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Local music teacher accepted to Manhattan School of Music

From left, Julia Lamon and her student Hannah Allen at the 2013 Opera Night at Ruttger’s Resort. Lamon recently was accepted to study at the Manhattan School of Music. Submitted photo

In Gertrude Stein’s famous sacred poem,"A Rose, is a Rose, is a Rose," she states simply by calling a recognizable object by a familiar name, it calls forth an image and the accompanying emotions.

And William Shakespeare wrote, "A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet." But here is where the tautology breaks down, for neither writer meant to suggest the rose is diminished in sight, aroma and touch by the name we give it but to recognize its depth and breathe; its essence.

So, to call a soprano just a soprano is not only a misnomer, it can lead to drastic results if given the wrong advice proffered by a well-meaning teacher. You can ask Julia Lamon of Bemidji.

In the late 1880s, the German opera houses introduced a new system for fine-tuning their music students that found few converts in the great opera houses of Italy, France and England. It remained buried for years primarily because of a breakdown in communication with the German Fach School. For Lamon, it is a personal quest not only for her current voice students, but also for future students, and so she has decided to follow the regime of the Fach singing for herself and her students. And she’ll take that all the way to New York, as she recently was accepted to study at the Manhattan School of Music.

"In the opera world, we have different categories of soprano, what it basically means is the class of your voice," explained Lamon. "You can have a really light voice that is kind of soft and sings very easily; a coloratura. Then on the other end of the scale, there is a really heavy voice: Wagnerian or dramatic soprano. There are a whole bunch of classes in between and I am right in the middle — a lyric coloratura soprano, which means that I have a lyrical voice with clear tones, but I can also sing a lot of runs and a lot of high notes."

For instance, Mozart’s Susanna has the most solo lines than any other soprano opera character, and she is on stage most of the time. Her tone is bubbly and quick tempered, whereby the Countess (in the same opera) needs a heavy lyric voice; a tragically regal tone. Some of the bigger opera voices such as "Madama Butterfly" are sung by women in their late 30s and 40s, even though the actress in the part is supposed to be a teenager. A teenager’s voice would not give the depth as the music requires larger vocal chords and a stronger vibrato.

Soprano voices are prone to injury and, if you try to sing repertoire that is too big for your voice, it damages the vocal chords because it puts too much weight on them, Lamon explained. A singer has to have to have the appropriate amount of breath support in order to use the voice effectively. If you are pushing the vocal chords physically more than they are made to work (vibrate), then you can damage them and the voice wears out at an earlier age.

Lamon said if you are listening to a soprano, who at age 60, still has a light vibrato and pretty tone, it means they treated their voices well when they were younger and sang the appropriate material. Some singers might have a really wavery vibrato and have trouble keeping their pitch in tune. That typically means they sang a heavier repertoire than their voice was made to sing and they pushed it harder.

In Manhattan, Lamon will pursue a master’s degree of Music in Classical Voice Performance. She and husband Michael will move with infant son, Titus, and toddler, Livia, to an apartment in the resurgent elegant brownstones homes that line the Grand Concourse and environs in the south Bronx. The famed Manhattan School of Music is located on the same south Harlem site that previously housed The Metropolitan Opera before it moved to Lincoln Center.

While still an undergraduate at Concordia, Lamon auditioned for a summer program at the Belle Conto Institute of Voice in Italy. She used the experience to gauge whether she would be successful in the world of opera performance. Armed with the reassurances of her voice coaches and enthusiastic audiences, Julia returned to Concordia and switched her major to voice performance. During her junior and senior years, she sang the "Beautiful Savior" solos for the Christmas concerts and her teachers continued to feature her at various concerts in solo performances.

Julia met Michael after he returned to finish his degree at Concordia after a deployment to Iraq with the Minnesota National Guard. Upon relocating to Michael’s hometown of Bemidji, he found his performing voice in "Side by Side by Sondheim" for Saaren’s Productions. Julia found her performing voice with Fulton Gallagher and Abe Hunter, artistic director of The Loon Opera Co. in "Love Songs and Arias" and the Opera Fest held annually by the Gallaghers.

Julia met Hunter when he offered her the part of Susanna in the "Marriage of Figaro" by Mozart in summer 2011. After she and Michael sang in "Madama Butterfly" for Loon Opera, Julia went to New York City to study with a vocal coach as a result of a grant she received from Region 2 Arts Council. On a whim, she auditioned for the New York Lyric Opera Co. and they offered her the part of Amore (Cupid) in Monteverdi’s "Coronation of Poppea."

"I went out to sing with NYLOP and once again serendipity took charge and I met up with Lauren Flanigan, a dramatic soprano who had a very big career at the Met and at La Scala in Italy," said Lamon.

Flanigan hosts singers and other performers for $50 a day in a brownstone home in lower central Harlem. She makes all the meals and packs food for lunch, and there are singers, musicians, and also a few ballet dancers. Flanigan has tons of research materials and opera scores; all free to use while staying there. Every night at dinner, she makes a point to sit and mentor one of her boarders.

"The first night I was there, we spoke for two hours about preparing the correct audition repertoire when a student has finished a master’s degree," said Lamon.

"I love to teach and plan on returning to Bemidji some day to work with my voice students," Lamon said. "I have about 20 voice students now and two of them will be in the Minnesota All-Lutheran College concert in June at Calvary: Issac Heath and Kari Lapp. I am so proud to tell you that one of my other students, Hannah Allen, was accepted to study at Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan. She will have the same opportunity to study as I did during my high school years. Her voice is stronger than mine and I see a great future ahead for her."