Meet Blythe Walker, Penn State’s Most Successful Opera Singer
In the world of opera, Blythe Walker is as accomplished as they come. She’s performed on Broadway, at the Met, the New York City Opera, the Boston Opera, the Santa Fé Opera, and was named the Metropolitan Opera National Council Winner.
After more than 40 years of continued success in the performance industry, the 62-year-old Walker decided to pursue her master’s degree in the Penn State School of Music’s voice pedagogy program.
“Coming back to school has been very empowering,” she said. “I had always seen myself in academia ultimately, and Penn State has a great program for voice pedagogy.”
At age 21, Walker was offered the chance of a lifetime: a place in the Cologne Opera Training School. She went on to win first prize in both the Liederkranz and McAllister international vocal competitions, and she was also a finalist in the international Hans Gabor Belvedere Singing Competition.
But not only is Walker a successful soprano singer, she’s also a passionate college-level teacher, and even owns a private studio where she conducts lessons. She also served as the resident master teacher and director of Young Sisters of the Santa Fé Opera, and director of vocal studies at the New York Summer Music Festival.
With all of this real-world experience, Walker will be a valuable teaching asset for a college in the future. “My best teaching is by example,” she said, “I am very aware that I am able to pass things on.”
After living the life of which most performers only dream, Walker decided to step back into the shoes of a student, and she’s enjoying every moment of it.
“I’m here and I’m glad,” she said. “Being back in an environment where I can dive into my subject deeply, academically, and intellectually is the biggest part of it, but of course, it’s work because I’m always learning. Singing itself is a lifelong study that is on a continuum.”
Walker doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to working as a performing artist in the real world. She explains how having a career and sustaining a career are two very different things, and oftentimes part of the life of a performing artist includes a teaching aspect. In order to fulfill the latter, Walker must acquire her master’s degree. She said earning her master’s is also a matter of personal goals, and hopes that the credential that confirms her life’s work.
“It’s what I’ve done all my life,” she said. “There was never a question, that was what I was going to be. I came from a very musical family and I had a lot of support. I was the only one in my immediate family demented enough to try and make a living out of it!”
As a Pennsylvania native, Walker mentions that she feels at home in State College, and is certain now that she is doing what she is meant to do. Walker, enjoying her time at Penn State, said being an adult learner gives her a unique perspective with both advantages and disadvantages. “I feel like I’m kind of flying solo, although everyone in the School of Theater has been incredibly embracing and I feel their acceptance. I would like for there to be more of a community of adult learners.”
After graduating, the singer-turned-teacher wants to stay close to the collegiate atmosphere and land a job instructing others. “I hope to land an academic teaching position in a conservatory or major university music school so I can continue to contribute when it’s all over,” she said. “If that doesn’t happen I’ll go to New York and hang out my shingle and become a voice teacher to the stars.”
Noting the importance of taking care of her voice as she ages, Walker’s goal is to pursue her career path for as long as possible and life the life she was born to live: one of a performing artist and educator.
Walker looks forward to getting the chance to play comedic roles for Penn State, including Berta the Maid in Penn State Opera Theatre’s production of “The Barber of Seville” in March. “It’s going to be fun to play a character part,” Walker said, “Ted Christopher’s concept for Berta is funny and sexy and silly so that will be fun.”
Aside from her role of Berta in the play, Walker gets the chance to offer guidance to the other performers during rehearsal due to her extensive knowledge in the area. “I love the rehearsal period and it’s fun to be engaged in other people’s first experience with the production,” Walker said, “I’m very grateful that the music director has told me that if I have any input to jump right in, and I always do.”
As for advice to aspiring performers, Walker said, “Do the work. Keep at it. Get your ego out of the way as much as possible, because it really is a very selfless job. It’s not all about ‘me, me, me!’ It’s about you and the music. As a singer, you need to know your voice. It’s a lifelong study. Stay open to the world while being deeply engaged in your art form, and don’t think you’ve learned it all in school because you’ve only scratched the surface.”