Soprano Erica graduated from Queen's with a BMus and went on to study at the Glenn Gould School of Music in Toronto. She made her professional debut with the Kingston Symphony Orchestra at their Candle Light Christmas Service at St. George's Cathedral in Kingston in 2008. Since then she's performed across Canada and internationally. In November 2011, she was awarded first place in the North York Concert Orchestra Mozart Vocal Competition. Earlier this year, she was selected to be a 2012 Laureate of Jeunes Ambassadeurs Lyriques du Canada, and will be singing in their Gala Concert in Montreal this November.
When did you first start singing?
I always say I started singing "officially" when I was 16. I had taken piano lessons from a very young age, but I was also a very shy child, so singing in front of people came a bit later for me than it did for most singers I know.
It wasn't until I knew I wanted to go to university for music that my mom suggested I start taking lessons. I had originally wanted to sing country music, but after a few lessons my first teacher suggested musical theatre repertoire, and then from there we gradually got to more classical repertoire.
How did you discover your operatic voice?
When I first started taking lessons, I didn't really understand any of the techniques of singing, so I would just try to match the sounds that my teacher would make. I remember singing 'Caro Mio Ben' (a starter Italian piece for young singers) at a music festival in Sarnia and that's when I thought, "I could get used to this!" It was so new and unknown to me that it provided a nice challenge to try to get better, to see how far I could go with it.
What's the fundamental difference between being a singer and being an opera singer? How does your natural voice and the training you do differ from someone who sings pop music, for example?
For me, the fundamental difference between singing classical repertoire (opera) and pop music is the way in which you physically sing it. You can be properly trained in both styles, but the main difference in the styles is that with classical music the singer is not amplified, and with pop music the singer often is. This means that classical singers must have a solid understanding of what is going on in their body and how to properly use their voice in order to last a 2 to 3 hour opera and be heard over an orchestra in a large hall.
Opera singing in Canada is a competitive world. Is it something that you can do as a full-time professional or is a career that you tend to combine with other work?
There are a lot of singers that sing full time in Canada, but they don't make their careers singing only opera. I think you have to be open to other styles of music, like early music, oratorio and new music in order to have a full schedule. A lot of professional singers in Canada also teach on the side to supplement their income, if they're working contract to contract. I currently have a day job in the hospitality industry that is flexible enough to allow me to pursue my music career.
Can you describe an average 'day in the life' for you at the moment?
I'm currently preparing for an audition tour of European opera houses in November, so I spend almost all of my "free time" in preparation for that. I practice every day for about an hour, and I'm studying German and brushing up on my French. I go into Toronto about once or twice a week to have a lesson with either my teacher or my coach, and I also see a coach in the Kitchener Waterloo area.
What does singing mean to you?
That is probably one of the most difficult things to put into words. I just know that there is nothing else I can see myself doing, and I think there is some sort of reason why all the little puzzle pieces of my life so far have led me down this path. I've sometimes thought of what I would do if I physically could no longer sing, but I can't even picture what that life would be like... and don't want to picture it!
Where do you want to be and what do you want to be doing in five years' time?
Whether in Canada or another country, I would love to be singing full time in the classical music business. It would be amazing to work in Europe for a few years, and then come back and be hired to sing in Canada. The classical music industry is constantly changing, so who knows what will even be possible in a few years. There are a lot of small opera companies popping up all over Canada, because there are so many singers that just want opportunities to sing, and I think that's wonderful. Five years is a long way away– so who knows what could happen! I feel very lucky to be able to do what I love to do and to live the life I'm living.