An Interview with Arietha Lockhart, Award-Winning Soprano ~

“an artist of taste and intelligence with a very beautiful high soprano voice.”                    Robert Shaw

As an active recitalist and concert singer, Arietha is known for her performances of oratorio masterworks and new works by contemporary American composers. She has won numerous awards at various competitions and festivals around the world.

Please enjoy getting to know more about Arietha’s inspiring life ~

DV: First, Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Where were you born? Is there a story behind your name? Where did you receive your education?

A: Brewton, Alabama. I was named after my Great Grandmother Reathy.  I am a proud graduate of W.S. Neal High School in East Brewton. I hold a Bachelor and a Master degree in Music Education from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. I also have an Education Specialist degree from the University of Georgia.

DV: Tell us something memorable about your family from your childhood.

A: My mother and grandmother sang constantly.  There was a spiritual to get up in the morning Rise, Shine, Give God the Glory, songs while we worked, songs on the way to school, etc…  Mama sang in the church choir so I was there for rehearsals and of course learned all the songs. Even as a little person I sat in the choir each Sunday.

DV: What is your first musical memory?

A: I was four years old and sang It Is No Secret What God Can Do for a church-wide Sunday School program.

DV: Did anyone in your family sing or play an instrument?

A: My father was a tenor with a soloistic voice.  My mother and grandmother were sopranos. I heard singing even before I was born.

DV: How old were you when you began to study privately? What did you study and with whom?

A: I was eight years old when I began studying piano with Mary Hoard.

DV: You have balanced a career as a music educator and as a solo performer? How were you able to navigate through teaching all day and rehearsing/performing at nights and on weekends?

A: I limit my talking during performance weeks. Once I began singing the tiredness faded.  My mantra has always been: Stand erect, hydrate, and rest.

DV: How often do you practice? Do you have a specific basic routine/plan/goals?

A: Depending on what’s coming up, I do lip trills and humming every day for maintenance.  If there are no performances coming up, I rest, listen to the pieces I will be working on and lip trill or hum.

DV: How do you prepare for a performance? I remember when you visited my children’s choirs as Mystery Musician of the Month you told them you began hydrating three months before a performance.

A: When performances are three to six months away, I start by reviewing the music and getting difficult passages in my voice.  I will lip trill the passages, sing legato on vowels, sing staccato and if needed, sing with various rhythms for difficult coloratura passages.

DV: You’ve been able to maintain a healthy and very vibrant voice throughout your career, balancing teaching all day coupled with a busy solo performance schedule. What’s your secret?

A: Almost losing my voice to a vocal node in my first year in Atlanta set me on the path to maintaining vocal gold as Robert Shaw would put it. I began seeing an Ear Nose and Throat Doctor named Dr. Brown.  He said I had the beginnings of a node and that I should maintain silence for six weeks to prevent it from developing.  He told me that the vocal cords vibrate sympathetically. When they are exposed to sounds in my singing range, they will also vibrate. He taught me to value and practice silence.  I worked out a system on my job for non-verbal cues with my classes.  I think this was my secret weapon.  I developed looks (teacher stank eye), lights off for silences, and clapped responses that helped to get the attention of the students. I had a student reader for directions, etc. At home, I turned off all sounds and noises and maintained silence.  When I went back to Dr. Brown for the check up the blister was gone. I haven’t had those issues again.  I kept the idea of limiting my talking during the day and doing lessons that involved listening for the students during performance weeks.   I also have seasonal allergies and like many school teachers have had strep throat a number of times.   I tackled the allergies with medicine for many years noting that even more hydration was needed when I took antihistamines. Now I wash away allergens with saline solution and schedule regular check-ups to ensure my vocal cords are healthy.

DV: How do you manage your nerves just before stepping on stage?

A: I had crippling stage fright in my college years when I was a piano major.  It was very painful to watch and experience.  One day I was assigned to perform a vocal solo on a student recital. That changed everything.  Having only the melody and words to remember was a refreshing change. From then on, my confidence to perform grew.   I believe that it’s important to role play and practice on the stage where the performance will be held.  My experiences over the years with singing Atlanta Symphony Chorus concerts gave me more poise. When I stepped to the front of the stage it didn’t feel strange anymore. Each performance has bolstered my confidence.  For nerves, I do deep breathing. In the preparation process, I mark places in the music where I can find myself if I get lost.

DV: What advice would you give to performers about managing their nerves just before a performance?

