Interview: Heather Knowles, Mezzo soprano, Las Vegas

Interview: Heather Knowles, Mezzo soprano, Las Vegas

Heather is a mezzo-soprano coaching private voice and piano students in Las Vegas since 2001. Her award winning students of all ages certainly keep her busy, but she found time to tell us a bit about herself, her work and how to make the most of your voice.

Hi Heather! Perhaps you could start by telling us a bit about how you got into singing?

Photo of Heather Knowles
Heather Knowles, Mezzo Soprano

I always loved to sing but I did not officially start singing until I turned 15. I started piano at age 6 and instrumental music in 4th grade. I decided to sign up for choir in my sophomore year of high school and when I did, the choir director recommended that I start singing lessons.

My earliest recollection of singing is pretending I was Olivia Newton John and Sheena Easton. I would give “concerts” on my front porch.  I remember a lot of times when I got my grandma’s guitar out with the tape recorder and sang with my cousin, Anne. Some of my other memories of early singing are singing at church.

What do you most like to sing?

I love to sing because it’s been something that I’ve always been good at. It comes pretty easily to me for the most part.  I have SO many favorite songs – I really cannot pick just one. I love an opera aria just as much as I love a blues song. I am always digging around for “new” songs. I feel the same about composers – there are so many great ones. Right now I’m loving French chansons.

Tell us a bit about your background…

I was born and raised in Beatrice, Nebraska – a small town in the Southeast part of Nebraska near Kansas. I went to Cedar Rapids, Iowa for my undergraduate degree. I participated in a program called “New York Term” in my final semester of my bachelor’s degree in 1996. I moved to New York City for one semester and took classes in music, dance, theatre and art. I studied private voice with the oratorio singer, Mary Ann Hart and I also worked as an intern for the Metropolitan Opera Education Guild. I was accepted into the graduate voice program at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1997 and attended the Conservatory for a short time.  I then moved back to Nebraska and started studying at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. After completing my masters degree I decided to move to Las Vegas, Nevada in 2001 so that I could start teaching as a private teacher.

Who or what is your biggest musical influence?

So many people have influenced my musical career. My family is a huge influence because they have supported me at all times, even when they didn’t think I would make much of a living at being a musician. All of my teachers have been great influences because they have helped me get to this point. My students are a big influence each and every day because they challenge me in ways that they don’t even realize.

Tell us about a recent concert you performed in.

My most recent solo recital was in January, 2007 at the University of Nevada – Las Vegas. I performed with my accompanist, Amy Homer. It was called “Come to My Garden”.

The programme: “Come to My Garden” – from The Secret Garden, Simon/Norman, “Das Veilchen” – Fanny Hensel, “Under the Willow Tree” – from Vanessa, Samuel Barber, “Selve amiche” – Caldara, “Ombra mai fu” – G. F. Handel, “L’heure exquise” – Poldowski , “The Statue at Czarskoe-Selo ” – Cui, “Nuit de E’toiles” – Debussy, “When I Bring to You Coloured Toys” – Carpenter, “The Sleep that Flits on Baby’s Eyes” – Carpenter, “Siren” – Rachmaninov , “Not While I’m Around” – from Sweeney Todd, Sondheim, “Where the Music Comes From”  – Lee Hoiby, “Amarilli” – Caccini, “Das Veilchen” – Mozart, “Bee! I’m Expecting You” – John Duke.

Photo of Heather Knowles in concert
Heather Knowles in concert

Are you a professional or semi-professional singer or is it more of a pastime?

I would consider myself a semi-professional singer. I teach voice and piano full time so I certainly consider myself a professional teacher of singing (and as a teacher of singing you have to practice more than your students.) I would like to do more solo singing but it is hard to balance a solo career and a heavy teaching schedule. I have sung with the Las Vegas Master Singers and the Las Vegas Philharmonic Chorus. I have also held several positions as a choir/musical director.

