AfriClassical Features One World Symphony Soprano Sonya Headlam
Sonya Headlam performs Sibelius’ The Tryst in One World Symphony’s Nordic Lights in March 2011. Previously, Ms. Headlam was a featured soloist with One World Symphony in Haydn’s The Creation and Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été. The Sibelius songs are orchestrated and arranged for voice and symphony orchestra by composer-conductor Sung Jin Hong.
Are any of your family members musicians? If so, what do they do? Any family rituals/routines, talents you'd like to tell us?
I come from a musical family. Although my parents are not musicians they insisted that my sister, brother and I take piano lessons, something we all started at a young age and continued through high school graduation. My siblings and I were also involved in our school choirs and theater. As our skills developed, the presence of music increased in our family life. Weekends were often filled with activities such as music lessons, recitals, and impromptu family gatherings around the piano singing and playing anything from Beatles songs to Schubert. In addition, it was not uncommon to find us dancing together to the latest Soca from Trinidad and Michael Jackson tunes. Fast forward to the present day, and I am not the only one still actively involved in music. My brother performs regularly in the Cincinnati area with a Motown group called P. Ann Everson-Price & The All Star Band.
What has been the highlight of your One World Symphony career to date?
The highlight would have to be my performance of Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été last season. I heard the piece, a 1980s recording of Barenboim and Kiri Te Kanawa, for the first time in high school and I was enchanted. I later discovered other recordings by Elly Ameling, Jessye Norman, and Janet Baker to name a few, and continued to be struck by the range of colors this song cycle touches. When planning my Master’s recital at Miami University I decided to put it on the program. To prepare, I spent months going over the text (what I would give to have that kind of time again in my life) during which I gained a deeper appreciation for Berlioz’s exquisite sensitivity. The performance of the song cycle on my Master’s recital was gratifying; however, there was still more that I wanted to express through this work that I was not able to touch on at the time. Last year when I heard One World Symphony was auditioning for Les Nuits d’Été, I was ecstatic. Not just because the opportunity had arisen, but that it had arisen with One World Symphony. When I found out that I landed the gig, it felt as if I finally knew the date when I would be reunited with a dear old friend. Collaborating with OWS under Maestro Hong is always a pleasure. Maestro Hong does not bring musicians to the public to play music. He brings musicians to the public to make music. Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été demands this kind of approach and for this reason it was a truly wonderful experience to present this piece to our audience.
What made you decide to become a musician?
I can’t really say that I decided to become a musician. I was fortunate to have parents that made music a priority in my life although initially I don’t think they envisioned it being something I would pursue professionally. It was my father who insisted that I learn to play an instrument and my mother who fully supported me and my siblings spending countless hours driving us from piano lessons to voice lessons, play practice, choir practice and attending every recital and competition. By the time I reached high school, I knew music was a true passion of mine. I was not the most talented pianist of my siblings, that would be my sister, nor was I the most talented singer in my school. However, I was lucky to work with wonderful teachers and fellow students. With them and because of them I experienced the beauty of making music and knew that it was something I wanted to develop. I still feel this way to this day. Being a musician requires great sacrifice and dedication yet I feel it is one of the most rewarding and gratifying experiences in life.
What was the most recent book you’ve read?
I spend my summer and winter holidays at my family’s cabin in Northern Vermont. It is the only time of year that I have the opportunity to read. This past winter holiday I read two Ivan Turgenev novels, First Love and Fathers and Sons. I was motivated to read Turgenev because of the relationship that he had with one of my musical inspirations, the 19th century composer and opera singer Pauline Viardot-Garcia. I was excited to discover plot themes in Fathers and Sons that I believe parallel the real-life relationship between Turgenev and Viardot-Garcia. Pauline Viardot-Garcia was the subject of my Master’s thesis, and I continue to be interested in her life and her circle of friends, family, and lovers.
When you make some free time, how do you relax?
I love to spend a Saturday morning with a leisurely breakfast at our local Inwood diner by Fort Tryon Park. If the weather is good it could be followed by a walk in the park and browsing at our farmer’s market and local antique store. If it’s a frigid winter like this one, then I enjoy an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or catching up with the latest romantic comedy on Netflix. One of my favorite activities when I have free time is singing and playing keyboards with my husband and friends in our rock band, Feelings.
Which is your favorite destination you have visited and why?
