JEANNIE HOLLOWAY CARTER
& THE ARIA CLUB OF GREATER WASHINGTON
THE VOCALMUSICIAN INTERVIEW
by Dawn! E. Robinson
I first heard JEANNIE HOLLOWAY CARTER perform the alto solos in Handel's Messiah at Washington DC's Metropolitan Baptist Church. From the first two notes she sang - the D and F# on the word "Be-hold" - I heard the kind of dark, rich, velvety tones I would want to be reincarnated with. I've heard her sing several times over the years since and have never been disappointed. Here, Ms. Carter talks about her background, career, and her pet project - the ARIA CLUB of GREATER WASHINGTON.
DR: Where were you born?
JHC: I am a Georgia "Peach" - a native of Columbus, Georgia, which is approximately 118 miles southwest of the Georgia capital, Atlanta. I was born and "raised" there. I was married here and I have a son so I made D.C. my home.
DR: What are your earliest memories of music; particularly vocal music?
JHC: There was a Baldwin upright piano in "the girls'" bedroom. My mother sent her daughters to piano lessons. She was a patron of the arts and loved to perform in skits singing and acting. My siblings and I had our own record player and we played children's songs and nursery rhymes. I learned all of them and sang with the recordings. I have always loved all kinds of music. I was in our high school marching band and I played the E flat horn or mellophone.
DR: You grew up near some famous people. Who were they?
JHC: I grew up on 5th Avenue. Marilyn McCoo of The 5th Dimension was a neighbor during my early childhood. She lived "around the corner" on 4th Avenue. Her father, an OB-GYN, delivered some of my brothers and sisters. Ma Rainey, the blues singer from the early era of that genre, had a home diagonally across from our home. One of my sisters and I were friends with her grand nieces who lived there. There is an historical marker identifying that house now. Actress-Singer Freddye Marshall is also from my hometown. I am a life long friend of her niece.
DR: When did you first start singing? When was your first solo?
JHC: My parents tell me that I sang a little ditty ad nauseam on a family train trip at the age of 3. I sang so well that my parents encouraged me to make a guest appearance on a local radio show to sing "Jingle Bells." I was escorted by my older sister into the broadcast room. The DJ, a pandering Caucasian lowered this huge microphone down to me and I froze with fear. My vocal cords would not work. My sister encouraged me but nothing. My mother was in disbelief. I don't think I ever lived that down - Hee Hee. My first solo as a teenager was "O Holy Night" in a Christmas program at First African Baptist Church in Columbus, GA.
DR: What drew you to classical music and opera?
JHC: It was love at first hearing. I was using a pencil for my baton and conducting classical music in elementary
school. Then I began listening to The "Live From the Met" broadcasts.
DR: Do you remember the first opera you heard or attended?
JHC: I was first impressed with operetta. The first operettas or musicals I recall are Babes in Toyland, then Ahmal
& The Night Visitors. The first opera I saw was Carmen.
DR: Did you study voice? When/Where?
JHC: I studied voice in an academic setting at UDC under Nelda Ormond in the 80s. I was not a voice major. I received a
bachelor's degree from Spelman where I specialized in French and German with a minor in Secondary Education. My
graduate degree is in Business.
DR: I never would have thought you were NOT a voice major. You sing better than some voice majors I know – Tee Hee.
JHC: Why thank you.
DR: Did you sing in your church and/or school choir?
JHC: I was always in a chorus or choir as far back as I can remember - in junior high, senior high and college. I was a member of the Spelman College Glee Club and The Atlanta-Morehouse-Spelman Chorus. I studied in several vocal studios. My other teachers and coaches have been Annette Poulard, Donald Boothman, Samuel Bonds, Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon, Sylvia Lee and Charlotte Wesley Holloman. All were of the classical school having classical/operatic training or operatic careers in Europe. I started with breathing, vocalises, simple art songs then advanced to the anthologies...all the traditional stuff.
DR: Talk a bit about auditioning.
