Voice professor juggles teaching, performing
Last year, the College of Fine Arts gained a new faculty member in assistant professor of voice Jennifer Aylmer.
Born in Long Island, New York City, Aylmer — a soprano — grew up wanting to sing, commenting, “I always wanted to be an entertainer, and music just happens to be what I do best.” Contrary to what one would assume, she did not enter college knowing she wanted to sing opera. “I discovered there were hundreds of years of music that I had not yet thought to discover, and it’s worth discovering, so I ended up in the classical field,” she said.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music, Aylmer began her master’s degree at The Juilliard School. However, she did not complete her master’s and instead chose to enroll in the Juilliard Opera Center, after which she became a young artist at the Houston Opera School.
“Eastman was a very intensive academic program,” Aylmer explained, “and I really wanted more performance experience.”
The experience certainly paid off, as Aylmer successfully launched her opera career in 2005 with a debut in Tobias Pickler’s An American Tragedy at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Aylmer has since performed many roles, including Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, Despina in Cosi fan tutte, Berta in The Barber of Seville, Gretel in Hansel and Gretel, and Kathie in The Student Prince.
Aylmer mainly sings in English and Italian, but she enjoys performing in all languages and finds Czech to be the most difficult to sing. When asked which language she prefers to hear, Aylmer gave a different response: “I prefer to listen to great singers singing great operas.”
The life of an opera singer may be taxing, but the life of an opera singer who also teaches and holds recitals is especially difficult. “The travel schedule can be really grueling,” Aylmer said. “If you’re doing back-to-back performances, you may be living out of a suitcase for six, seven months at a time.”
In fact, although Aylmer teaches here at Carnegie Mellon, she calls Brooklyn, N.Y. home. It is a career of constant flights and long drives. “It can be a lonely life,” admits Aylmer, “but ultimately, it can be really rewarding and very fulfilling.”
Despite the fact that Aylmer is constantly traveling for performances, a handful of Carnegie Mellon students have the honor of calling her their teacher.
“I love teaching, I love music, and I love being able to share what I’ve experienced in my life with the next generation of singers. Honestly, discovering repertoire through my students is like recharging my artistic battery,”Aylmer said.
Her students think very highly of her. Campbell Rogers, a junior Bachelor of Science and Arts student in mathematics and vocal performance (and a mezzo-soprano) said, “Her talent inspires me to be the best student that I can be and learn as much from her as I can while I’m here.”
When she isn’t singing in a large-scale performance or teaching at Carnegie Mellon, Aylmer holds recitals. Alymer gave her latest recital at Carnegie Mellon on Nov. 8 in Kresge Theatre, where she performed a series of 20th century pieces with composers ranging from Eduard Toldrà and Richard Strauss to Dmitri Shostakovich and Kevin Puts.
Planning a recital takes a lot of work, Aylmer explained, but in many ways, recitals are more fun than operas because “in a recital, you can just be yourself. You can just tell stories that appeal to you. And you can just use the words of somebody else to express how you feel.”
Aylmer urges her students to say what they want to say through both the music and the text when choosing their own repertoire. She compares the repertoire of a recital to a five-course meal: “You want to start with something that hits your palate and makes you feel good, and then you have a refresher, or a different taste experience, and then, before the big protein, you might want to have a little soup, a little salad, then you get the meat of the program.”
Even when she is not acting out a particular persona during recitals, Aylmer maintains a fun personality, giving character to her songs and leaving an emotional impact on the audience. It is often difficult to make the audience laugh and cry through song, but Aylmer certainly managed to do so at her Nov. 8 recital. This personality that Aylmer instills in her music is purely her own, but she mentions multiple role models who have affected her as a singer, including Masako Toribara, a former lecturer of voice at Eastman, and Rita Shane, a former leading soprano with the Metropolitan Opera.
Overall, Aylmer believes that there are many paths to success. “For me, I would like to feel fulfilled in what it is I am doing at that time. At this stage of my life, I feel that I’ve earned the right to enjoy my own experiences artistically.”
Despite these difficulties, Aylmer still finds time to balance family and friends with her musical life. In the near future, Aylmer will be singing a recital at Virginia Tech, teaching a masterclass at Shenandoah University in Virginia and one in Washington, D.C. — and of course, working with her students at Carnegie Mellon.