During our annual retreat, we work closely with a select group of artists to sing, brainstorm and clarify career goals, unwind, and have fun. We're excited to have Mezzo Heather Jones as one of our retreat artists this year. In addition to singing Mozart, Massenet, and J. Strauss, Heather will also sing selections from Evan Mack's new song cycle Preach Sister, Preach. Read on for our interview with her!
Moments Like This
August 13th @ 7:00pm
Mayfield Presbyterian Church
22 North Main St
Mayfield, NY 12117
Presented by the Sacandaga Valley Arts Network. Admission: $12 General Admission; $10 SVAN Members; Free for those under 18 years.
Heather, we’re excited to have you be part of this year’s summer retreat! Tell us a bit about yourself: who are you, where you’re from, and what you do.
I'm Heather, I'm a mezzo-soprano, and I'm originally from Charleston, South Carolina. I am a freelance singer based in NYC, and when I'm not singing I love watching HGTV, riding my bike around my neighborhood Brooklyn, going to the beach, and thrifting.
Most important life lesson you've learned from HGTV?
Ha! I've learned that happiness and a healthy, supportive partnership take a lot of communication and compromise. But it seems like a lot of people would rather have a double vanity.
Did you always know you wanted to sing? How did you get into singing?
I pretty much always knew! I sang in my church choir starting when I was five, and basically never stopped. I grew up around tons of musicians and performers and a love and respect of the arts, so it seemed natural to pursue that as a career. Over the years, I did some other singing-adjacent jobs like teaching voice and piano lessons, directing children's choirs, stage management, and sound design, but my first love is performing.
What else have you been up to this summer?
This summer I joined Opera Fayetteville in Arkansas for their contemporary opera festival called Opera in Bloom, and I made my Albany Symphony debut as a vocalist in their American Music Festival in Troy, NY.
For the American Music Festival you sang Evan Mack's Preach Sister, Preach right? Can you tell us more about that cycle and your experience working with the composer?
I did! I actually met Evan singing in the chorus in the premiere of his opera Roscoe at Seagle Music Colony in 2016. Then, in the summer of 2017 Evan called me up to informally workshop and record "Preach Sister, Preach" to send it in as a submission for participation in the Albany Symphony 2018 American music festival. THEN everything magically came together, Evan's piece got programmed, and I was able to join the festival to sing the cycle. This was the first time I've seen a piece from first conception to performance, and it felt very special be in a very small group of people who saw, let alone sang, that cycle.
The song cycle itself is comprised of a dozen or so short quotes by iconic women throughout history. The music that Evan composed for each quote blends in elements of that woman's career (a 30 Rock theme song musical quotation for a Tina Fey quote, for example) or the genre of music from the time in history that she was most influential. I loved performing the piece and leaning in to all of the styles of singing, and I love the idea of the piece from a storytelling perspective, because the quotes can be taken literally or humorously, and they each give insight into that woman's personality.
What was the most pivotal experience you’ve had so far in your development as an artist?
The most pivotal moments to me are always the interactions I have with people who have been touched by music. There are tons of decisions you make as an artist every day about how to improve or move forward. And it can all seem hugely important and all-consuming because most of the work that you do as a singer is on your own: auditioning, learning music, researching jobs, spending time in the practice room... But when everything has come together and you actually get the pay-off of sharing music with an audience, it makes everything else make sense! You never know the ways that music can speak to someone, and it's a real privilege to be able to connect to people in such a personal way.
Any projects coming up, whether music-related or not, that you’re especially excited about?
I'm returning to one of my favorite places to sing with Opera Company of Middlebury in their production of Elixir of Love that will go on tour to several cities in Vermont, and I'm also very excited to be a featured vocalist at a gala honoring influential women in music in the Fall.
Top two most influential women in music, in your opinion?
Kathleen Kelly's presence, both in real life and on social media, is so incredibly honest and full of love and support. I only worked with her briefly when she was a coach at the CoOPERAtive program in 2015, but she has always been a voice of empowerment and activism for young women and young musicians in general. I know it must not come without consequences to stay true to your core values in such a public career, but she is really inspirational to me.
And Eve Summer is not only an amazing director and friend, but also a hilarious, confident, and unapologetic woman who travels to gigs with not one but TWO small children. I've talked with her about the stereotypes of motherhood on the road, and she's just not interested in staying home or putting her career on hold because it's what you're "supposed" to do. She and her husband are an incredible team, and I've had a blast getting to know them and their adorable kiddos.
You’ll be singing some great pieces for the concert! Which is your favorite and why?
I really love "Va! laissez couler mes larmes" and "Moments in the Woods," oddly for some of the same reasons! In the Massenet aria, the speaker confides in her sister, saying that her grief has become so big that she has no other choice than to cry and express it. In the Sondheim song, the speaker is alone onstage mulling through several particularly strange and stressful events that have happened so far in the show. Both pieces start with an isolated phrase that comes out of silence ("Va!" or Go! and "What was that?") and then the rest of the piece is the speaker analyzing and processing that one big emotional reaction. I love the humanity in both of these pieces, and how realistic each character is. They're both pretty steadfast and predictable characters, and yet they both find themselves surprised by their own actions and at odds with who they thought they were. It's so exciting as a performer to communicate that sort of vulnerability and discovery, especially with such amazing music and text as a vehicle!