A: First, they need to know their characteristics or how nerves affect them.  I have had cotton mouth … too dry, wet mouth… needing to swallow too often…  back spasms from tension, knees knocking, etc….  I found that breathing was the best way to try to keep me calm and I learned to work with the characteristics.   Chewing the tongue gently produces saliva for the dry mouth, taking a hard swallow during a rest wets the mouth, and relaxing the knees and the back to ease spasms are helpful tips.  Wear long skirts or dresses to cover the shaky knees!

Breathing to calm the nerves is great but there is such a thing as over compensating and being too calm. If that’s you, jog in place for a few minutes or take the stairs to the audition or performance hall.

DV: What were the greatest lessons you learned from your teachers?

A: Mary Hoard, elementary teacher: Music is fun.

John Baxter, middle school band director: Playing in the band is a great way to make music.

Bradford Dale, high school piano teacher: Use all of your talents.  He encouraged me to present my senior recital with all my instruments.  I sang and played the flute and piano for the ninety-minute program.

Bradford Gowen:  He taught me to appreciate American Music and composers.  He won an award for his playing of contemporary piano compositions.

Sheryl Cohen: Singing transfers splendidly to the flute. As a result, beauty of tone and musicality happens.

Karen White: “You have facility and colorature!” She encouraged me to continue my studies at the Summer School for the Arts, Chautauqua.

Larry Gerber: “Don’t stop studying voice!  Promise me you will continue.”

Florence Kopleff: She was a task master that held high expectations for performance. I gained confidence knowing that if I could sing for her, I could sing for anyone.

Robert Shaw: “Singing in a chorus can bring the most joy of all and it can offer lasting friendships.” “Amateurs can also be professionals.”

Elizabeth Nohe Colson: “The past should be left in the past or it can steal your future.  Live life for what tomorrow can bring and not for what yesterday has taken away. Every day is a gift.” She taught me to develop an ironclad vocal technique and helped me free my high tones, for which I am known.

DV: Even though I think I know the answer to this, who were your greatest influences in the world of music and what impressions did they make on you?

A: Looking back on my life…  the words “life changing” completely describe my experience when I sang for Robert Shaw. He didn’t care about degrees or titles. He allowed me to be a soloist because he took the time to prepare and coach me on exactly what he wanted out of the music. I was bound and determined to bring all I could to the table.  I believe that my work ethic is what was developed working with him.  If I did not succeed, he would work with me so I might do better the next time.

DV: I know you have been a member of the award-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Chorus for more than three decades. Congratulations! We at the Choral Foundation have always called you the Atlanta’s Sweetheart. It has been a pleasure to have you as principal soloist with the Festival Singers and our Summer Choruses. Is there a particular memory(s) about your performance history with the Choral Foundation that you would like to share?

A: First, I am grateful to Dr. William Baker and the Choral Foundation for inviting me to participate in these marvelous masterpieces that I first explored as a chorister with Robert Shaw.  I think our shared experiences of the Shaw Glory color each performance that we share.  I have enjoyed each and every time I have participated in a Choral Foundation performance.   I think performing the Requiem of Brahms is the most memorable piece for me.  When the Festival Singers performed it both here in Atlanta and in Kansas City, it was the four-hand version. That arrangement has a sound of its own that contrasts nicely from the orchestrated setting.

DV: What is your favorite genre of music or role/solo to perform and why?

A: American Music is my favorite. I love all genres of music. I love performing music that has a meaning to me and to my life today.

DV: What’s left on Arietha’s bucket list (life and singing)?

  • Traveling to places in the world where my ancestors went in the African Diaspora
  • Singing a role at the MET
  • Recording an album
  • Teaching teachers about how to be a teacher
  • More voice recitals

Performing: Barber’s Prayers of Kirkegarde; Brentano Songs,  Strauss.                            Roles:  Another opportunity to sing Zerbinetta and Queen of the Night.

Arietha Lockhart: Mozart’s  Exsultate Jubilate, Lynn Swanson, Conductor.

Ms. Lockhart’s recent performances: Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana with Summer Singers of Atlanta, William O. Baker, Conductor.

SOLO EXCERPTS: 49:47, 56:30, 1:01:16.

Arietha and pianist Mary Au perform Dr. Sharon Willis’ Love Ritual for the Women’s Work Recital Series in New York.

Arietha and pianist Sunny Knable perform Curtis Bryant’s Laughing Monkeys of Gravity, a realization of the poems of Stephen Bluestone about the Vaudeville characters’ experiences.

Hear Ms. Lockhart’s performances on SoundCloud

More interviews of my Memories of Mr. Shaw

Robert Shaw- Man of Many Voices

Atlanta Symphony Videos 

 

 

 

Published by

Lynn Swanson

Executive Artistic Director Milwaukee Children's Choir

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