5 Minutes, 5 Questions: Soprano Miriam Khalil stars Jan. 7 with SoNA

5 Minutes, 5 Questions: Soprano Miriam Khalil stars Jan. 7 with SoNA


What do you do after you sell out all your December performances? If you’re the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas, you bring in a world-renowned soprano, Miriam Khalil, to sing “the best-selling contemporary classical album of all time,” Henryk Górecki’s “Symphony of Sorrows.” And then you add to the program Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms featuring the SoNA Singers and William Grant Still’s “Mother and Child.”

What you get, says SoNA Music Director Paul Haas, is a “cathartic, emotional program [that] touches a core human experience — each piece evokes the love that exists across time, between a mother and her child.”

Khalil, known for her nontraditional performances of opera, art song and concert repertoire, has sung everything from Mimi in “La Boheme” to Susanna in “Le Nozze di Figaro” and has won awards in both North America and the United Kingdom. She took time over the holidays to answer five questions for What’s Up!

Q. Tell us about the moment when you first felt the magic of music.

A. I don’t remember the moment, but I know that I have loved music from my earliest memories. I grew up in Damascus, Syria, and I was part of our church choir from the age of 3. Music was my refuge. I would sing the church hymns when I was scared, and I would sing Fairuz songs ( a very famous Lebanese singer) on car trips and for whoever would listen. When we moved to Canada, I was 7. I joined the school choir before I could speak English and sang my first school solo a year later. Singing helped me feel special and unique, when I was struggling with language and fitting in. Music was there for me at some of the hardest moments and some of the best moments of my life.

Q. When and how did you know you wanted to pursue that magic as a career?

A. I always knew I wanted to sing. I knew because it brought me comfort, and it gave me a voice (no pun intended) in situations when I felt invisible. In high school though, I had a guidance counselor that encouraged me to do a co-op placement in music therapy. That was the first time I realized I could actually continue my music studies in university. This was wonderful because I really wasn’t interested in anything else. I auditioned to major in voice, in hopes of switching to music therapy once I had all the required courses. However, one class in opera workshop sealed the deal for me, and I realized that I wanted to be an opera singer instead. It was quite amazing to hear the amazing voices of my peers and be so moved by the music.

Q. What steps did you take to make that happen — in other words, what would you tell a young artist about how to pursue their dream?

A. It was a very big learning curve for me. Talent can get you only so far. The rest is hard work and tenacity. I still take lessons, and I still coach my music. This never stops; our instruments grow and change with us and we need to keep refining and understanding how they work in order to keep getting better, and to keep working consistently. Pursuing a dream is about understanding that you won’t get it all at once. It’s one day at a time, and it’s also understanding that there are a lot of rejections. It’s also knowing that there is room for all of us, we just have to find our place and where we excel. This takes years sometimes. It took me a long time to figure this out, and it still shifts from time to time. We are also able to do so much more than we know. It’s important to keep challenging ourselves and moving in directions that seem impossible.

Q. What is your favorite role so far? And your proudest accomplishment?

A. My favourite role is usually the one I am currently working on. However, there is a song cycle that quite literally changed my life. It’s called “Ayre,” by Osvaldo Golijov. The challenges in this song cycle have pushed me as an artist to explore so much colour and texture in my voice and to be brave enough to share it in live performance. I also sing in Arabic in this song cycle (which is my native language). Doing this in what is typically a classical setting has moved me to share more of my Arabic songs and even to sing classical music translated into Arabic. My proudest accomplishment is my two children. They are my joy, and I get to share my values and my passions with them.

Q. What do you especially enjoy and what are the challenges of singing with an orchestra as a soloist?

A. Singing with an orchestra is exhilarating. Having all that sound envelop you as you sing and become part of the rich texture is extremely empowering. Also, singing with orchestra really informs the emotions and the mood that the composer intended. We hear what he felt in that moment, by the chosen instrument and by the colors it invokes. My challenge singing with orchestra is not to get too wrapped up in listening and feeling. I need to be in the moment and to be creating with them rather than giving in to its beauty.



‘Mother and Child’

WHEN — 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7

WHERE — Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville

COST — $36-$60

INFO — sonamusic.org or 443-5600

WHAT’S NEXT — On March 11, the season continues with New Canons, a concert featuring new works that will be presented on SoNA’s upcoming debut album release.

Categories: Cover Story