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Aria by Julia Swan Laird ’13, Soprano | Back to Table of Contents
I had a profound moment of realization that I wanted to be a singer while standing on the stage of Carnegie Hall during my sophomore year of high school. As a special treat before a concert there, we singers all lined up and each got to stand alone on the stage for about 15 seconds. For my turn, I stared out into the extravagant hall that seats thousands and openly wept, thinking about the depth of inspiration seen on that stage. I knew it would be a lifelong goal of mine to sing on that stage again.
Julia Swan Laird ’13
At Ravenscroft, my teachers were extremely receptive to my love of all things music, especially opera. Teachers like Marilee Vana, S.K. Chipley and Steve McGill acted as sounding boards when I contemplated a career as a classical singer, and they each played essential roles in my attending Arizona State University to study opera performance.
At ASU, I was in over a dozen operas, performed solo recitals and even met my goal of returning to Carnegie Hall to perform Beethoven’s “Mass in C.” Singing seemed easy at that stage, as though an equal amount of input led to an equal amount of output. I often rolled my eyes at the countless guest lecturers and artists who explained the inevitable struggles of being a musician: job insecurity, loneliness, stress, rejection. It didn’t seem possible that something as rewarding to me as creating music could be difficult. Long story short, I learned my lesson: they were right.
After a grueling audition season, I landed a few coveted apprenticeships and performances with various companies. One of my proudest achievements was performing my recital, “The Female Perspective: A Libby Larsen Recital,” at the opening of Winterthur Museum’s yearlong celebration of the Women’s Suffrage Centennial. My career felt like it was taking off, and I felt confident that I had chosen the correct career path.
Left: Laird performs at the American Institute of Musical Studies in Graz, Austria.
Right: Laird performs as Titania in “The Fairy Queen.”
The walls came crumbling down when COVID-19 shut down the world and, most devastatingly, the arts. Performance halls were shuttered, and major companies canceled full seasons until 2021. All of my upcoming contracts were canceled.
A ray of light emerged from the pandemic chaos: if we couldn’t perform opera in the traditional sense, we would adapt. In June, I performed with OperaDelaware in a completely new way — a drive-thru aria concert, where singers performed to a parking lot full of cars loaded with opera lovers. Even non-opera lovers came to see the performances. It was something to do amidst the monotony of quarantine.
And the innovation from the opera world hasn’t stopped there. My most recent opportunity was as a Filstrup Resident Artist with Tulsa Opera in Oklahoma, culminating in a performance of “Rigoletto” on a baseball field to accommodate social distancing procedures. The 1851 opera by Giuseppe Verdi was transformed to fit the setting — with the Duke of Mantua, for example, now serving as the pitcher for the “Mantua City Dukes.” It was a huge success, with over 2,000 Tulsa residents in attendance. Never before have beer and hot dogs been sold at the opera! Not only was it a local success, it was also a historic event: the first live opera performed in front of an audience in the U.S. since March.
Laird performs “Caro nome” from Verdi’s “Rigoletto” as part of her artistic residence with Tulsa Opera in October 2020. Courtesy of Jack Dean and the Philbrook Museum.
As shown by its adaptability, opera isn’t just an inaccessible archaic art form. It is innovative and fun, driven by music lovers who want to share beauty with audiences who, now more than ever, need art in their lives. I always thought I was inspired by music itself, but now I realize I’m inspired by humans and their interpretations of music. Music is a catalyst for catharsis. It urges listeners to communicate, whether with others or with themselves. Music is lovely to enjoy, but it’s what music does to humanity that’s most inspirational, especially in times of uncertainty and unrest. While the world is in flux, music will always bring us back to each other.
Above, Laird prepares to perform as Giovanna in “Rigoletto,” reimagined and staged in a baseball stadium in October 2020 to accommodate pandemic-related distancing restrictions.
One of Ravenscroft’s most accomplished performing arts alumni, professional opera singer William “Bill” Joyner ’80 thrives on sharing his passion for music with his fellow Ravens. Last spring, when campus was closed to nonessential personnel in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic, Joyner joined students, faculty and staff, and other alumni in contributing a performance video to our #RavensTogetherAtHome social media campaign.
Over the course of his career, Joyner, a tenor, has sung in some of the world’s foremost opera theaters, including Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, Venice’s Gran Teatro la Fenice, Paris’ Opéra National (Bastille), Brussels’ Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Berlin’s Deutsche Oper and Deutsche Staatsoper, The Washington National Opera and The New York City Opera. He currently serves as Assistant Professor of Vocal Studies at the University of North Texas College of Music.
Along with his wife, Jackie, Joyner — who was the first inductee into Ravenscroft’s Alumni Fine Arts Hall of Fame — has ensured that future Ravens with a passion for music will have the opportunity to hone their talents at school. They established the William H. Joyner Family Fund for Music to fund private music lessons for up to three Upper School students per year.
“I knew that I wanted to be a singer from a very early age. As a student at Ravenscroft, I benefited from scholarship assistance provided by the A.J. Fletcher Foundation, which paid for my voice lessons and for many other students’ applied lessons, as well,” Joyner said. “Creating this fund was a way for me to say ‘thank you’ to all at Ravenscroft who supported me in my early musical journey. By naming it for my family, I honor my parents, without whom I could not have become who I am today.”
Joyner accepts a plaque recognizing his induction into the new Alumni Fine Arts Hall of Fame in 2013.