In the spring of 2010 I had the opportunity to travel to Shanghai and Bejing, China to sing with a choir at the Shanghai World Expo and other locations such as a senior center, a children’s hospital, and other community locations. Our choir especially enjoyed performing a well-known Chinese folk song, since our audience often sang along. Our performance at the senior center was memorable as we were rewarded with a lesson from the elders in making (and eating) Chinese dumplings. The visit to a children’s hospital and school in Bejing was moving and has led my choir to a new initiative to raise funds for vulnerable and needy children around the world. This was my first trip to China and I thoroughly enjoyed the food, culture, and rich history. The experience of climbing the Great Wall of China was unforgettable. The trip reaffirmed for me that music has the ability to make deep connections between people even if there are obvious barriers such as speaking different languages and coming from different cultures.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Although I am not a native New Yorker, after six years of living here I have fallen into the “hustle and bustle” lifestyle that comes with the territory. When it comes to personal travel I focus on relaxation and being with my family. If I can add nice weather and a body of water to that mix, I’m completely content.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
My parents, who immigrated to this country from Jamaica, always told me that I need to work twice as hard as others to accomplish my goals. Part of the reason they told me this was to instill in me a good work ethic. It was also their way of saying that not all things come easy in life and I am capable of accomplishing my goals if I work hard. This piece of advice has served me well and is something I strive to do in all aspects of my life.
What do you feel is multicultural awareness and how does it affect our work environment and community at large?
Cultural awareness is not something that one achieves. It is a lifetime of effort, commitment, self-reflection, and sharing. Cultural awareness provides us with an opportunity to understand the broad spectrum of humanity. I believe it is possible to achieve this understanding by exposing oneself with an open mind to other cultures and ways of life, which can be done in many ways, through art, music, literature, travel, and something as basic as making an effort to interact with and socialize with the people living around us in our own communities. Through this exposure, we gain a better understanding of ourselves and an opportunity to reflect on our lives. In addition we begin to see how our diverse cultures and lifestyles create an interwoven fabric that brings a beauty and complexity to who we are. As the world continues to become a smaller place it becomes even more important than ever that this fabric is held together by tolerance, respect, and understanding, which in turn will help us to build stronger communities and remove intolerance and inequalities that persist.
If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
Why would you recommend our public to attend One World Symphony’s Nordic Lights concerts on March 4 & 6, 2011?
I highly recommend our public to attend the upcoming Nordic Lights program, which will feature contemporary and seldom-performed compositions by Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish composers. One World Symphony concerts provide a more intimate experience than most performances of classical music with a full orchestra. The venues have wonderful acoustics and due to their size, the audience can see subtle expressions of the musicians and can come closer to the communication that occurs between the conductor and musicians. Maestro Hong is known for taking time to talk with the audience, often highlighting interesting themes or rhythmic patterns in the music before the piece begins. In addition, he often gives historical context to the music, which gives the audience insight on the performance.
Can you please tell us about Sibelius’s song The Tryst? What makes it special and what are you looking forward to the most when you’re performing it?
Sibelius, although known primarily for his symphonic works, composed around 100 songs and one opera in his lifetime. The Tryst, composed in 1904, is the last song in a set of five from Opus 37. The song is about a young girl’s love and the feeling of devastation upon discovery of her lover’s betrayal. What is special about this song is that it has four characters: the narrator, a young girl, her mother and her lover. The poetry lends a unique opportunity to the singer to present more than one character within the same song. Sibelius was able to brilliantly illuminate the unbridled passion and intensity of youthful love along with the complexity of maternal love presented in this Runeberg poem. I look forward to performing this beautiful song together with One World Symphony and Maestro Hong on March 6th.
Soprano Sonya Headlam has performed with One World Symphony on numerous occasions as a featured soloist and ensemble member since 2006. Her most recent collaboration with One World was a captivating performance of Berlioz’s Les Nuits d’Été to a standing ovation in June 2010. An active soloist, Ms. Headlam has been featured with groups such as the Greenwich Choral Society, Bronx Orchestra, the Master Singers of Milwaukee, and DCINY with whom she made her Carnegie Hall debut in 2010. Equally comfortable on the operatic stage, Ms. Headlam has worked with regional opera companies such as the Bronx Opera, Delphi Opera, and Fargo-Morehead Opera. Recently featured on the Trinity Church Concerts at One Series, Ms. Headlam’s solo recital was webcast live from downtown Manhattan. Ms. Headlam obtained her MM from Miami University of Ohio. She resides in NYC and spends her free time enjoying the city with her husband and playing with her rock band Feelings.