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Your Full Voice

Nyela Basney

Artistic Director of the Opera at North Park University

Professional conductor, with recent work as director of Orvieta Musica, a summer chamber music festival in Orvieto, Italy; guest conductor with Light Opera Works and Chamber Opera Chicago; conductor at the DiCapo Opera Theatre in New York City, the Sarajevo Philharmonic in Bosnia, Opera Tascabile in Italy, and with COC at the Shanklin Theatre on the Isle of Wight and Royal Winchester Theatre in Winchester, England; and past conducting work across the country and around the world.

Alexandra Plattos

Student in the master of music in vocal performance program, graduating in 2014

Their Partnership

Nyela met Alexandra at her audition for the master’s program in the School of Music. Last summer, Alexandra studied at Orvieto Musica in Orvieto, Italy, an annual summer chamber music festival, which Nyela founded and serves as director. Here's a glimpse into their experience of working together.

Nyela: When I began my career as a conductor, my goal was to conduct professionally for 20 to 25 years and then to add a teaching component to my work so that I could share some of my experience with students—but also so that I could be challenged by them. I teach both for myself and for my students. For myself, because my artistic thinking is stimulated through being challenged to look at music and questions about music from different students’ perspectives. I grow as a performer as I find ever more diverse ways to experience music and to communicate about it.

For my students, I teach because I love music and want to share it with them. I believe in the power of music to move people and to change us as a community and I have a vested interest in seeing young musicians contribute their talents to the tradition.

I am inspired when I see young musicians grow in their understanding of music and of themselves, overcome obstacles and gain confidence, ask probing questions and apply what they’re learning to many areas of their life, gain bankable skills and professional disciplines and when they challenge my assumptions and disagree with my interpretation.

Alexandra: I first met Professor Basney when I auditioned for North Park’s master’s program. During my first semester in the program, I was able to get a sense of her teaching style: at the beginning of every semester, she announces our rehearsal policy: “Happy to be here, easy to work with.”

Nyela: Alexandra auditioned for a very challenging role (Queen of the Night) in her first. As I worked with her through the audition process I took note of her willingness to take a risk and stretch herself, her openness to direction and commitment to doing what I suggested, and her ability to handle stress and work hard to be successful.

Alexandra: During my first year here, I had the opportunity to sing the role of Mozart’s Queen of the Night. This is a notoriously difficult role with sky-high notes and fast coloratura passages. If you had told me on my first day of the program that I would be singing this role by second semester, then I would have told you that you were crazy. With the training of my voice teacher, Annie Picard, and the support of Prof. Basney and the other staff, I auditioned for the role, sang multiple rounds of callbacks, and then was finally cast. I worked closely with Prof. Basney in coachings, where she encouraged me to take risks in order to master the role. Performing this role was an opportunity to learn how to perform and to learn how to prepare other roles and challenging music. 

Nyela: I work hard to treat each student equally and give my time and energy to each student equally. I’m not sure there is anything unique to our work together, although I’m sure sharing Alexandra’s experience with Orvieto Musica gives us an added context for our experience of music. 

Alexandra: Making music in Orvieto this summer was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to work with other students and musicians from around the United States while appreciating the rich culture of central Italy.

One of the shortest interactions I had with Prof. Basney while in Italy occurred on the street outside the music school. She stopped me, said that I have a bigger voice than I think, and encouraged me to take a chance and sing with my full voice. She continued to say that if I didn’t like it, then I could forget it all once I left Orvieto. But, she put the challenge out there; she brought to my attention the fact that I have the potential to do more. I thought, “Alright, Prof. Basney—challenge accepted!” With one question, “Are you singing with your full voice?” Prof. Basney reminds me of this potential. 

Nyela: Alexandra is ambitious, risk-taking, independent, fun, and hardworking. She has grown in technical ability; in her sense of herself as an interpretive artist; in her ability to integrate music, drama and analysis; and in confidence. I see this growth as a result of her contact with all of the faculty and students in the School of Music, however, and not as a direct outcome of our particular mentoring relationship.

Alexandra: One of the most valuable learning experiences that I have received from Prof. Basney is just observing how she acts. She has such a skill of knowing which “hat” to wear—whether she is acting as artistic director, conductor, educator, Italian businesswoman, or just having a casual conversation. This model encourages us to do the same, and such a model helps us to see the efficiency in these interactions.

I may not use the term “unique” to describe my relationship with Prof. Basney; however, it does differ from those with other teachers and students. Sharing meals, an international adventure, and getting a little turned-around while abroad change and strengthen a relationship in an indefinable way. These subconscious changes shape the way we interact. I have a better understanding of how Prof. Basney views music and how she uses her language when working to address an issue. And Prof. Basney has a clearer understanding of how I view music and the challenges that I face when making it, so that she just has to ask, “Are you singing with your full voice?,” and the problem might be fixed. 

Nyela: As an adjunct instructor it is natural to reflect North Park’s commitment to using Chicago as a classroom. Since I am actively conducting in Chicago at the same time that I’m teaching here, there is a constant interplay between my current professional experiences and my mentoring of young professional students. I use my recent experiences as examples as I’m teaching; I take the young professionals’ enthusiasm and energy into my conducting work. Students attend my performances and we discuss them afterwards.

In the opera program we work to create a safe environment where students and teachers can explore themselves and their life experience as they create characters and interpret roles all within the context of their faith journey. The world of opera and the world of faith are not always the most compatible worlds to inhabit simultaneously and I see one of my roles as a sounding board for students as they grapple with stretching their boundaries and reconciling their beliefs.

Alexandra: A great teacher is someone with patience, an endless number of tactics, and the drive to help someone grow and learn in their own way. I can clearly see these qualities in Prof. Basney.

My future plans consist of performance and education. I’m in the process of applying for a Fulbright award, with which I hope to resurrect music from the late eighteenth to nineteenth century. I will study in Bari, Italy and transcribe a set of arias for soprano written by Barese composers in order to create critical performing editions and a set of recordings that will be published and available to the public. This project will provide an opportunity to work with students from the conservatory in Bari, where we will perform these arias in a series of concerts around southern Italy with music that has not been heard in two hundred years.

Similar to the careers of many of the teachers at North Park, I look forward to having a fulfilling career performing opera, art song, and oratorio/cantata all while teaching voice lessons. Within the two years of this program, I was able to learn how to teach and how to teach students with different learning styles. The opportunities at North Park have set a groundwork upon which I will build my career in performance and education.

Next Steps

Read more from the Winter 2014 North Parker.

music professor and student