Hylton Performing Arts Center, George Mason University
10900 University Blvd., MS 5D2
Manassas, VA 20110
Master of Music, Westminster Choir College (opera coaching and accompanying)
Bachelor of Music, Florida State University (piano performance)
Professional/business/civic/nonprofit organizations in which you are/have been involved and positions held:
Hylton Performing Arts Center at George Mason University – Executive Director (2008-present)
Lyric Opera of Chicago – Director of Education (1999-2008)
Levine School of Music (DC) – Acting Executive Director (1997-1998); Dean (1993-1998);
Assoc. Dean (1992-1993); Registrar (1990-1992)
Greater Miami Opera (FL) – Artistic Administrator (1986-1989)
Chautauqua Opera (NY) – Assistant to the Artistic Director (1984-1986)
Westminster Choir College (NJ) – Assistant Director of Admission (1983-1985)
Who were the important mentors you have had and how did they impact your career?
1) My first important mentor was my grade school piano teacher who instilled in me not only the discipline of learning a technique on the piano, but also a great love for classical music and playing from the heart. She was a Juilliard graduate living in the same small town in Florida – how lucky that was for me.
2) My Dad was also an important mentor behind the scenes. In subtle (and sometimes annoying) ways, he taught me the skill of sight reading and the art of collaborative music. I didn’t realize until much later in life how important those skills were as both musician and human being, especially regarding collaboration with others.
3) In graduate school, I was so fortunate to have the brilliant collaborative artist, Martin Katz, as my instructor. He pushed me beyond what I thought were my abilities into a whole new realm for which I am eternally grateful. I’ve never had a challenge since then that I couldn’t face directly and accomplish with a positive result.
4) All of my supervisors have been important mentors – be it a good model or not so good model. They all taught me important lessons in the work field and in life, from never assuming anything (an early and extremely valuable lesson), to what can be accomplished if trusted and given the opportunity to explore ventures beyond anything you imagined.
What do you consider your biggest personal and/or professional accomplishment and why?
1) Every day I am working towards my biggest professional accomplishment! It is an ongoing process. I will have to say that being hired as a senior staff member of one of the world’s greatest opera companies was huge, both personally and professionally. It gave me a confidence and a presence in the community I’d not experienced before, and because of that clout, I was able to accomplish a significant change in Lyric Opera’s contribution to arts education in the inner city schools of Chicago.
2) A great personal accomplishment was managing to get away from a destructive personal relationship in my mid-20’s with no job and little money, move forward, and successfully support myself so that I never had to move back home to survive. Now I own my second home, and have been able to travel the world.
What advice would you give to a young person graduating from college this spring?
Do anything and everything to get experience in your field and beyond, be it paid or not. Never consider yourself “above” any type of work, regardless of your degree or prestigious collegiate accolades. You can learn an incredible amount about your field of study just by filing and copying if you are astute enough, and many life lessons can be learned through menial jobs. If you don’t know the steps it takes to get to the top, or all that you have to do and learn to get there, you’re not going to be a good manager of people.
How do you achieve a balance between your professional life and your personal life?
You have to take time for yourself and those you love, or your work and your health (physically and mentally) will suffer as a result. I make a point of keeping physically fit which keeps the mind focused, and I make time to continue my musical practice and performance. The latter keeps me sane and my soul gratified. Because I am a single woman, I am able to focus a lot of energy on my career. I don’t feel it has been a sacrifice at all. Nonetheless, I am in awe of those women who do have a family and manage a significant career at the same time.
When you were growing up, what did you want to be?
Early on, it ran the gamut from ballerina, to solo pianist, to music teacher. I grew up to be none of those things. I don’t regret not having accomplished any of them, because my real experiences have been so incredibly amazing and gratifying. I’m still hoping to grow up to be a philanthropist (God and the lottery willing), because I think I would be a very good one.
What is your favorite book or movie and why?
I particularly enjoyed “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver. I read it at about the time I started traveling to third world countries (on my vacation), and was struck by the cultural differences of growing up in Africa, and the naïveté of those who go, without any preparation, with the mindset of changing the world. It was so interesting to read how the girls learned and adapted to the unknown around them, and made a life of their own in sync with the native culture. Their minds were open to change and they blossomed, while their father, who was single-minded and unable to adapt, suffered greatly. A great lesson learned in a beautifully written book.
What are two things about you that not many people know?
Many know that I’m a professional singer, but very few know that I didn’t learn the skills to be a professional opera singer until I was 35 years old.
Few know that I am a coal miner’s granddaughter (an Italian immigrant), and that the best times of my youth were spent with my Italian-American cousins in a small rural town in Ohio. I’m still very close to them and their parents today.