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Thursday, June 27, 2013 - A Life in Music: Sara Chiesa
by Gillian Ellis

Sara Chiesa is currently finishing up a D.M.A. in Collaborative Piano at Florida State University, but like many young people, she was not happy at the prospect of her first piano lesson. She says, “I cried on the day of my first piano lesson. I did not want to go. My mom said I had to try it for three months and then I could quit if I wanted to. After the very first lesson, I knew that it would not be my last.”

Sara attended Fraser High School and graduated from OU (as Sara Young) with a B.M. in Piano Performance in 2007. Her piano teacher was Mary Siciliano, whom Sara is quick to credit with playing a major role in building the foundation of her success. “Every single lesson that Mary Siciliano teaches is focused and extremely productive. She insisted on holding at least one studio class (often two) each week so that we could all perform our pieces regularly; she was willing to give me extra lessons whenever I needed to get ready for an audition or competition. Mary re-taught me some of the most basic piano technique including playing scales. Regardless of my lack of technical facility at the keyboard back then, Mary recognized my potential. She put great energy into me as a student, and without her, it is absolutely certain that I would've crumbled long ago and given up on this career. To this day, almost 10 years after I had my first lesson with her, she is still the very first person I call after any audition and after I hear of the outcomes. She was the first person I called after being offered the contract from Virginia Opera.”

That contract is for Sara’s current position as Emerging Artist Apprentice Coach with the Virginia Opera. It will give her the opportunity to music direct two outreach productions, Jack and the Beanstalk and Pinocchio's Sister, as well as to play for concerts throughout the year. She will also coach the emerging artist singers on their solo repertoire.

Sara first began to work on these collaborative piano skills at Bowling Green State University (M.M. ’09), where Christopher Scholl, the coordinator of voice and opera, gave her opportunities to music direct and coach singers in opera scenes and even one-act operas. Mr. Scholl says, “I gave Sara opportunities because of her enthusiasm for singers and vocal repertoire, as well as the potential I saw within her. She took each opportunity and ran with it.” Sara was offered a position on the faculty at BGSU as an opera pianist/coach the first year after graduation.

Once she began work on her D.M.A. at Florida State, Sara acted as répétiteur for opera rehearsals, which means she would play piano for the main stage rehearsals ahead of the orchestra’s involvement. She says, “It was intense because at Florida State the head conductor attended every rehearsal. It was good for me because it gave me my first real opportunity of following a conductor. I had conducted the orchestra pit several times from the piano in various musicals, but I had never followed a conductor on a podium.” At Florida State Opera she worked as répétiteur for productions of Orphée aux enfers, Eugene Onegin, Così fan tutte, and Massenet’s Le Jongleur de Notre Dame.

Sara is happy to have found her niche, which she thinks is coaching singers, and OU played a role in that too. She took a linguistics class as a general education requirement and it intrigued her so much she was even tempted to switch majors. She says, “It is a very neat thing because I'm in a career that blends music and linguistics perfectly: a vocal coach. In addition to English, we are required to have a solid understanding of Italian, French, and German, with working knowledge of Czech, Spanish, and Russian. I speak Italian, and I am conversational in French with a working knowledge of the others.”

The final requirements of Sara’s D.M.A. are well in hand. She will give a lecture recital in September and defend her treatise on the evolution of the role of the piano throughout French Cabaret Music on the first weekend of October. After her season at Virginia Opera she would like to work in opera houses for a few more years, continuing to coach singers. Her ultimate aim, she says, would be to move to Italy to work as a vocal coach and perhaps also to teach English as a second language.

Wherever her life in music takes her, we feel sure Sara will remain connected to her OU roots because of the vital formative lessons she learned here. She says, “Recently, Mary [Siciliano] was invited to Florida State University as a guest lecturer because of her impressive credentials as a pre-college piano pedagogue. It was very special for me to have her in Florida, and I was able to show her my office and my school. After her public masterclass, several FSU students came up to me and asked incredulously, ‘She was your former teacher? How amazing. You are so lucky!’ Without a doubt, I know that they are right.”

The OU Music program is proud to have such a highly regarded teacher as part of its faculty and equally proud to have such a hardworking and successful alumna representing it in the world of music. Brava!

You can see and hear Sara play piano in this YouTube clip: Apparition for Soprano and Piano by George Crumb.

Photo by Rio Scafone.