I am a member of NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing), MTNA (Music Teachers National Association) and a patron member of Mu Phi Epsilon, Mu Psi Chapter.

I am currently trying to tap into my more creative side and get all the things rattling around in my brain into some sort of organized media. I am hoping to finish many composition projects before the end of the year. I have recently been invited to the island of Montserrat to do some teaching – I can’t wait!

Has your singing led you to be involved in any charitable work / fundraising?

Yes, for three years (2003 – 2006) I was on the Board of Directors for the Las Vegas Master Singers, Ltd. I served as President of the Board from 2004 – 2006. My entire time on the board was volunteer work and many of my duties involved fundraising activities.

Do you have other pastimes or interests apart from singing?

I love photography, traveling, animals (we have cats and a dog), gardening, cooking, natural health and spending time with family, friends and the love of my life, Joe.

Do you have a top tip for getting the most from your voice?

As a singer and teacher of singing I can honestly say that you will sing well if you learn to listen to your body, listen to your teachers – especially about what “fits” your voice, learn about healthy singing, take care of yourself and learn how to find your “zone”.  Always strive to find your natural voice and do music that fits you. Don’t try to make your voice fit music that doesn’t suit you. We’d all love to sing every song we love, but it’s just not possible sometimes. Learn to be flexible and try new things.

One of the most frustrating, yet greatest things in my singing career was a few years ago when I learned that I was really a mezzo-soprano. Once I adjusted my singing and breathing techniques to fit what I was I really felt like I was “home” in my voice. I have to thank my teacher, Michael, for helping me discover these things.

Imagine you are looking at a concert poster for your ultimate fantasy concert: who is performing and what are they singing?

Wow – I love so many great singers and songwriters in all styles, my answer today is:
Lisa Gerrard – “Sanvean”, Denyce Graves – “Iris Hence Away”, Maria Callas – “La Mamma Morta”, Bob Marley – “Three Little Birds”, Judy Collins – “Polly Pretty Polly”, Annie Lennox – “Here Comes the Rain – Acoustic”, Cyndi Lauper – “I Drove All Night”, George Harrison – “Here Comes the Sun”, Renee Fleming – “Song to the Moon”, Audra McDonald – “Your Daddy’s Son”, Bill Withers  – “Ain’t No Sunshine”, Tracy Chapman – “The Promise”, Jane Siberry – “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog”, Nina Simone – “Ain’t Got No”, Bernadette Peters – “Children Will Listen”, Delores O’Riordan – “Zombie”, Paul Robeson – “Ol Man River”, Sinead O’Connor – “Nothing Compares”, Jill Scott – “Lyzel in E Flat”, Etta James – “At Last”, Billie Holiday – “God Bless the Child”, Roberta Flack – “I (Who Have Nothing), Sarah McLachlan – “Hold On”, Kristen Chenowith – “Glitter and Be Gay”, Lorenna McKennitt – “The Highway Man”, Seal – “Prayer for the Dying”, Bulgarian Women’s Choir, Michael Samuskewicz (My grandpa) – “Please Release Me”

Where did you study?

I started piano at age six, saxophone in fourth grade and singing in tenth grade. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Vocal Performance with Performer’s Certificate from Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 1997 for a short time. I hold a Masters Degree in Vocal Performance from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

I have studied with Edna Mae Klumpp, Margie V. Marrs, Ai-ze Wang, Mary Ann Hart, Dr. Peggy Holloway and my current teacher is Michael Cochran of the University of Nevada – Las Vegas.

Do you have any tips for performance preparation that help steady the nerves?

As a performer you MUST develop your own relaxation and focus routine. If you step on stage and you are not mentally prepared you know it and it will work against you.  I incorporate many breathing techniques and body relaxation techniques from yoga and the Alexander Technique. I also teach these techniques to my students.

What do you like about Your Accompanist accompaniment tracks?

An excellent resource for singers and teachers!!  Great for times when your accompanist cannot practice with you or you have a singing engagement where a piano is not available.

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