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The Beehive Interview: Vicki Shaghoian

Vicki Shaghoian has performed in a lot of famous venues over the years, from Avery Fisher Hall in New York City to San Francisco Opera. But none will likely have as much impact on Shaghoian as performing at the Shaghoian Concert Hall.

She’s appearing with the Fresno Community Concert Band in a 3 p.m. Sunday concert titled “Resplendent Glory.” I wrote about the basics of the concert in Friday’s 7 section. Here’s an extended interview I conducted via email with Shaghoian.

Question: Let’s talk first about your program at the concert. What can you tell us about the three pieces by Strauss?

Answer: Richard Strauss is one of my favorite composers of the romantic period. The pieces are rich in poetic and musical texture – you simply have to honor the relationship of the music to the text, believe what you are saying and let the music do the rest.

You’re also performing selections from “Carousel.” Have you ever performed in a stage version of this show? Why did you pick this particular American musical to highlight?

I have had the good fortune to perform both Julie Jordan and Carrie Pipperidge. It was with Good Company Players that I first became acquainted with this amazing piece of musical theater. I auditioned with my hopes on Carrie, but alas was cast as Julie opposite Robert Westenberg – not bad seconds! The opportunity came to play Carrie with the original full orchestration of the Rodgers score with David Commanday. I think what is more amusing to me upon reflection, is that I was finally ready to do the role of Julie when I was actually singing Carrie and vice versa!

Have you ever performed with the Fresno Community Concert Band? How did this concert come about?

No, this will be a first. I was undecided about accepting the invitation, because I didn’t want to sing with a microphone as is accustomed with the concert band’s vocal offerings — the Concert Hall is known for its acoustical splendor, and I was trained to sing acoustically for the stage. Bob Nielson was very open to letting me pick the repertoire and tirelessly worked to arrange it for the wind ensemble. The Strauss is already arranged for band and voice. It is a true leap of faith for us both.

You are a wide-ranging artist. What do you consider yourself first and foremost – a singer/actor, musical director, or teacher?

I consider myself a performing teaching artist… I am not being elusive.

The truth is, I am an actor who loves singing and loves teaching. It is a gift — a part of our DNA. In fact, my sisters Sharon and Susan, both amazing clarinetists, always knew that they want to teach, conduct. Susan has taught for 35 years, and Sharon for nearly 20 years, and is only now returning to music education after years of working successfully outside of the arts. And, Paul, well need I even say, “Y’ know …”

My father loved music. I think music was the food that sustained my father throughout his life. Paul and I were both focused on performing, and we were both blessed in attaining it professionally. But, teaching was something that I had to do to survive in the midst of a difficult transition in my personal life. What I discovered almost instantaneously is that it was not only a means of support, but the reason I am who I am today. I have learned more from teaching and my students about myself and my own performance and singing. Thank you, my students, my friends, my teachers.

Tell us a little about the structure of your life today. Is Yale your home base? How much time do you typically spend on the road?

I live in New York City in what is known as Hell’s Kitchen! It is right in the middle of Times Square and the Theater District – which can sometimes feel like hell when you are trying to get to and from the subway. I commute weekly to CT, and rent a room. It is a challenge to say the least, never feeling quite settled. The rewards, though, highly outweigh the inconveniences. I also travel to give workshops and master classes as my schedule permits. Next year I will be giving a workshop at Eastman School of Music.
And I am building a client list on the West Coast, because it is my home, and I love any opportunity to return. My professional life would mean nothing without family and friends. I am truly an enigma, because I have lived and studied in San Francisco, London, England, and New York City, but I am still the country girl who loves simple!

Your credits include a number of intriguing titles that sound ground-breaking (“365 Plays/365 Days” by Suzan-Lori Parks, creating the role of Wallis Simpson in Windsor Follies at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, working on The Black Monk by David Rabe, debuting over a dozen libretti with Donald Pippin). Is there one experience among these (or others) that stands out above all other in terms of sheer artistic exhilaration?

That answer truly depends on perspective (smile). I have to say that one of the most memorable experiences is actually music directing and seeing others experience those unexplainable moments of allowing the universe to use you as its vessel, transcending and transporting your audience to a place they had not yet ventured. I have had those moments, but it selfishly feels awesome to see someone go there, knowing you inspired their faith in themselves to trust, play, risk in the moment.

Talk a little about your formative years in Fresno. Did you concentrate strictly on vocal performance while at Fresno State? Were you drawn to acting at that time, or did that come later? How do you think your time at Fresno State prepared you for a professional career?

When I entered CSUF I had no idea of what I wanted to do with my life, seriously! I took the basic music degree courses, with a focus on flute.

It was truly a golden era then. Russell S. Howland was my teacher — students came to Fresno just to study with him.

It was in my second year that my sister, Sharon, suggested I take a vocal pedagogy class with this teacher “who’s a real kick!” I was taking 22 units, working on campus 15 hours a week, and playing in all of the instrumental groups… So, I took her advice and signed up.

The first class, Dorothy Renzi assigned us to bring in a song of our choice and perform for the class. Well, I had a vocal selections book of “Fiddler on the Roof” that I enjoyed playing on the piano … and chose “Matchmaker.” The only problem was I was so nervous that I had to face the blackboard to sing. After that class, Professor Renzi took me aside and said that I must sing. I thought, “no way…” Then one day she sent me over to the opera workshop director to sing — I said I would do it if it meant getting to act. I was cast on the spot as Lady Jane in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Patience.” I got to wear a fat suit and play the cello and clash the symbols and deliver all the laugh lines … I was sold. From there I declared my major, created a curriculum that supported a future vocal performance career, and the rest is history.

And as all history goes, there were times of war and famine … and times of peace and abundance … such is the life of an artist.

What was it like studying with Renzi?

Dorothy Renzi was one of the pillars of the Golden Age of Music at CSUF.

She was not only an amazing teacher and coach, she was an extraordinary singing artist — there were no limits in Dorothy’s repertoire. And, a personality that embraced everyone. Dorothy was not only my first teacher, but my most influential. I still sing for her when I come home to visit. It was always about the text and music. There are not many teachers who have the gift for teaching the voice and knowledge and respect for coaching the performance of the material. She embodies it all!

How often do you get back to Fresno?

I try to get home to see my family as often as time permits, which averages about twice a year.

Will this be your first time to perform in the Shaghoian Hall?

Yes, I have only been in the hall once. I attended a special concert with Buchanan High School’s Jazz Band and Jazz Combo, which featured my nephew, Tim Shaghoian, on Sax. Paul Luchessi has done an amazing job with the program. I remember on one of my brother’s trips to NYC he wanted me to meet this young man that he was mentoring … it was Paul. So, I think it is perfect that he succeeded my brother’s legacy.

You’ve performed in many impressive venues. But I’d assume the experience of being in a hall named for your brother will be on another emotional level entirely. Do you think it will be difficult for you?

Yes. I am getting emotional just answering the question. There is nothing more challenging then standing on a stage as yourself – no costume, script, director, lights, staging, etc. — just you and the audience. I still get extremely nervous. But, it is worth the risk. I am one to never run from what scares me the most. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I want to honor my father and brother – and I know they will be there – they just have to be.

Responses to "The Beehive Interview: Vicki Shaghoian"

My mom (maria contreras) plays clarinet in the band, she rocks!