For the past three years, senior Vocal Performance major Addison Ballew has been enchanting audiences at Furman with her beautiful voice and engaging stage presence. Experienced in both classical singing and musical theater, she most recently starred in Furman Lyric Theatre’s production of Into The Woods and is now preparing for an exciting year of performances, including her senior recital. She sat down with The Paladin to give us an insight into how she makes music and what performing arts means to her.
Tell us about your musical experience: Have you always had a passion for music and singing?
I started singing in my preschool church choir when I was around three years old, but I became more serious about the art when I started taking voice lessons around fifteen. Before then I had been competitively dancing for eleven years, but after realizing that was not what I wanted to do as a career, I thought I would try taking voice lessons. Yet it wasn’t until I attended the Brevard Summer Institute in 2017 that I decided I wanted to pursue a singing career. I absolutely loved the immersive musical experience I had there, and truly fell in love with opera as a result. Once I saw Street Scene by the Janiec Opera Company later that year, I was hooked — I knew that’s what I wanted to do from then on.
What has your musical experience at Furman been like? What organizations/productions have you been involved in?
My freshman year, I was in the chorus of She Loves Me. I was the cover of Cendrillon in Massenet’s Cendrillion, an operatic version of Cinderella, my sophomore year, Little Red Riding Hood in Into the Woods my junior year, and will be the cover of Zerlina in Don Giovanni in the spring. I have also been involved in Furman Lyric Theatre’s opera productions throughout my career at Furman, including their upcoming performance in November, while also performing in several of the Theatre’s masterclasses and recitals. To any aspiring artists, I would suggest auditioning for every Furman Lyric Theatre production — the performing experience is invaluable!
I am also the Vice-President of Furman Singers and in the Furman Singer’s Honeybee Barbershop Quartet. I was accepted into the Accademia dell’Arte study abroad program in Arezzo, Italy in 2020, which was unfortunately cancelled due to COVID, and participated in Songfest at the Colburn School of Music virtually during the summer of 2020. And on top of it all, I have been able to do undergraduate research on the body of voice science alongside Mrs. Lisa Barksdale, CCC-SLP, MM, MCD.
Describe your creative process – how do you get to know a new piece or character?
When learning a new piece, I try to understand my character holistically: their goals, needs, objectives, and, moreover, who stands in the way of them achieving those things. Observing what is at stake really can really bring a character to life, and it gives me a good idea of their direction and aims. If I know the circumstances of my character beforehand, I also try to put myself in their shoes by relating their story to something in my own life. Even if I’m playing a villain, I try to find some common ground with them — it is all about finding the humanity in each character and trying to bring that into the performance.
What do you find most exciting about studying and performing classical music?
There is something so beautiful about the timelessness of classical music; that a song written so long ago hasn’t lost its appeal and still evokes such strong emotions is amazing. The traditions classical music is rooted in are really powerful to think about, and even more rewarding to perform. But most of all, I love the dramatics associated with opera. As an art form it is almost always over the top, but I think that’s what makes it so much fun and entertaining.
What are the challenges of being a performing artist?
Emotionally, being a singer is surprisingly hard! Because you are constantly trying to empathize with the song you are singing or character you are playing, it can be easy to feel caught in an emotional whirlwind. But given that a singer’s ultimate goal is to communicate the text and take the audience on a journey, that emotional tumult is oftentimes a necessary evil, one that helps audience members escape their realities and be present with me in the moment.
Beyond the mental toll, singing is also physically draining. Your voice is inside your body, so it is not something I can put down, and every day it is a bit like waking up with a new instrument. Yet saying all of this, I sing because it is my passion and I cannot imagine doing anything else — to be on stage performing is pure bliss.
Who have been your biggest musical influences?
The operatic soprano Diana Damrau is definitely amongst the top. Her singing is so musical, it is like you can really feel every word she is saying, and her control and phrasing lyrically sublime. Plus, you can also tell she enjoys her work, and I think that says a lot. I also enjoy listening to tenors Matthew Polenzani and Piotr Beczala. Their singing is seemingly effortless, and they both have a way of making you hang onto every word.
What has been your favorite role/piece that you have ever performed?
I don’t know if I have a favorite role, but I do really love Debussy’s song cycle Ariettes oubliées (Forgotten Songs). I actually wrote a research paper for my Music History II class on this song cycle, and am performing some of the songs in my senior recital! The cycle is so beautifully written and really allows the performer to experience a wide range of emotions. It expresses loss, despair, hope, and joy all in just six songs, with peculiar musical surprises and particular notes representing the tumultuous and confusing journey of the singer. And the cycle is written so well for the soprano voice that when sung, it almost feels like a massage — it just fits.
Ballew’s next performance will be in Furman Lyric Theatre’s An Evening of Opera in English on Nov. 22, where she will perform in a scene from Leonard Bernstein’s English opera Trouble in Tahiti. She will also be singing in Handel’s Messiah with Furman Singers this December. After graduation, she plans to pursue a Master’s in music with an emphasis on vocal performance and vocal pedagogy and ultimately aims to earn a Doctorate in music. Yet however uncertain the future may be, Ballew is supremely confident in one thing — music, in some capacity, will forever be a part of her life.