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From Figaro to Fiddle

By Catherine Kelly, WoCo musician

Hello, everyone! My name is Catherine, and I am a relative “newbie” to the Sweet Tea stage. Behold, which opens tonight (yay!), will mark my second show with Sweet Tea Shakespeare, with my first being Romeo & JuliLIT in October. Both Behold and Romeo and JuliLIT have become cherished performance memories for me, and it’s with great pleasure that I share some thoughts from my experiences this season.

First, I’ll provide a little backstory. I come from a musical family in which violin is the instrument to play. Both my grandmother and mother have worked for years as professional violinists and instructors, so naturally, I was given classical violin lessons almost as early as I took my first steps! As I got older, my most radical act of teenage “rebellion” was to insist on taking voice lessons and applying for voice programs, instead of violin, at university music schools. (Honestly, this was one of the most rebellious things I ever did–in my own mind, anyway. In reality, my family was absolutely thrilled I was studying voice. My teenage years were obviously not that riveting.) Eventually, I earned a Master’s degree in Vocal Performance, and I began performing professionally as an operatic soprano and, from time to time, a violinist.

Opera has taken me to places I never imagined I’d see. Shortly before auditioning for Sweet Tea Shakespeare, I’d completed a performance season in Vienna, Austria, where I sang the role of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. This was a dream role for me; Figaro is my favorite opera. When I moved back to to North Carolina and saw postings for auditions at STS, I saw an opportunity to pursue yet another dream of mine, one that is pretty different from my opera dreams: playing in a folk band.

As a classical musician, I’m accustomed to reading notes on a page and playing/singing exactly what the composer writes. Playing folk or pop music requires the ability to improvise, since the music isn’t always written in detail. My first rehearsals as a violinist for Romeo and JuliLIT involved quite a bit of experimenting, wrong improvised notes, and “Oops, sorry’s.” Jacob French, our brilliant music director, would ask me, “Hey, do you think you could add a little solo in this bridge section?” And I’d respond, “Uh… I can definitely try.”

I’m proud to say my improvisational skills have greatly improved since those first rehearsals. Now, when Jake asks me to fill in with a solo, my response is, “Of course!” Every rehearsal is teaching me confidence in playing in a genre that, prior to my experience with STS, felt a bit foreign to me. And I’m absolutely loving it.

A big underlying theme in studying classical music is finding beauty in every note, no matter the length, no matter the dynamic. Making music is always more meaningful when the performer can love each and every note. ¬†There are things I’ve learned while playing with Sweet Tea that I’ll use in my classical repertoire from now on, too; namely, to play or sing each note, whether I wrote it or not, with an improvisatory energy, with the feeling that I might be making up each note on the spot, allowing the music to pour out from the heart.

I’m thankful for Sweet Tea Shakespeare for this opportunity to grow as a performer and as a person. Making music with an endlessly talented, vastly supportive group is my dream career. I’m so thankful to have found a place to create in such a brilliantly fulfilling way.

Jen Czechowski

Master of Market at Sweet Tea Shakespeare