Vocal Performer and Chorister
Intro: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Meet vocalist, chorister, and CareerConnect mentor, Lakedria Johnson, who will tell you practice, practice, practice!
The Story: Many times in my life I had heard the admonition, "Practice makes perfect. So practice, practice, practice." But, I never dreamed that doing so could bear such rich fruit so quickly. By day I am a master's student, a voice teacher and an information and referral intern for a national non-profit (AFB). When I am not working I am constantly practicing voice to some capacity. Singing isn't all about hitting the right notes and remembering the words. In my world of music, to produce the right interpretation of high quality melodies and harmonies, I have to learn several languages and translations, plus the stories behind the songs and even analyze poetry to get a particular meaning to the text. Or, I spend time teaching others how to sing.
Being visually impaired has never stopped me from setting and reaching my goals. As a performer, no one cares if you are sighted or not; all they care about and pay attention to is your playing or singing and stage presence. To make it work there are many things a person can adapt to on their own. For example, to learn the music I need to know, I use large-print sheet music and electronic music notation software, as well as a portable CCTV. I also play piano and have studied all of the other instruments so that I know how they all work and function.
As a chorister I make sure that, at all times, I am always in view of the conductor so that we both can see each other. Music is also available in braille and there are a number of other ways to accommodate lack of vision. You really do have all of the resources needed to function as a musician. The only challenge I face due to my visual impairment is learning how to engage the audience when I can't really see them or lock eyes with them. Like any other problem this also is solved easily enough by just continuing to practice. With enough practice, sooner or later, engaging the audience will become natural.
As an undergraduate music major, I spent many hours in the practice room at school perfecting notes, rhythms, and the foreign languages that I learned through voice lessons and choir. As a graduate vocal performance major, these hours increased and so did the difficulty and number of the languages and pieces I learned. As a performer, any chance I get to perform I usually take it, whether it be singing at various churches as a soloist, presenting public recitals, singing in a choir or finding a local opera company and auditioning for a production. I try to take as many "gigs" as I can because that is how you market yourself, build a resume as a performer and even make money which, of course, is always a good thing! Then with this experience under your belt, when you are finally ready to make that move to "bigger and better" things, perhaps even New York's historic concert venues (Carnegie Hall or the Metropolitan Opera), you have the necessary skills and experience required to potentially end up being cast in a big-name production as a lead or supporting role.
Back in 2007 I had traveled to Italy with my college choir, where I was privileged to perform at St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. I felt nothing could get better than that until I saw that my favorite composer, Eric Whitacre, was holding auditions for members of a chorus to perform his newest opera in concert form at Carnegie Hall with him as conductor. Being firm in mind and purpose, I was resolute in looking for opportunities to perform and this is precisely how I ended up with this opportunity of a lifetime. Earlier in the year, I had received an e-mail saying that auditions were almost over and if those interested in performing wanted the opportunity to sing we needed to hurry and submit an audition video. This was one time I really made haste and submitted a video of me performing a French art song called Pierrot by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). I thought, "Okay, I will see where this leads and whatever happens will happen." Exactly one day later I received an e-mail saying that I had been selected to sing at Carnegie Hall based on my successful audition.
In the months leading up to the actual performance I received e-mails with all music for the opera that we were to learn before we got to NYC, which took a lot of practice and work on my own. During this time I also found out the sheer magnitude of this performance. There were 10 full choirs that had been selected to sing which totaled about 325 people. But there were also individuals, just like me, that were chosen who had submitted solo audition videos through world-wide auditions and the individuals selected only totaled 100. In a choir of 425 singers from all over the world, I was the only one representing the state of West Virginia.
The experience I had in New York was nothing short of amazing. Not only was singing on stage with a total of 432 other singers, with my favorite composer conducting his own work, a dream come true for me, but also for Eric Whitacre himself and the other performers. I do not believe that I would have made it this far without the love of God and support of my family, friends, teachers and mentors. I would like to offer them all my thanks and gratitude as they have truly been instrumental to my success.
So what did it take to get to Carnegie Hall? And, what advice would I give to others interested in pursuing this same vocation? Have patience, dedication, and yes, give it a lot, lot, lot of practice.
The Contact: Lakedria Johnson