Career Night for the Arts Alumni Profiles: Emily Rose Walsh talks about her performance at BC

Preparations are underway here at the Arts Council  for Career Night for the Arts 2013. Once a year, we join forces with the Career Center to bring BC Alumni back to campus for a night of networking and conversation. If you’re considering a career in the arts, you can’t miss this opportunity to talk to professionals working in publishing, film, theatre, visual arts, music, and arts administration. Make sure you join us on Thursday Nov. 7th, 7:00 – 9:00 p.m. in the McMullen Museum, Devlin Hall.

This week, we’re talking to one of 2013’s alumni guests, soprano Emily Rose Walsh, as she prepares for her performance at BC this weekend. Emily will be showcasing her vocal talents this Sunday, Oct. 6th, 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. in Gasson Hall 100. Admission is free, and the recital will feature songs by Schubert, Poulenc, and Copland, set to poetry by Goethe, Louis Aragon, and Emily Dickinson. Whether you’re a literature lover, a music lover, or both, this event is sure to be the perfect Sunday afternoon treat. Exploring powerful themes like long-distance love, endless war, the force of nature, and the agony of mental illness, Emily will perform alongside pianist Caroline Harvey.

We caught up with Emily to discuss music, poetry, and her advice for BC students considering a career in performance.

Soprano Emily Rose Walsh '07 is  performing at BC this weekend.

Soprano Emily Rose Walsh ’07 is performing at BC this weekend.

Why are you excited about coming back to BC to perform?

When I was a student, the Music Department was quite small, and there weren’t many performance opportunities. Though I spent most of my days on the fourth floor of Lyons, few of the music faculty actually heard me sing until my senior recital. I thought of that performance as a singular opportunity, and I remember telling myself to relish the experience because I would probably never get to do it again. Shortly after, several professors approached me individually and told me to seriously consider a career in performance. This recital is, in many ways, an expression of gratitude for their continuing support. I also hope it encourages current students who are interested in pursuing careers in music to consider that there are many different pathways, and that coming from a small music department doesn’t limit them.

What makes you proud to be an Eagle? What’s your favorite memory of being a student at BC?

Like a lot of alumni, I have John Finney to thank for my best times at BC.  My favorite college memories all connect in some way to the University Chorale.  It was where I met my husband and most of my friends.  We got to sing some of the greatest music there is, in some of the most remarkable places on Earth. Singing a raucous “Tollite Hostias” in a pub in Galway was as unforgettable as performing “Ave Verum” in St. Peter’s Basilica. The Chorale is so fortunate to have John’s leadership. He knows how to bring the very best out of every singer, and I’m a stronger musician because of him.

As you’re planning to join us at Career Night for the Arts in November, what advice would you give to aspiring BC musicians about forging a career after graduation?

Don’t feel pressured to pursue a Master’s Degree at a conservatory right away. If you need a break from school, consider working for an arts organization. I did, for several years before graduate school, and though it was often extremely challenging, I’m grateful for the experience. For one thing, music was still a daily part of my life, even when I wasn’t performing. The job also helped me understand the complex challenges facing arts organizations by the economy and a dwindling public interest in classical music, which is invaluable insight for a performer hoping to get hired by these institutions. You can also build valuable connections, especially in a city like Boston, where established musicians and major donors all seem to know each other. This kind of networking, and learning how to build a strong reputation as a collaborator, can be really crucial to success in a conservatory environment.

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Emily as the Queen of the Night in Barbara Gawlick’s production of The Magic Flute at BC, 2012

The combination of music and poetry in your recital sounds fascinating. Can you tell us more about it? 

I like to create themes for my performances. The recital includes an examination of two influential female characters in early 19th century German Romanticism: Suleika and Mignon. My Mom taught me to appreciate Emily Dickinson at a young age, and I love how thoughtfully her poetry is set by Copland, and how he infuses his distinctively American sound with her work. I have also included a set of songs written during World War II by the French composer Poulenc. The tones of the four songs vary widely, from desperate, to nostalgic, to bitter, to hopeful. I find them deeply moving because we are simultaneously so removed from that era, and forever connected with it. Since recitals provide great opportunities to perform chamber music, I will also be singing an aria from a Bach cantata, and a Russian folk song.

What do you think the relationship is between the two art forms? How does one compliment the other?

I love recital repertoire specifically because it combines music and poetry. Interpreting a poem is an intellectual exercise on its own, but setting it to music gives it new complexity. I have to figure out the composer’s interpretation, in addition to my own, and the musical setting can significantly alter my analysis. It can also reveal new depths to the text, which you can’t always grasp through reading alone. My recital includes two settings of the same poem,“Mignon (Kennst du das Land),” by Beethoven and Schumann. Mignon is a character in Goethe’s novel Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre, who was kidnapped at a young age by nomads and abused until she was rescued by Wilhelm. In the poem, she describes her homeland in vivid, often imaginative detail. The two composers’ interpretations differ wildly. Beethoven’s setting is sweet and wistful, while Schumann’s is dark and unstable. What Beethoven read as nostalgia, Schumann read as post-traumatic stress. Beethoven’s Mignon recalls the home she grew up in; Schumann’s Mignon describes the place where she was abducted. I think it’s important to recognize poetry’s ability to communicate a multiplicity of meaning.

So, it sounds like an event for music lovers and literature lovers?

Yes, absolutely! If you’re a music lover, I think you’ll enjoy how diverse the program is, and if you love poetry, I think you might enjoy comparing a composer’s (and my!) interpretation with yours.  I’m proud of this program and I’m really looking forward to sharing it with everyone who attends.

Who or what is your musical inspiration?

My Dad. My siblings and I grew up listening to Bruce Springsteen, Emmylou Harris, Chuck Berry, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones…all the essential rock, folk, country, and blues artists. He taught us what really good music sounds and feels like, regardless of genre.  Being raised an equal-opportunity music lover actually nurtured my appreciation for classical music, and made me a much better musician.

My other enduring inspiration is my late boss, Charles Ansbacher, who founded and conducted the Boston Landmarks Orchestra. The organization’s commitment to presenting free, outdoor concerts manages to cut through the socioeconomic barriers that otherwise enforce the classical music industry’s self-defeating elitism. Charles understood that the future of classical music depends not on its grip of tradition, but its ability to welcome and embrace new audiences. Tragically, he passed away in 2010, but his powerful vision lives on as my personal artistic mission.

Head down to Gasson this Sunday to catch Emily in concert, and join her and our other alumni guests on Nov. 7th to hear more about life in the arts after BC.

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One comment

  1. Katie Moeller · October 1, 2013

    I’ve heard Emily Rose Walsh perform previously and it is not to be missed!

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