As Music's Artist in Residence, Heidi Melton Brings Her International Success and Celebrated Talent as a Dramatic Soprano to Carleton
By Nick Ward
Performer Heidi Melton has been described as “a revelation,” “breathtaking,” “phenomenal,” and even as “magic” by many of the top news and arts publications around the world.
The young and rising American dramatic soprano is a premier international talent, and this winter/spring she decided to take a break from her hectic performance schedule to join Carleton’s Music program as the 2019 Artist in Residence (AiR). This occasion which has allowed Melton to reflect, research, produce, and collaborate with some very fortunate CU Music colleagues and students.
Last year, Professor in the Music program and ethnomusicologist, Caroline Ramzy, took a proverbial shot in the dark and approached the relentlessly in-demand Melton to see if she had any interest in moving to Ottawa and joining the Carleton community for four months in 2019.
“Dr. Ramzy and I are close friends, and she was aware that I had an upcoming break in my performing schedule, so she provided me with some details on the Artist in Residence program in Music at Carleton. It sounded fantastic and given that I had a few months of free time, I jumped at the chance. I love to work and be busy and this sounded like a great challenge.
“I had also spent a fair amount of time in Canada previously, and love it here,” says Melton.
Having performed all over the world, Melton is no stranger to travel.
As a coveted young musician, Melton did the nomadic, carrying everything with her routine for many years, but, for a variety of reasons, she recently decided to make Germany’s capital her home base.
“I’m currently living in Berlin which I adore. There’s a great opera and arts industry in Europe which really affords artists the chance to build their careers.
As explained by Melton, Berlin’s citizens and government have a different approach and appreciation for artistic expression.
“It’s such an interesting place to be as an artist. It is undeniably an inherently creative and musically inclined place. Art is a vital part of life for people, making them knowledgeable and enthusiastic in a way that other places aren’t.”
Melton explains that while North American style is “definitely prettier and more accessible,” in Europe, people are more “excited by the ugly, the cutting edge, darker stuff.”
“They appreciate risk. In fact, they don’t like when you don’t take risks. This constant challenge of being progressive in how I express my art is one I really enjoy.
It is not unusual for the Berlin audiences to stay for an additional thirty minutes to clap and show their appreciation after the curtains close on one of Melton’s six-hour shows.
This Berlin-style fervour for progressive music and art is one she has very purposefully brought to Carleton students as she aspires to cultivate a vibrant, inhibited opera scene within Music (which she views as one of her primary tasks as the Artist in Residence).
“This whole experience so far has been gorgeous but working individually with students and trying to impart my knowledge to them has been next-level amazing – absolutely terrific.”
The message Melton always tries to parlay to her students is to do their best to understand what makes them, “them” as artists. Melton believes that once you acquire an acute self-awareness, musicians can use their personal distinctiveness as an efficient foundational creative driver.
“Exploit what makes you unique,” Melton explains.
“Ask yourself: What is special about you?”
“There’s so much pressure to be someone else, to tick all the boxes, but when you concentrate too much on this, you lose yourself, and that’s noticeable.”
“I really believe you should never waffle on your individuality. The memorable artists are their own artists, and let’s not forget, singing is subjective.”
Melton fears that too many young musicians have an instinctual fear of taking risk because there exists so much pressure to people please, but she reminds us that “trying to please everybody often results in not really pleasing anyone.”
“Don’t be vanilla – be a unique flavour,” she enthusiastically asserts.
In speaking with Melton, her zealousness for her craft is palpable. It is evident that her ruminations on artistic identity and expression are notions she thinks about often and deeply. This could be because her path towards becoming a world-renowned dramatic soprano was anything but a straight line.
“Finding my voice – taming this big, unruly instrument – was rough.”
“As a child, I played piano and was in the church choir, but I wasn’t serious or very passionate about it. Instead, I was interested in playing soccer.”
“There was a team I really wanted to make, so I focused all my energy into that but came up short. It hurt it a lot, and through the following weeks I was having a teenaged crisis of identity.”
It was not until her sister remarked that she was always singing around the house, that it clicked that she might find herself in music.
“My very first voice lesson, I felt this new sense of limitless opportunity. I knew in those very first moments that this would be a lifelong quest which would require constant, unrelenting dedication.
“I felt my voice could be a force of nature, but I needed to work on my vocal technique. Now in my 30s, my voice is much more reliable, but this instrument is always a work in progress.”
Clearly, all her hard work and dedication towards mastering her voice has paid off. And now she wants to parlay her success towards helping aspiring musicians.
“I think of what art and music have done to enrich my life, and I want to pass on the message that they are integral parts of a healthy society. With music, if you consider studies done on elementary school students, its effects on attention spans, mental health and language acquisition are amazing.”
“It’s also a wonderful outlet. For all of these reasons, we need the government to support and fund the arts and to view them as an enriching part of everyday life. Germany does this, and it’s a fundamental part of life and society there.”
Melton’s main takeaway from her Music Artist in Residence experience so far is that it has become clear to her that she needs to be teaching.
“Teaching the next generation how to successfully be an artist is equally as valuable as being an artist yourself.”
“I look at the Carleton students I’ve been working with, and they are all so talented, so inspired, ambitious, and wanting to learn. Working with them has been tremendously fulfilling.
“Standard for my life is endless travel and regiment – making sure I’m sleeping, hydrated – much like an athlete – all to maintain these tiny folds of flesh in my neck. It’s all-consuming.”
“Being Music’s Artist in Residence has been a wonderful breath of fresh air, and all in all, a life-changing opportunity.”
No doubt, Melton’s students feel precisely the same way about her tenure at Carleton.
Melton and her students have produced an Opera and Musical Theatre number which will be performed on April 5, 2019, at 8:00 pm in the Kalish Mital Theatre. Everyone is invited.
Staying true to her artistic principles, Melton exclaims that for this performance “my students and I are uniting to try something unique. After all, that’s what life is all about!”
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