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The Not-So-Common Life of an Opera Singer

Michael Bowen, conductor, with musical score

When someone says, “I am an opera singer,” preconceived thoughts often enter the mind: ladies wearing horned helmets, globe-trotting singers making their mark in various opera houses around the world, multi-platinum selling trios, bearded men making young women cry. You get the point.

Rarely does one think of a mother and wife, juggling her passion for music with the daily life of raising a family. But with Cammy Cook, this is exactly what it’s like.

A life-long New Mexico resident, Cammy began her career as many passionate singers do: pursuing her dream.

“I started playing flute at ten years old, but quickly realized that I wanted to become a singer once I entered college,” she told me prior to her concert with the New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest. She was the featured soprano soloist for Haydn’s Lord Nelson’s Mass.

“From that point on, I never looked back,” Cammy said.

Cammy entered UNM in flute, but soon switched to voice in order to follow her zeal for becoming a classical singer.

As a member of UNM’s Opera Theater she sang leading roles in Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro, Donizetti’s Rita and Don Pasquale, and von Flowtow’s Martha. Cook has performed with Opera Southwest in two original children’s operas, as Madeline/Isabelle in Mollicone’s Face on the Barroom Floor and as the Page in Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Cammy and her husband met in high school but started dating in college. They married shortly after.

She explained, “I don’t want this to sound odd, but when I got married I was a little worried that my dream of becoming a singer was about to be dashed. I asked myself, if I could be both a wife and a singer. At the time my husband was a teacher. I wondered if a classical musician and a teacher would survive the trials of the musician’s life.”

“It has. My husband is so supportive and encourages me to follow my passion for music.”

The next big step in her musical career occurred when she decided to continue her education at the University of Colorado, pursuing a Master’s Degree in voice performance.

“We moved to Colorado. There were some hard times, but many great opportunities. My husband left education and entered the tech field. This gave us the flexibility we needed as a family.”

In Colorado, Cammy was awarded the prestigious Voice Teaching Assistantship for three years running. For the University Opera, she played the role of Lady Billows in Britten’s Albert Herring and she covered the role of Mimí in Puccini’s La Bohéme.

“While in Colorado I was able to gain great experience, receive a quality education, and learned a great deal about my love for music.”

“Why music?” I asked.

“Music touches the soul. Through music I am able to communicate to a wide variety of people. Music transcends culture and comes naturally to me. It is something I thoroughly enjoy.”

“As a Christian, how do you balance your faith with the music industry?” I ask.

“There aren’t many outspoken Christians in the classical music world. But this doesn’t really bother me. I see it as an opportunity to be light, as a mission field.

“What is interesting is that the music itself will act as a catalyst for conversation. Recently an ensemble I was working with was working on a Christian piece. People were asking, what does this text mean? I was able to explain the meaning to them. It was great.”

I asked Cammy how she balanced her music with her family.

“Great question. I now have two beautiful children, Kenny, who is four-and-a-half, and Alynna, who is seven months old. It can be difficult at times, but my husband’s work with HiDef Web Solutions gives him the flexibility to work from home and be Dad, which affords me the opportunity to pursue my music.”

“How do your kids respond to your performances?” I asked.

“They’re great. Recently my son said, ‘You look like a princess on-stage, Mom.’ At times, Kenny doesn’t like the loud singing at home, but sees the stage as a magical place.”

At the recent concert of the Lord Nelson’s Mass with the New Life Symphony Orchestra, Cammy’s performance was magical indeed.

The soprano portion of the mass is quite exciting and technically demanding. Cammy’s performance was brilliant.

According to New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest conductor Michael Bowen, “I believe that Cammy brilliantly captured the passion that Haydn wanted.”

I ask Michael about the piece.

“This work was originally titled, Missa in Augustiis which meant ‘Mass for Troubled Times’. Austria was indeed in troubled times in 1797 as Napoleon had won four major battles. Vienna itself was threatened when Napoleon’s army crossed the Alps. One can almost hear the very citizens on Vienna crying out to God: ‘Lord, have mercy upon us’, ‘Christ, have mercy upon us’,’ Lord, have mercy upon us’ in the opening Kyrie movement. The soprano part is very dramatic right from the start.”

So how did it become the Lord Nelson’s Mass?

“Instead of invading Vienna in 1798, Napoleon decided to interrupt the trade routes in Egypt used by the British. He lost his first major battle in Egypt in what was called the Battle of the Nile, thoroughly defeated by none other than Admiral Horatio Nelson. Since this defeat occurred roughly a month before the premiere performance, and might have even become known at the premiere performance, the mass gradually took on a new title: Lord Nelson’s Mass.”

“How is New Life Symphony Orchestra reaching out to quality singers such as Cammy Cook?” I asked Michael.

“The professional music world is generally very competitive. One of the accepted things about musicians of high caliber is that they are temperamental and generally difficult people to work with. This is one of the many blessings that I find in the New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest and those associated with it.

“Our focus isn’t on ourselves. It’s on God and bringing glory to His Name. Cammy is a living example of this. God has entrusted such a wonderful gift to her. She has the most amazing voice. And yet, the sweet fragrance of Christ permeates her life. Her heart isn’t just to bring glory to Him when she is on the stage—it’s in every single encounter. The love of God is poured out in our lives when we serve Him out of the spotlight, too. I think it’s when we are not being recognized for doing good that we find out who we really serve. It is my privilege to have the opportunity to work with people who let the light of Christ shine through them all the time.”

For more information about New Life Symphony Orchestra Southwest, visit their website at http://www.NewLifeSOS.org.

Brian Nixon, Assist News Service

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