Rebecca Roose’s voice triggered the lighting of Christmas decorations around her college campus in Dallas earlier this month.The Southern Methodist University junior earned the opportunity to sing the keynote carol at the school’s Celebration of Lights holiday event.
“When it gets to ‘All is calm, all is bright,’ all the lights come on,” the 2010 Decatur High School graduate said. “It’s just really pretty. It’s a fun thing.”
Roose will try to spread some of that holiday cheer in her hometown with a concert this weekend. “Christmas with Rebecca and Friends” is 6 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church of Decatur.
The soprano will be accompanied by Jo Joiner of Decatur on the piano. She’s also enlisted colleagues from SMU – a pianist, a cellist, a violist and a baritone vocalist.
“I am part of a really good program, where everyone is open to doing collaborative projects,” Roose said. “I knew it would be challenging to get many people out here because of the break, but I managed to find a handful who live close enough to Decatur who generously agreed to make the drive.”
In the first half, the group will perform operatic hymns in their original languages, mostly Latin. The second half will feature more popular Christmas arrangements and a small jazz ensemble.
Hot chocolate and cookies will be served during intermission.
“I wanted to bring people together to enjoy some good music and share in the joy of the season,” Roose said. “I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas concert. This year, I finally found the time to organize one.”
This was amidst a year she calls her “most productive and exciting.”
In November, Roose snagged a couple of honors. She won SMU’s undergraduate concerto competition (judged by representatives of the Dallas Orchestra and the Fort Worth Symphony) and landed the chance to perform with a full orchestra in the spring.
“It is not a common thing for an undegraduate to sing with a full orchestra,” Roose said.
Weeks later, she won her division of about 70 at a National Association of Teachers of Singing regional competition, a region that includes members from Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.
Roose recognizes the importance of her first two years at SMU, which lended to the aforementioned success.
“It was a lot of learning technique,” she said. “There’s a difference between singing with the voice you think you have and really learning the techniques of posture and breath and soft palette and tongue placement. There’s so many different things you have to actually intellectually think about instead of just opening your mouth and singing with what you think you have.
“Those two years were really building a foundation. I didn’t know you had to think about all of that, and I didn’t know that it made such a difference. And I fought it for a little while.”
Roose was also blindsided by a revelation.
“I came in as an alto and was then promptly told I was a soprano,” she said. “They wanted to keep working my high voice. I had one, and I didn’t know I had one. The first year I was kind of rejecting the idea.”
After finally coming to terms with the designation, Roose practiced until it became second nature. That happened during a two-week study abroad in Italy.
“It’s one of those things that just takes time and practice to settle in and become a natural process of what you’re doing,” she said. “Our voice teacher recommends students do something in the summer to keep our voices moving. That’s when it really clicked – while I was in Italy where I was singing all day, every day. Your voice is an instrument, and the more you practice, the stronger it is. That made a huge difference.
“Afterward, I wasn’t having to necessarily think about all those things all the time. My body just knew what to do, and I could focus on more of the details and overall technique,” she continued.
Alongside the growth of her “new” voice are other crucial realizations.
“The first couple of years I’d get so upset with myself; I wouldn’t let things go. Instead of looking at things that went wrong and seeing how can I fix them, I would just get beat down and frustrated,” Roose said. “This semester has also been realizing you can only do a certain amount on any given day. You can do the best that you can do for that day, and that’s all that anyone from this field can expect from you.”
In acknowledging what she can’t control, she’s also learned how to manage what she can.
“I’m going to go home and do some steaming and tea-drinking,” Roose said. “Weather changes takes a toll on your body. I’m wearing my scarf everywhere, and I used to laugh at people that did that. ‘You’re an elitist. You think you have to have all of those things to sing good. You don’t.’ But you do have to take care of yourself.
“Allergies are the main thing. I learned that moving from Decatur to Dallas,” she continued. “The allergies in Dallas are awful, mostly because of air pollution. So I have to fight it anytime I come home. When I go back to Dallas, I have to readjust, even if it’s just for the weekend, which sounds silly. But it makes a difference.”
“I was very athletic in high school, and it was never anything I had to think about – disciplining myself to work out and being in shape. Getting back into singing in college, I wasn’t as active, and it made a difference. It makes a difference in being able to have good posture and being able to get good breaths. Your instrument isn’t just your voice. It’s your whole body. When you’re tired, that affects your performance.”
As Roose rounds the end of her undergraduate studies – double majors in vocal performance and music education with a minor in psychology – she contemplates her next move.
“Ideally assuming that I get into a good grad school and I’m successful there, I would like to audition for opera houses in Europe,” she said. “Because of the type of voice that I have, I’m more likely to be successful in Europe than I am in the United States.”
That voice type is lyric coloratura soprano.
“My voice isn’t the huge, Renee Fleming voice. It’s bigger and heavier, but it moves, so I do a lot of the light and very, very high singing,” she said.
She also holds an additional advantage in her language skillls. She studied Spanish “under the fabulous Se or (Terry) Stewart in high school” and is now taking French, German, Italian and studying a little bit of Latin.
“You have to be strong, in your languages and your pronunciation for the stage and in how fluent you are if you’re going to be staying in other countries,” Roose said.
But even with foreign destinations in mind, Roose is open to any opportunity.
“I would want to go to Europe, yes. Now, if I could ever sing on the stage at the Met, would I take the opportunity? Yes I would!” she said. “At this point, I’ll entertain any opportunity – as long as it’s music. It was something that I always wanted to do. It was always in the back of my mind, something I had always been passionate about. Some things came and went. Not music.
“It’s not even just a love of singing. It’s a part of me. Getting the opportunity to study it full time has deepened my passion for it. It never gets old, and that’s how I know that’s what I want to do.”