Monday, April 1, 2013

From the Peace Corps to Seattle Opera: Meet ANDERSON NUNNELLEY, Seattle Opera Intern

Hello, Seattle Opera friends and fans! My name is Anderson Nunnelley and I am currently the Artistic Administration Intern here at Seattle Opera.

It has been an exciting past few months working in the offices of such an energetic and contemporary opera company. Within this position I have had many opportunities to learn about opera and the performing arts industry, but assisting with the upcoming celebration of Verdi’s bicentennial—the commemorative “Viva Verdi!” concert presented at Meany Hall this Saturday, April 6, by our Young Artists Program--has stood as one of the more rewarding projects. Having the chance to sit in on production meetings, observe rehearsals, and assisting with preparing this concert has shown me how much music is a uniquely preserved and cherished art.

Music has always been an important part of my life. An affinity for music at an early age led me to study music after high school. At Chicago College of Performing Arts, I not only fostered my own personal connection with music, I confirmed my decision to devote myself to music professionally.

Training Malians to make homemade mosquito repellant from the Neem tree (to prevent malaria)

But I did not start my professional journey in music at Seattle Opera—in fact, I was about as far away as you can get. After college, I was presented with the opportunity to serve in the Peace Corps in Mali, West Africa. Upon researching an exciting place that was to be my home for two years, I was happy to find out that music in Mali was not only central to the culture, it has close ties to the creation of American blues.

Learning and living in such a beautiful place as Mali and coming to understand Malian culture better has been one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my life. Mali is filled with warm and kind people whose culture is deeply rooted in song and dance. Life in Mali is enveloped by a music that is closely tied to its country's identity and history. Many communities across the country have strong cultural traditions specifically connected with song and dance: griots, for example, people who are ministers of history and cultural identity communicated through story and song.

Anderson and Fran Keita, Chief de village (Dugutigi in Bambara/Village Chief) in Deguela, Mali

As turmoil in Mali escalated and led to the evacuation of the Peace Corps last April, there has been a great deal of press about the transgressions that Mali and its people have had to endure. These reports were especially troubling given that for many years Mali was such an influential country in West Africa representing peace and democracy.

A report in particular that made a lasting impression on me since leaving Mali was when I first heard that music was banned in the North of the country. Beyond all the adversity that has befallen Mali and its people, I was devastated to learn that the trouble would impact the culture by attacking its music. To silence music in Mali would be to destroy a society’s way to communicate, survive, learn, and prosper.

NPR had a story just a week or so ago about the situation among musicians in Mali today:

Since the French invasion and liberation of northern Mali, music has been restored. Music is universally necessary. It influences our humanity, our social relationships, it preserves our past and reflects current times. Ethnic groups in Mali have buried their daggers to write songs of peace and hope in an effort to reunite the country--a testament to the power of music and the people of Mali’s faith in it.

At first glance, one might not find my service in Mali directly relevant to the world of performing arts in Seattle Opera. What is the connection between the two experiences? In a word, music. Music, the performing arts, and opera in particular, evoke humanity’s most potent truths: they tell and show us our stories, our societies, our relationships and emotions.

Anderson with host father and brothers during the three month Pre-Service Training

After living in a rural West African village, miles away from rehearsal halls and concert stages, I could not have been more properly placed in a country that nourished an appreciation for music. Mali and its people showed me so much more about myself and love for life and music. My experiences there fortified me with a certain strength of will and helped me come to the conclusion that music is an irreplaceable part of our society and our lives.

Anderson with one-year old Amadou Keita

So it has been an honor to intern with a company as reputable as Seattle Opera: not only a great educational opportunity, but a chance to promote my passion for music and the performing arts. The creative collaboration and support among the departments here has made my position within the Artistic Department a most rewarding experience and offered me valuable insights into an industry filled with brilliant artists and creators alike. Witnessing the inner workings of the Young Artists Program at Seattle Opera, I’ve been granted a great perspective on how a company helps develop aspiring artists.

It has been extremely rewarding to follow the progress, from the beginning of my internship to the creative culmination this weekend. This project has involved each and every one in a broad variety of departments at Seattle Opera, and it gives me hope for the perseverance of the performing arts.

Today, Verdi is one of the most popular opera composers. Our Viva Verdi! concert offers both music you will propably recognize such as La traviata and Rigoletto , as well as music that may be new to you. I have loved "Va, pensiero" and "La Vergine degli angeli" for a long time and am looking forward to hearing them live. It has been exciting, over the course of rehearsal, to see the young artists bring a refreshing vitality to these pieces. Artistic Director Peter Kazaras has helped them focus on aspects of text and story to discover subtleties. These tools help connect us to the music and capture not only the great moments in Verdi’s work but also the superb artistry of these maturing singers.

Music really does play a lasting and irreplaceable role in so many diverse cultures and societies, around the world and throughout time. Discovering, preserving, and connecting people with such beautiful music and emotion as that in this program honoring Verdi confirms the importance and overwhelming influence that music has on our human experience.

Malian youth in the village of Zana

(Photos by Anderson Nunnelley)


  1. the picture of youth in Zana is really beautiful...print that one huge. i want everyone to see it!

  2. Wow, Anderson! What a wonderful legacy you are creating! Congratulations, on the wonderful opportunities; and I wish you many more!