KELLY SINGER '12
“To anything and everybody, regardless if you want to do arts or sports or you want to be a mathematician, don’t limit yourself. Try everything...Every experience is going to sharpen your creativity and empathy.”
Kelly Singer ‘12, a professional opera singer, spends much of her days finding ways to relate to the world and people around her. She knows that one cannot underestimate the power and emotion of song, especially the timeless, classic pieces of opera. But Kelly’s story of how she got to where she is now has almost as many movements as a piece by Mozart––including her time at Episcopal Collegiate School.
Singing has long been a part of Kelly’s life, but, unlike many young theatre kids, it was never her dreamed-of profession. Kelly wanted to be a translator for the FBI. And the forensic fantasy isn’t that far-fetched for this fluent French speaker. It was Episcopal’s language department that first made Kelly a francophile. Her interest in French only grew, as it became one of her majors while at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. The unexpected irony, now, is that although she’s not an FBI translator, her love of languages still proves helpful, as singing in other tongues is a routine demand in opera.
But what exactly pulled Kelly’s path away from the FBI and onto the stage? The answer: Episcopal’s 2010 spring musical––Nunsense.
Episcopal’s former theatre teacher, Mr. Sidney Williams, is one of the multiple artistic mentors that spotted a gift in Kelly––alongside Ms. Ware, Mr. Vano, and Ms. Clark, to name a few. It was in Williams’ musical production of Nunsense, in which Kelly was cast as the lead, that she first learned the art of comedy.
“Mastering the art of comedic timing has carried into every show I have done since then, every audition. Even if I’m not singing a funny song, having that ability to read and express emotions in natural places, lends a lot of truths to a character that the audience sees...You don’t know until you really see it. If you’re being fake with your audience, the audience knows.”
From humble but formative beginnings on Episcopal’s chapa-cafe-torium stage, Kelly learned the invaluable lesson that laughter, wit, and a rounded personality can flesh out any character, adding humanity and genuinity. This aided her with the performer’s constant pursuit of crafting connection between character and audience. The small but strong Theater Department underscored an eternal truth of performance: it is all about humanity and empathy. Kelly wants to share the importance of empathy with younger Wildcats. “To anything and everybody, regardless if you want to do arts or sports or you want to be a mathematician, don’t limit yourself. Try everything...Every experience is going to sharpen your creativity and empathy.”
But how can Kelly, a southern soprano, embody people of incredibly different backgrounds, eras, and personas? She ponders this herself sometimes: “You’re showing the audience a human they may not be, so how do you get them to be empathetic to it? How do you win them over, or the other character over? I pull on a lot of my life experiences, stuff I can relive immediately and pull that emotion out of something that happened, like real life.”
What was particularly vital for Kelly to internalize was the need to balance technique and emotion when performing. At Episcopal, students are encouraged to try and understand things from both technical and personal angles. Classes like the Upper School English courses teach students to understand character within both the rules and structure of literature, but also from emotional, empathetic places; one must know both the plot and passion of The Great Gatsby. Kelly couldn’t have known then that these lessons would directly impact how she prepared for her future roles.
“It’s easy to get caught up in technique, but it’s not always what’s right...You can study day and night about muscle groups that need to be working or how you change the shape of your mouth and still not be a good musician. But as soon as you bring that element of real emotion to it, it goes from being a song to being art and to being human and relatable.”
The need for relatability and connection is not limited to the performer–audience relationship either. As an artist, Kelly is regularly moving from show to show, town to town, ensemble to ensemble. She has to find ways to create immediate chemistry when performing with new people. Though a shared love of opera and the stage regularly sews strangers together, coming from the close-knit community of Episcopal also taught Kelly how to connect with people.
Kelly’s story is also one that highlights the important role of a great mentor. Though she did not always see the path towards a career in the arts, she believes that Episcopal’s choral directors always saw her talent. In college, it was Diane Kesling––a fifteen-season veteran of the Metropolitan Opera––who recognized Kelly’s ability and pushed her, who pivoted her from musical theatre to opera. Kesling encouraged her to enter the Met’s annual opera competition at just 21 years old. Despite being newly hurled into the world of opera, Kelly won the Arkansas district, and finally, a career as a singer was in sight.
“If an old Met diva hadn’t taken a chance on me, I wouldn’t be here now. I would not have traveled to all the countries that I have been to. I would not have sung at Carnegie Hall---who can say that?”
(And yes, Kelly confirms your suspicions about Carnegie Hall: “It’s definitely haunted.”).
It is because teachers and professors alike all saw and fostered Kelly’s talents that she has had so many of the opportunities she has, from Nunsense to The Marriage of Figaro. Tight-knit communities with attentive mentor relationships, like the ones fostered at Episcopal, made it so Kelly’s talent couldn’t go unnoticed. At Episcopal––where students are individuals, not numbers to their teachers––Kelly began to discover her unique abilities and passions under the guidance of people who genuinely wanted her to succeed, people who knew she had a voice.
Of course, it is ultimately because Kelly worked hard and had a passion for opera that life has unfolded as it has. Mentors showed her her skills, but she had the drive to run with them.
“I know that I have been given this gift for a reason. Thank God I have the passion and the work ethic to do what needs to be done with it.”
Perhaps that’s the lesson fellow Wildcats can take most from Kelly’s story: listen to your teachers and guides; they are there to support and lift you to your highest potential. Kelly is grateful that her time at Episcopal provided her with such a support system. And with a last name like Singer, her path from Episcopal’s chapa-cafe-torium to the stage now seems like destiny.
Kelly is beginning a new and exciting chapter now as a high school music teacher in Louisiana. Just as her teachers once supported her, now Kelly gets to guide and encourage the next generation of artists.
Kelly Singer is a member of Episcopal Collegiate School’s Alumni Class of 2012. After graduating, she attended the University of Arkansas at Little Rock as a Donaghey Scholar, earning Bachelors of Arts (BA), with honors, in both Linguistics and French. Following, she received a Master of Music in Classical Voice from the Manhattan School of Music.
During the days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelly admirably worked with a hospice center in her current state of Louisiana. She has most recently begun a job teaching high school music. As the world slowly opens back up, she is eager to return to big cities and her second home: the stage. Though it is difficult to rival the grand prosceniums in cities like New York, Paris, and Milan, Kelly always loves to return to Little Rock and to perform on familiar stages––especially when there are Wildcats in the audience.
Learn more about Kelly kellyisasinger.com.