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Soprano Harolyn Blackwell Shares her Love for the Stage and Teaching

Voice teacher at the piano giving a lesson to NYU student

Harolyn Blackwell giving a voice lesson to Steinhardt student.

Harolyn Blackwell is a soprano known worldwide for her expressive and awe inspiring performances. She began her career on Broadway in Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story and soon after made the move to opera. She has performed with many national and international companies as well as in productions, including Le nozze di Figaro and Die Fledermaus at the Metropolitan Opera. A highly sought after recitalist, she has performed at The Kennedy Center, The Grammy Awards and The White House to name a few. Along with her success as a performer, Blackwell believes in passing the torch to the next generation of musical artists. She began teaching voice lessons in the NYU Steinhardt Vocal Performance Program seven years ago and said she considers teaching an apex of her career.

What have been some of your professional highlights?
I would have to say working with the original collaborators of West Side Story, as well as singing for four presidents, a Pope, and working with so many singers and actors, including Aretha Franklin and Luciano Pavarotti. I’ve been very blessed, but I have to say one of the highlights in my career has really been working with my students. Day in and day out, working with them gives me so much joy. 

Can you describe what it feels like to perform on stage in front of a live audience? 
It's an amazing high. For me, there is nothing quite like being on stage and having the opportunity to express myself and to communicate to the audience the character I am portraying. When the audience leaves the theater, it is my hope that I have transported them to a better place or have touched them in such a way that it changes their lives for that moment, that day or forever. It is the music and the audience that transforms and transports me when I am performing. It is a special gift which I greatly cherish.

Be kind to everyone in this business.
A little kindness goes a long way.
- Harolyn Blackwell

What experience led you to teaching? 
It was a natural flow because my father and mother were teachers. I am beginning to think it was already in my DNA to become a teacher. The other person who was very influential in helping me decide was my wonderful voice teacher, Shirley Emmons. She was the one who told me someday I would become a voice instructor. Also, I have an undergraduate degree in Music Education, and have taught music to kindergarten students up to doctoral students. My Mom received her Masters from NYU so teaching at NYU is a full circle moment for me and my Mom. Many of the women who I have admired and looked up to over the years have graduated from NYU and Steinhardt. You never know where your life's journey will take you.

What is it about Vocal Performance at NYU that sets it apart from other classical voice programs? 
I would have to say my colleagues who are all wonderful teachers. It's also a small program so students get a one on one opportunity to work with us in their classes. Along with our strong voice program, we have a strong acting program and Vocal Pedagogy program. It is great that our students from the Classical, Musical Theater, Vocal Pedagogy and Contemporary programs are able to audition for the opera, musical theater, and contemporary productions throughout the school year. They have the ability to crossover into any of the three areas which is a plus for them when they start working in the business. Many classical voice programs shy away from this approach. As a working classically trained singer, these days, you have to be prepared to do many things. The more tools you have in your toolbox, the more helpful it is for you to shine in this business. And, the fact that we also offer a wonderful liberal arts education on top of all of this is what makes Steinhardt exceptional. 

If you could share one piece of advice for young people going into this career what would it be? 
I call it my four P’s: patience, practice, perseverance, and prayers. And one other thing - be kind to everyone in this business. A little kindness goes a long way. 

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