Interview Series: Q&A with Opera Singer, Rachel Sterrenberg

As a part of a series of interviews with students who have been there, done that, I've interviewed a young opera singer about her college experiences.

Rachel Sterrenberg is originally from Madison, Georgia and now attends the University of Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky. She is working toward a bachelor’s in music in vocal performance and will graduate in 2012. Rachel began singing in church when she was very young. Her love of the stage eventually led to performing in local community musical theatre productions including her very first role in 6th grade as Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

Rachel was named the first place recipient of the 2008 Alltech Undergraduate Opera Scholarship, has won first place in the Peterson Competition in central Kentucky in 2009, and was a semifinalist in the Charles A. Lyman Competition in 2010. Recently, Rachel won the Strauss Award at the Orpheus National Voice Competition in March 2011.

After graduation, Rachel plans to attend graduate school in a young artist program to further her studies in voice and opera.

Are you interested in pursuing your dreams of singing while receiving a college education? Rachel shares with us what it is like to attend a university while keeping on top of a career in opera singing.

Why did you choose a university rather than a performing arts school?

When I began the college search, I realized that I needed to make sure that I was picking the right major and ultimately, career (music). So, I figured that finding a university with an exceptional music program would be the best of both worlds.

What types of classes are required for your major?

I am required to take music theory classes, which involves ear training and written theory (which is basically music writing tactics), a ton of music history, ensembles (choirs, etc.), piano proficiency, opera and acting workshops, opera productions, voice lessons, and voice coaching, along with all the other core academic classes that the University requires us as music majors to take. (It is a LOT!)

Are you involved in any activities on campus?

My freshman year I was involved in the University of Kentucky student government as a part of their freshman leadership team. I was also a part of a sorority, but the further I got into being a music major, the more time commitment it took out of me to the point of having to strictly focus on music. But, I really loved being a part of student government and the sorority!

How often do you perform? Do you perform on campus?

I am singing all the time. Whether it is with the University of Kentucky chorale, women’s choir, opera productions, recitals, or just for fun. All of these ensembles and opportunities give me a lot of chances to sing and perform on campus.

How often do you practice? Is it difficult to practice on campus?

I practice every day (circumstances permitting). It is important to have a good habitual practice routine—it truly is what makes you get better at your craft, whether it be basketball, math, or singing! It is easy to practice on campus. Our fine arts facility has around 20 designated practice rooms for us to use all the time. It is great!

What is your favorite part of college in general?

My favorite part of college is finally having the means and opportunity to do what I love to do all the time. In high school, you are required to take a variety of core classes, but in college, I have been able to immerse myself in my love of music by studying it every day. Also, living on my own and starting the journey into becoming an adult has been pretty fun!

How do you usually spend your summers?

As a musician, you should always be using and working on your craft. I have been attending the Chautauqua Music Festival for the past two years to work with incredible voice coaches and teachers from around the world. In most summer music festivals, singers put on a few operas and receive many singing and performing opportunities. It is a really great atmosphere to truly focus on singing, while during the school year; you are always pulled in many directions to get things done.

Do you have any advice for aspiring singers?

Practice and be proactive! You may feel annoying at times, but people notice when you are working hard and being persistent with what you do. Remember to always enjoy the music you are creating. That is the real reason why we want to sing for the rest of our lives anyway!

If you would like to know more about Rachel you can visit her website If you are in the University of Kentucky area, you can find her performing in Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette in October 2011.

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About Victoria Scibilia

Victoria Scibilia

Victoria Scibilia is a contributing editor for Carnegie Communications.


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