JHC: Since I was not a voice major or minor, I never did juries but I have had some jittery experiences during auditions for shows. My worst audition as a young singer was with Houston Grand Opera and I was intimidated by all the extremely experienced singers that sang before me. I auditioned for chorus but couldn't get over the nerves.
DR: Why? Was there a heavy competitive vibe among the singers auditioning?
JHC: Oh Yes. Most of the singers were veterans in Porgy & Bess roles and had sung the roles with different opera companies. The auditions were at the Kennedy Center. Singers greeted each other like it was "Old Home Week." It seemed that everybody knew everybody else. We "greenhorns" just stared in amazement.
DR: What did you study at UDC? Who was your teacher there?
JHC: I was taking enough credits to get a second bachelor's degree. I took music from almost all the music faculty. I took piano, ear training and sight singing, theory, composition, etc.
DR: When/Where was your first professional singing performance?
JHC: I was first a chorister and a "ringer" who received a stipend for performances. I also was engaged for weddings and funerals, then oratorio soloist and engagements to sing opera arias, duets, trios, quartets, etc. in various concerts.
DR: Did you participate in any major competitions?
JHC: No Competitions. I never felt my technique was good enough to compete. I get no kick from that. Some singers make a career following competitions. The prize money can be very good. Most of the jobs I got came via a phone call.
DR: Who are your favorite singers and why?
JHC: As do many, I adore Leontyne Price. The Price is right! Even when she takes liberties. I also love Florence Quivar. So few know her and she was at the Met for decades. I love the range and colors in both voices. Neither can do any wrong for me. I am enamored with Cecilia Bartoli's recordings but I have found her live performances less magical. The voice is smaller live. She is inimitable with Bellini, Donizetti. Few can handle that coloratura with such aplomb. Never mind that both her parents are opera singers.
DR: If you could perform any piece of music, anywhere, what would be your ideal performance experience?
JHC: I am a mezzo-soprano and I can sing some dramatic soprano arias but only if I can handle that certain tessitura. But I would love to sing "Pace, pace mio Dio" in the role of “Leonora” which is for dramatic or big lyric. As for my own fach, I would like to do the roles of “Carmen” and “Dalilah.”
DR: Since this site caters to good singers of all genres, there may be some reading this who are unfamiliar with terms like “tessitura” or “fach.” Please explain what a “tessitura” is.
JHC: "Tessitura" is an Italian word meaning range.
DR: I know you’ve done some research on how voices are categorized. Please explain what a “fach” is.
JHC: "Fach" is a German word for vocal category. A soprano may be categorized as "lyric coloratura," "lyric," "spinto," "dramatic" ..those are "fachs."
DR: How did The ARIA CLUB of GREATER WASHINGTON start? How did you put the organization together and what does it do?
JHC: I conceived and organized The Aria Club of Greater Washington in 1998 with startup input from other classical singers. I called Barbara Buck, Rose Marie Sims, Winona Stanback, Detra Battle, Shawnee Ball, William "Bill" Jones, Kelvin Page and others to brainstorm, discuss my plan, name the organization and get input on other aspects. I received quick consensus from them. Bill Jones was our first accompanist. He is an extremely talented musician.
The Aria Club is a 501(c)(3) all-volunteer-based non-profit organization. It is also a membership organization and members pay a modest annual fee. The Aria Club offers a singers' network and a forum for the enhancement of performance skills. Members perform "works in progress" which are under development in the vocal studio, prior to performance before an audience.
Our program offerings include educational and enrichment activities designed for singers such as master classes, language diction lectures, and video/audio presentations. We have had a number of consultants make presentations over the years. Those events are listed on our brochure. We promote our members in our "In Recital" series. In the past we have presented two recitals annually.
We also highlight "Classical Kids" and Young Artists" who are receiving vocal or instrumental training and aspire to be classical artists. We have had youngsters play prelude pieces on piano, flute or violin before our events and have had them as actors or supernumeraries in our galas. When we receive a grant award I want to be able to provide small awards and scholarships to youth who aspire to become classical artists, be they instrumentalists or vocalists. We have a web site and I invite people to visit - www.theariaclub.homestead.com. It has lots of photos, info and a bulletin board. I developed it myself so I am proud of the results but it is a work in progress.
