Monday, June 8, 2020

From Stage to Computer Screen: The Veterans Choir Sings On

Left: The veterans choir performing alongside professional opera singers in The Falling and the Rising in November 2019, and right, a still from the veterans chorus during a recent Zoom rehearsal. 

In November 2019, The Falling and the Rising brought one of Seattle Opera's most memorable finales to the stage: performing together with the professional opera singers was a chorus made up of U.S. veterans. "I give my life. This is my vow. I’ll die for you. We rise and fall. We fall and rise as one," they sang together. 

Most in the veterans chorus had never participated in any organized singing or performing. Some of them were recovering from homelessness, addiction, or other trauma. Through a special partnership between Seattle Opera and Path with Art, these former service members were able to make their operatic debuts. 

The curtain has since come down on The Falling and the Rising. However, the veterans choirand a fruitful partnership between two nonprofit arts organizationsremains. Every Friday, the 14-member choir continues to meet and practice via Zoom. They receive a video of a voice lesson that they can do at home, along with recordings of their parts for a choral piece they’re working on. Together, they vocalize, sing through the music, troubleshoot problems from their own practicing, and get to be in community with one another as veterans.

Sarah Blum in rehearsal for The Falling and the Rising in September 2019. Philip Newton photo

Responses from Sarah Blum, Nurse, Vietnam Veteran

How has participating in the veterans choir impacted you during the global pandemic?
It gives me something to focus on regularly. It gives me a song to sing. Most importantly, it gives me other veterans to connect with weekly.

Why do you choose to participate each week?
It feels great when we can actually be together and sing, but on Zoom, I get to see everyone and see/hear [Seattle Opera Teaching Artist Liz Frazer]. I think it will be wonderful when we can each record ourselves singing the song and see/hear us all together in the video. 

What was it like getting to perform with Seattle Opera during The Falling and the Rising? 
Performing with Seattle Opera for The Falling and the Rising was a highlight of my life. I have never done anything like that. I loved meeting the opera singers and being onstage to sing in the chorus. It was meaningful to have a female soldier as the main character, and I had the opportunity to represent an older version of her just before the chorus left the stage. In this brief moment, our director asked me to send [Tess Altiveros' character] silent messages that she would be OK—that she will get to see her daughter again. It was a powerful experience that will live in me for the rest of my life. I loved learning and practicing with Liz, and then getting to work with the music director to practice the timing of our song. In the beginning, I did not think I could possibly be in an opera, because I am not an opera singer. But, lending our voices all together to the chorus, it worked well. 

Melodie Clarke, far right, front, wearing purple shirt with other members of the veterans chorus. Philip Newton photo

Responses from Melodie Clarke, US Army Veteran

How has participating in the veterans choir impacted you during the global pandemic?
Participating in this program with Seattle Opera and Path with Art has helped me very much during the pandemic.  I would have been very depressed if I hadn’t been in the opera or the choir.

What does it feel like to sing in the choir? 
It feels freeing; it gives me a sense of peace and freedom. I choose to return each week because it gives me a feeling of togetherness and family.

What was it like getting to perform with Seattle Opera during The Falling and the Rising? 
It was a dream-come-true for me. I had always wanted to sing with an opera. It was also great to have the camaraderie of working with other veterans.

You can learn more about the veteran's choir, and the collaboration between Seattle Opera and Path with Art at