced to know their music. I mean, really know the music. This can be a bit uncomfortable in the first staging rehearsal if they don’t.  However, it may be the only way they will come to understand how well they have to know the score so that they can be free to fully embody a character. They tend to wake up when they see their more experienced peers doing this successfully. Peer pressure can be a glorious teaching tool!
  1. The score is a significant burden if they are holding it during rehearsal. If they are looking at their score, they are not making meaningful connections with their colleagues. They will be tempted to glance (or stare) at the score and not be fully engaged in the character.  If they need to use their hands to touch, hold, carry or imagine something, they can’t do it authentically because they are holding a score. This inhibits developing stage craft skills.
  1. Blocking is not separate from characterization, but rather, an intricate part of it.  Working off-book reinforces this notion. I teach stage craft simultaneously as I block.  It’s not enough to say, “Billy, cross down left and kneel facing onstage.”  When working with new students, I typically have to show them how to cross down left, how to kneel, and how to face onstage while not upstaging themselves. I have learned that if I don’t help them develop good stage craft skills at the onset, that it will take more time later to fix. When they are still tied to the notes on the page, they can’t think critically about why their character would choose to move in a certain way.  Movement becomes mechanical as a result.
It is critical to impress upon students to write down the blocking at the end of the rehearsal.  Our student stage managers keep meticulous records of all blocking so that cast members can check on things they may forget. This has to be done prior to the next rehearsal. When they do, they are thinking about the blocking, which will save during the rehearsal.
This may cause some anxiety for students initially, but once they experience the freedom that working off book gives, they never look back. Incidentally, out of hundreds of course evaluations, not a single student who has been in the ensemble more than one semester has ever complained about staging off book. What they do say is how challenging and rewarding the experience has been and that any prior anxiety is worth the growth they experience during the process.
Dr. Carleen Graham is Professor of Opera at The Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, where she directs the award-winning Crane Opera Ensemble and teaches Performance Techniques for Singers, Opera Literature, and Directing Musical
Copyright © 2015 National Opera Association, All rights reserved.

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