15 Minutes: Carrie Hennessey, soprano and voice instructor

Carrie Hennessey uses her experience as a professional opera singer to help others find their voice through remote lessons. (Photo courtesy of Carrie Hennessey)

When not performing in operas worldwide, Carrie Hennessey helps students find their voice.

As an in-demand opera and theater performer, Carrie Hennessey has taken her soprano voice worldwide alongside some of her field’s most innovative composers and performers. Hennessey has also taught voice lessons for 10 years. For the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, she no longer teaches from her home studio in Sacramento. Instead, she’s connecting with her students online using Zoom—and it’s less difficult than you might think.

We’re all still social distancing. It sounds like you’re working from home too.

Every single one of my concerts and operas that I had scheduled all over the country were canceled through the end of the year … Thankfully, all of the companies have been gracious in wanting to reschedule and wanting to utilize the artists again … [It’s] interesting working with smaller companies that really want to make sure that the community of artists with whom they work are valued.

In the meantime, you give voice lessons?

I do. Whenever I’m home and prepping for a role, over the last 10 years, built quite a studio of some lovely singers.

How has that changed for you now that you can’t see them in person?

Everybody was on board knowing that my intention is fully to care for them as an artist. Not just as a singer—but as a human. Because this body that we walk in is full of anxiety and emotion and stress, and unknowing … It’s important that they know they have a voice, and they have something to say, and that they can say it truthfully.

For some people, that vulnerability you mentioned requires a one-on-one connection that a computer doesn’t provide. Does it take a little longer to engage?

Actually, I think the harder thing has been making sure that they are comfortable in their own home. Because some of these singers are singers for themselves … [The] harder thing wasn’t the technology, but some people were in their own homes. Where they were shutting a door, but maybe their significant other, who maybe they’ve never sung in front of, is on the other side of the door …

Financially, we’re living in a time where discretionary income may be completely nonexistent for some people. Classes or not, what role does singing have in peoples’ lives?

I think it’s imperative. It’s a form of storytelling that involves the most complex motor skill that a human has. To utilize all of these muscles, and to utilize the emotional capacity to express through literally every system of our body, to every part of our brain, the synapses that are firing. The text. And the fact that we are vibrating our own personal DNA to express to others around us is the most personal form, a deep form of expression that I can think of. It’s so good for the heart, it’s so good for our brain, it’s so good for the endorphins in our body. It slows down the heart rate. There’s just so much good about singing—it’s so important for our system to be able to move energy through us in this way. Through vibration, and through song, and through text that’s meaningful.

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