Not Your Typical Soprano
SOPRANO! What image just came to your mind? I see a tall, majestic woman with glossy, piled-up hair, green eye shadow, and ruby lips curled into a haughty sneer. Decked out in sparkles and lace, she clomps around on six-inch black heels and "vocalizes" by screeching out high notes and murmuring strange syllables. She glares scornfully at those who marvel at her bizarre mating calls, then daintily sips water out of her pink leopard-print, BPA-free reusable bottle. Soprano. If that's what you think of when you hear the word "soprano," then you've never met my sister Hannah.
Hannah Harrow sprawls out on an old red couch in her family's living room. Her mass of hair, brown at the roots and blond at the ends from an old dye job, looks like it hasn't been brushed in weeks. She sports a dark green 100% cotton sweatshirt adorned with pills and emblazoned with the worn inscription, "ADK: Forever Wild." Gray fleece leggings complete her overly-understated, sloppily-casual style. Obviously, this is not a stereotypical soprano. I settle down next to her with my laptop and begin the interview: "So, whats it like being a diva?"
Hannah glares at me. "That is not a specific enough question."
I try again: "What are the pros and cons of being a classical singer?"
She gives me another weird look. Then she shrugs, accepts my inferiority, and answers me seriously: "Pros and cons? I don't know. Depends on if you like classical singing or not. If you like it, singing's all pros. If you don't like it, singing's all cons." Her practicality astonishes me.
"What do you enjoy most about singing?"
I must have finally found a good question - she pauses thoughtfully. "I love placing a note absolutely perfectly. Which never happens in a performance. I only get it like that when I'm singing in my bedroom, a practice room, or the shower. Second, I like performing. But I never perform perfectly."
I turn to the age-old singer's question. "Describe the role of your accompanist in three words."
"Teach me how to count." She laughs. I laugh, too - she obviously does need some serious counting help.
"Do you enjoy dressing up?"
"NO. The best part is being able to take off the dress and put on sweat pants. Makeup, hair, those are fine. But dresses are terrible. Hoodies are better." Is this really a soprano?
"Let's turn back to your singing. Do yo feel like you're under-appreciated?"
I expect to hear something like, "Of course! No one realizes how special my singing is!" Instead, Hannah says, "No. It's annoying when people over-appreciate you, like, 'OH MY GOSH, YOU HAVE SUCH A BEAUTIFUL VOICE!'"
"But other people's appreciation must be somewhat important to you."
"Well, yeah. If people don't appreciate your singing, it means you're not communicating - which means it doesn't even matter that you're singing. If you sing, and nobody cares, then you may as well just sit in a practice room and sing to yourself in a mirror like a parakeet. But that's not the point of music." Her bluntness reveals a strange wisdom.
"So what is the point of music?"
"Communication," Hannah says immediately.
"Communicating how you interpret the intent of the composer. This involves sharing parts of yourself, your views and your thoughts, through other people's music." Her answer is confident and inspiring, until she adds, "Maybe...."
I leave that question to settle itself and ask another one: "Why aren't you scared to perform?" The answer I expect to hear is, "Cause I'm the best singer ever and everyone loves me."
But Hannah says: "Who says I'm not scared?" She laughs. "I don't know why, I just don't get nervous. It's my perspective - I'm not worried about people judging me. Their negative opinion doesn't really matter." Again, she displays an unusual ability to think practically. I admire it.
"I've always wondered: what do you think about when you sing?"
"Believe it or not, usually not the words," she replies. "I'm usually thinking, 'If i miscount this, can my accompanist cover for me?' Or I'm looking around in the audience thinking, "Oh look, that person's here!'" She adds an after thought, "And then sometimes I think about the piece." She grudgingly realizes that thinking about the piece sounds more impressive, so she says, "I concentrate really hard if I don't know the piece. And then sometimes I pretend that I'm singing the words to a friend in a conversation. I imagine what their reaction is." I find her answer fascinating. I had assumed that all singers simply "got in the mood" of their piece and let the music roll out of them. I didn't realize that a seemingly effortless performance took so much thought and concentration.
But I wanted to find out more about her personal life. "What is the most annoying thing about other singers?"
"Oh my gosh," she answers immediately, rolling her eyes, "how they're always drinking huge bottles of water or hot tea." I'd never heard of "bottles of hot tea" before.
"Do you ever get annoyed with singing?"
She nods emphatically.
"What is your dream man like?" I was sure this would get her talking.
"I don't have one," she says, severely annoyed.
"What would be your perfect date?"
"Shoot!" she exclaims. She apparently has never thought about this question before and has absolutely no idea how to answer. "Probably either just being at home or having all my cousins over and hanging out. Or maybe hiking a mountain. Really just hanging out at my house when my whole family's over. Or football." Okay. The soprano wants to have a date at home, with her family, playing football.
"What's your favorite hobby?"
"In the summer, fishing and hiking. And I love playing chord progressions on our out-of-tune harpsichord."
"What is your favorite food?"
"Would you ever consider becoming a vegetarian?"
"When was the last time you wore a pair of matching socks?"
She thinks for a moment, then comes up with the oldest date she can think of: "Not for a really long time. I don't think I own a pair. And the thing is, everyone talks to you and comments if your socks don't match. I actually get more attention."
"Whats your biggest character flaw?"
"My laugh." Hannah's laugh is famous for its high high frequency and its ability to travel through walls - people hear it several miles away.
"Do you think you're a diva?"
Her answer sums up her entire personality: "Of course not," she says with a sly look and mischievous smile.