Classical music is alive in modern times as young vocalists such as Olivia Berumen of Modesto take collegiate-level lessons in classical music and perform it across the nation.
Olivia trains in opera — a demanding branch of classical music — and in its lighter, theatrical cousin, operetta.
Operatic singing is very strenuous, requiring a wide range of vocals. Instructors says it takes about 35 years for a woman's voice to mature. Olivia, 17-year-old junior at Modesto's Enochs High School, has been training for eight years.
No longer is she just a singer. She must bring charisma and character to each song to make it seem genuine and alive. That goes beyond singing notes and making facial expressions.
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"Each instrument and each voice has its purpose and when put together weaves a beautifully constructed masterpiece that arises every type of emotion a human could possibly feel," Olivia said.
Many languages are used in classical singing, such as French, German and Italian. It's impressive to hear Olivia, after reading a score just once, sing pieces in these languages of love and grace.
Classically trained vocalists and pop vocalists have vast differences. A classically trained vocalist trains with an instructor who can address, develop, and encourage mastery of a long-lasting, healthy vocal technique. A pop vocalist is more self-developed and doesn't necessarily require formal training.
"Being classically trained also prepares the musician to sing every genre," Olivia said. "So, it is much harder for a pop singer to become trained, where a classical singer can sing pop with ease."
Olivia began her training with the Townsend Opera Players in Modesto. She focused on musical theater before switching to classical. She is enrolled in the Music Teachers Association of California's Certificate of Merit program, which covers in detail everything from performance to ear training to music theory. She is at Level 10, the highest point of achievement. "For this program, I do have to learn songs in specific time periods, and it broadens my repertoire, exposing me to different techniques and ways of writing of the period," she said.
Olivia's instructor, Jose Munoz, says her course of study "is a great program for serious students who want to take courses at a collegiate level and excel in more detail."
To further her studies, Olivia attended the Interlochen Center for the Arts program in Michigan for six weeks over the summer.
Of the 90 students who made it into her program, only 18 were selected for the honors choir and five for the masters class. Olivia made it into both groups.
"It was really validating to know I was good after all the training," she said. "I didn't know how much talent I had and how much talent there is until I got to the international stage."
In a world where computer software can adjust a singer's pitch in a recording (read more on this in The Bee's LifeStyles section Monday), true talent and skill are difficult to find. But music from the Old World reminds us of what we've evolved from.
"It is important for all artists to study the roots or foundation of their art form," Munoz said. "This way, art continues to evolve and one form cannot necessarily live without the other. Our pop culture is not much different than what our classical culture was in the past. Yesterday's Farinelli is today's Justin Timberlake."
For Olivia, spending so much time with people at Interlochen who were on her level and could understand her was a life-changing experience. Now, her performances are more than just "singing the song."
"They told us at Interlochen to not be classified as a singer but to recognize yourself as a musician and an artist," she said. "I'm not just singing. I'm creating my art and playing characters in a song."