DR: How many singers have participated in the Aria Club? Are they all professional singers?
JHC: Our roster from 1998-2005 totals over 80* individuals. At first I thought approximately 50 but I dared to list them for fear I would forget someone who has participated and then even I was amazed. I am providing you with a list [see below] of the people who were members or participants in our gala events who volunteered their talent and services. Many still return when requested if they are available. For 2004-2005, we currently have 20 members.
We provide a service to singers and we have annual memberships. So singers, once they become members, are free to participate with us as they have a need to do so. Some singers are under contractual obligations with opera houses and their participation changes as their schedules permit. We have founding members who return from time to time to perform or lend a hand backstage. Several singers live in other states, i.e., New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey etc., and they travel here to perform with us.
All singers are volunteers in the Aria Club. They sing professionally in various capacities. They either have singing jobs or are available for hire and strive for excellence in their performances. Many of us are on the music staff of churches in the DC metro area. Several singers on our roster perform or have performed at the New York City Opera, Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, Washington National Opera, Baltimore, Annapolis and other smaller opera ensembles in the area.
DR: At the time of this interview, you were about to present The Aria Club’s 7th annual gala on October 15. Talk about what goes into putting the gala together.
JHC: Rehearsals, rehearsals, rehearsals. Our accompanist, Michael Crabill is invaluable in supporting us at the pianoforte. He is an outstanding musician and extremely opera savvy. As an organization we meet monthly and hold vocal "forums." However, prior to a major event, our rehearsal schedule is effected. I serve as Artistic Director and Stage Director. I am also the administrative chief cook and bottle washer so I formulate the program and do a lot of the administrative stuff such as the PR and printing of programs and invitations. I am delegating more and more as I find skilled volunteers.
DR: Well, all that work and energy certainly paid off! The gala this year was FABULOUS! How do you feel things went in comparison to previous years?
JHC: I loved it and thoroughly enjoyed it! I believe everyone put in their very best performance overall. The audience gave us rave reviews and a standing ovation. It was a love fest. We must expand our audience and fill every seat! These voices merit that.
DR: How would a singer in the DC area join the Aria Club?
JHC: Membership is by invitation only and recommendations for membership are submitted to me. Due consideration is given to individuals who have been heard in actual performance, and/or through a review of the music resume and audition. Auditions are held in January and February. I get a number of inquiries from women seeking membership and I have a wait list of female voices. I am delighted by their interest. However, we have a dearth of male voices and I am currently recruiting male voices. I want to be able to maintain a balance of vocal types so that operatic scenes and choral performances are possible.
DR: What advice do you have for singers reading this who are interested in a classical/opera career?
JHC: For me, singing has been an avocation and my passion but I kept a "day" job. If you seek a career I would advise a different approach and well planned and frugal economics. You sing for the love of it. You don't go into it to make "lots of money." You must have a natural singing talent, first and foremost. Get a vocal coach who communicates with you. Get honest critical feedback from several professionals who know the business before majoring in Voice. You must also have some natural facility with foreign languages and have acting talent. Be a musician and that means being able to read music! For the extremely gifted vocalist, this may be waived. I am told that Pavarotti does not read music. If that is true, then he is the exception. Also be aware that being an opera singer is not the way to fame. Only a few opera singers become famous. That's due to great talent sometimes, but also good PR. There are many opera singers, in fact, a few hundred thousand who sing in their passion professionally. If that's what the singer seeks, then a career may be possible.
DR: How important do you think vocal training is? Would you agree or disagree that a singer in any genre could benefit from classical training? Especially in terms of really knowing his/her own vocal instrument.
JHC: Vocal training is essential for anyone seeking a singing career of any kind. You should know what you are doing when belting out a Broadway tune or crooning a pop tune. Vocal health is essential! The vocal cords can be abused and form nodules and hemorrhage when misused.
