by ALEXANDRA RETTER
In a New York City hospital, Winona native and vocal performer Amanda Blue is trying to spread some joy by including songs from Disney movies like “Moana” and “Frozen” in the hospital concert series she created. The concert series is just one of the many ways in which Blue shares her voice.
Blue started singing at a young age as a student at Winona Area Catholic Schools. When she was in fourth grade, her music teacher referred her to a voice teacher in town.
“She’s really, truly one of my biggest music inspirations … she really helped me gain music appreciation and really introduced me to opera and the music I’m now singing, and everything started off during once-a-week to twice-a-week voice lessons with her,” Blue said of her teacher.
At the beginning of Blue’s vocal training, she learned how to read music, breathe properly while singing, sustain tone while singing, use her vocal muscles and be confident enough to sing. She then explored different genres of songs when she was in high school. Blue said her high school band director taught her about diligence and accountability, and she keeps his lessons in mind to this day.
Blue next headed off to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire to complete her undergraduate studies. She initially majored in music education. She very quickly switched her major to vocal performance after an instructor told her he thought she had a voice that could continue developing well with further study.
As an undergraduate student, Blue took advantage of many opportunities, from performing in several operas to singing in Italy to studying music history throughout Central Europe.
“I really wanted to get the academic side as well as vocal experience,” Blue shared.
Alan Rieck, who taught Blue at UW-Eau Claire as the chair of the Department of Music and Theatre Arts and professor of choral music and music education, said she was a vocal leader in the Women’s Concert Chorale who had great technique and worked very hard on that technique.
“She was always very focused on trying to make connections with the music,” Rieck noted. “It wasn’t about just singing notes and words. It was about understanding what human experience she was trying to connect, describe and express.”
He said she has a voice that stands out as special.
“It was always fun to see that she was working well with the gifts she’d been given,” Rieck stated.
Rieck said Blue was also involved with planning and networking for a domestic immersion experience in New York City, and she took a master class while she was in the Big Apple.
“It was very clear that she was very motivated and very interested in taking advantage of everything she possibly could,” Rieck shared.
Blue went on to earn a Master’s degree at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N.J., where she and her fellow students had chances to sing with renowned artists.
“I got a lot of experience, and a lot of tough experience, too,” Blue said. “The field I picked is not for the faint of heart. You need to have tough skin. My undergrad taught me that, but my Master’s even more so taught me to have thick skin.”
Blue said that today, she has a strong support system composed of people from New York City, New Jersey and Winona. She gained an appreciation for music from her parents, and she is grateful for their support, she noted.
She won the Best American Aria Interpretation award in the opera division at the 2020 Metropolitan International Vocal Competition in January, and this spring, she is singing and working with famed opera singer Martina Arroyo, who received a Kennedy Center Honor in 2013. Blue will also debut two roles at an upcoming festival in North Carolina.
“I’m kind of now coming into my prime and trying to find how I fit within the opera world where there are so many sopranos, and they need more male singers because they have enough female singers, but I’m making my way and doing interesting work that I’m passionate about and challenged by and that I love,” Blue noted.
Blue said she has learned to be patient and kind to herself while pursuing her goals.
“It comes in stages, and to expect it all at once, you just can’t do that … I think finding an inner circle of friends and professionals you trust is really what helps you,” Blue stated.
Blue said she has found everywhere she has sung, from the New York City hospitals at which she began a recital series about a year ago to Italy to Lincoln Center, to be unique and memorable.
“I am truly thankful to be able to use my voice any way I can and to create experiences for myself that will not only make me a better performer, but also a better person,” Blue said. “I think sometimes career and personal development get separated a lot, and they go so hand-in-hand. Through my musicianship … I’ve learned to be an even better version of myself.”
She noted that at a recent hospital recital series in New York City, she added many Disney songs to her program.
“You just never know … what [people] are going through, and if I can just take the troubles they’re dealing with and put them on pause while I sing, that means the world and makes what I do worth it,” Blue said.
Blue said she enjoys sticking to a 9 to 5 schedule as she prepares for roles. Preparation includes working with vocal instructors and learning and translating the languages in which she sings. Blue added that one substantial aspect of the opera world is trusting one’s colleagues.
Blue said she has strengthened her grasp on how to handle both good and less-favorable auditions.
“At first, I took everything so personally, because how can you not? It’s your voice. It’s so you. It’s part of you … I’ve seen a big improvement in being able to go through an audition, and if I had a good audition, being able to recognize, ‘That’s a good audition,’ and move on, and if I have a bad audition, look at what I thought didn’t go so well and say, ‘That happened,’ and learn from it,” Blue noted.
Blue said she is proud to come from Winona.
“Music is a big part of the Winona community,” Blue shared, “so I would just encourage people to go out and support and experience that.”