As part of our Alumni Spotlight Series, Gill St. Bernard's recently sat down with Amity Matthews, a GSB Class of 2018 alum whose journey has taken her from the hallowed halls of the “Old Theater” (now the SBS Pavillion) to the historic stages of Salzburg, Austria.
What do you do now, and how did you get where you are?
I just completed the first semester of my Master in Music, Performance Option at Colorado State University. My concentration is in operatic performance, and at the end of the two-year program, I will have given multiple graduate recitals featuring various art songs and opera arias. The first up is coming up in April!
I’ve always loved music, and after performing in every choir group and musical I could at Gill St. Bernard's, I decided to pursue music therapy at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, CA. Operatic performance is a component of the LMU Bachelor of Arts in Music, and even though I’d performed in my first professional opera at ten years old, I was sort of “going through the motions.” I had never considered making opera a career, and during my freshman and sophomore years, I was, admittedly, more interested in my other music classes.
It wasn’t until junior year, when I was paired with a teacher who taught me to do things with my voice I could never do before, that I began to fall in love with opera and I wanted to learn how to sing in that art form. Then, halfway through an opera performance in December of my senior year, I had a moment. It hit me that performing opera was what I really wanted to continue doing—and not music therapy.
Since then, I’ve shifted my focus exclusively to opera. I’ve sung in four different languages as part of my senior thesis, and I spent a month studying German Lieder (songs) and opera in Salzburg, Austria. While in Salzburg, I made my European operatic debut, performing in different theaters and spaces around the city, including Mirabell Gardens where the famous “Do, Re, Mi” scene of The Sound of Music was filmed. It was one of the coolest experiences in my life.
How did your education/experience at GSB prepare you for what you are doing today, your career, or life in general?
Because I began Gill in preschool (at three years old!), I basically grew up there. It was such a huge part of my life for so long that I didn’t realize until after graduation how special it was and how I was surrounded by such great people and opportunities.
All through Middle and Upper School, I participated in music and theater—joining every choir or production that I could. Performing Arts was one area I excelled at, and because there were so many opportunities there, it was a huge part of my experience at Gill. When it came time to apply to college, I knew that I had to continue down that path.
What person, course, or experience most influenced you at GSB?
So many people built my confidence and were encouraging behind the scenes like David Southerland, Margery Schiesswohl, Todd Ross, and Paul Canada that it’s hard to pick just one person or one program.
Mr. Canada did teach me one exercise that I use until this day: to practice my facial expressions in front of a mirror so that the audience can “understand my face.” Even now, I practice in front of the mirror before every performance so that I can see if my facial expressions are conveying what I want them to convey. Thank you, Mr. Canada, for instilling that in me at sixteen!
What would be your advice to current GSB students?
Do not be afraid to try and turn something you are passionate about into a career.
Originally, I thought I should be pursuing something more mainstream than opera. I know some people thought I was crazy for trying to turn singing into a career, but I wouldn’t have been as happy with anything else. I’m very grateful for the encouragement I received from teachers at GSB who told me to “go for it” and to pursue what I love.
Do you have a favorite GSB memory you’d like to share?
When the Performing Arts and Community Center opened in November 2018, alumni who’d been active in the performing arts at GSB were invited back to perform. I returned to sing my solo from Cinderella, a musical I’d performed in as a junior.
Truthfully, the idea was initially terrifying, because as the youngest alumni, I was asked to perform first! In the end, it was such a special night. I got to reconnect with other alumni who I hadn’t seen in years—and I got to meet “legendary” performing arts alumni who’d graduated long before me. Since the PACC opened just after I graduated, it was my only chance to perform on that stage. I was able to have “one last bow” at GSB, and it was a great way to wrap up my time at Gill.
What is your favorite quote, or do you have a personal mantra that you live by?
There is a quote by the German composer Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) that I use as my iPad background: “I am hitting my head against the walls, but the walls are giving way.”
I love what I do, and I wouldn’t want to change it, but it can be so frustrating. Some days my voice won’t function no matter how much I warm up. I’ll work on a piece for hours with no improvement. I practice all these world languages daily and still can’t get the intonation correct.
Most days, I feel like I’m treading water and not making any progress—until finally I do. Suddenly, everything falls into place, and the hours and hours of work finally pay off. The Mahler quote is a reminder that what you do may not be easy, but when it all comes together, it’s worth doing. The walls do give way.