DR: What do you say to the opinion that opera/classical music has no place for black singers or that black singers should not bother learning classical/operatic music?
JHC: There is the school of thought that European music is not for the Black singer even today. I once met a certain music salesperson who espoused that viewpoint. That has been proven to be farcical. The fact that Black male singers still have a difficult time today getting a leading role opposite a leading white female is another whole interview.
DR: Cold/flu season is upon us. After such a treacherous summer, I have a feeling we’re in for an equally ugly winter. What tips would you give a singer on how to stay healthy, especially vocally healthy? Any particular remedies you have or things you avoid?
JHC: You have to protect your instrument. Wrap up in hat, scarf and gloves. Avoid drafts, take your vitamins, especially C. Get plenty of rest before engagements. If you are allergic to pollen, see an allergist. I usually get rhinitis, so I use a salt water nasal cleanser to clean the passages. I also believe in a little natural apple cider vinegar (with the "mother" in it) in water before meals or medicine to clean the system of mucus and sinus drainage. Some folk use lemon in water.
DR: Well, Ms. Jeannie, I really appreciate your taking the time to do this VocalMusician Interview! I encourage all to visit The Aria Club website - www.theariaclub.homestead.com - maybe, someone reading this might be in DC next year in time to attend the gala! Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
JHC: The Aria Club will present baritone Aaron Leathers in a black history concert in February.
DR: Oh wow! He was amazing in the gala this year!!! I'll be looking forward to that myself.
JHC: You are all invited! I invite your audience to not only attend our gala and our recitals but to use music as therapy and live daily in the joy of music.
Aria Club Roster 1998-2005 - Members & Participants
1. Arevivia Amos
2. Albert Bacon
3. Mark Baker
4. Shawnee Ball
5. Chuck Bass
6. Detra Battle
7. Rose Bello
8. Natasha Bigham
9. Patricia Norris Bonds
10. Luctrician Booth
11. Daryl Branson
12. Heidi Brown
13. Henry Brown
14. Lee Folia Brunt
15. Barbara Buck
16. Darlene Campbell
17. Maria De Fatima Cantelli
18. Catherine Carlin
19. Eric Carter
20. Nicole Carter
21. Jing Chang
22. Keith Craig
23. Ellyn Crawford
24. Raoul Daggett
25. John Davis
26. Valerie Eichelberger
27. Ronald Fischman
28. Yael Fischman
29. Gregory Gardner
30. Sidney Garth
31. Cathy Greigg
32. Eldridge Harding
33. Leonard Higgs
34. Michael Houston
35. Lawrence Howard
36. George Hunter
37. Ronald Jackson
38. Howard Johnson
39. Laura Jones
40. Nia Jones
41. Carolyn Koller
42. Jennifer Kreingold
43. Aaron Leathers
44. Karen LeCounte
45. Daniel Lutu
46. Schauntice Marshall
47. Carole Dorlipo-Miles
48. Joshua Mitchell
49. Sophia Mitchell
50. Norma McCord
51. Vashawn McIlwain
52. Dorothy Montague
53. Duane Moody
54. Adrienne Neal
55. William Neal
56. Ronald Newman
57. Kelvin Page
58. Marge Palmieri
59. Leo Pickett
60. Charles Pollard
61. Rosemary Palmer Powell
62. Jacqueline Quirk
63. Michael Reedy
64. Donna Redd
65. Jason Rylander
66. Patricia Sanders-DePollar
67. Jonathan Schultz
68. Malaika Sims
69. Erma Sims
70. Khalilah Sims
71. Rose Marie Sims
72. Zayani Sims
73. Calvin Smith
74. Daniel Snyder
75. Michael Snyder
76. Persis Sosiak
77. Winona Stanback
78. Tebbie Stewart
79. Dennis Michael Stroud
80. Stacey Tanner
81. Bobby Telley
82. Raymond Weir
83. John Wiggins* Participants also include Maestro Dingwall Fleary and the McLean Symphony in 2001
© 2005 VocalMusician.com
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