Former Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill resident Rachel Levine tried to give singing away, but her love of singing eventually returned like a boomerang. After half a decade of studying and performing classical songs in New York City and graduate school, she was burned out and thought she was done with the craft altogether. As it turns out, she wasn’t finished.
Levine will sing a concert of eclectic classical music at Christ Ascension Lutheran Church, 8300 Germantown Ave., on Sunday, Feb. 5, 3 p.m. A classically trained lyric soprano, Levine will sing works by Leonard Bernstein, Richard Strauss, Betty Roe and Chestnut Hill composer Scott Robinson, among others. The ensemble includes cellist Linda Metzler and pianists Barbara Browne and Hui Sy Teo.
In 1999 Rachel earned a master’s degree from the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan. After working as a booking agent at IMG Artists, a group that scheduled tours for classical musicians like world-famous violinist, Israeli-born Itzhak Perlman, her passion to perform was dwindling.
And so the Chicago-raised Levine, a 1994 English degree graduate from Oberlin College in Ohio, moved with her then-boyfriend, now-husband, Jed Melnick, who had been hired to work for the Public Defender’s Office, to Mt. Airy. A year-and-a-half later, they bought a home in Chestnut Hill.
At that time, Levine decided to enroll again in graduate school, this time at the University of Pennsylvania for a master’s degree in Government Administration. She wanted to study how to run a non-profit agency. Levine finished the program in 2002 and got a job with the city’s Department of Human Services doing financial analysis.
But she realized she missed singing.
“I thought I could just turn that part of me off,” said Levine. If she had remained in New York in 1999, the next step for her would have been to study opera in Germany while constantly auditioning for roles, she explained. She had already performed for small opera groups in New York and was turned off by the stiff competition.
“I realized I didn’t want that,” she said. But she did want something to do with singing, she discovered a few years later.
In 2003, she passed an audition for The Philadelphia Singers (TPS), a choral group founded in 1972, also the resident chorus of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Since reentering the world of professional singing, she has also appeared with Voces Novae et Antiquae, based in Philadelphia, and the New York Choral Artists.
Her appearances have included the soprano solo of Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass” with TPS, the soprano solo of Mozart’s “Requiem” with the Franconia-Lancaster Choral Singers, a brief solo in Schumann’s “Das Paradies und die Peri” at Carnegie Hall and the challenging solo in Morton Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel,” also with TPS. Her operatic roles include Luaretta in “Gianni Schicchi,” Sophie in “Werther” and Zerlina in “Don Giovanni.”
And what are some of the techniques that make an opera singer’s voice resonate with such audacity? Besides years of crafting the voice like a sculptor molds clay and a staggering amount of practice, one of the most important things about projecting one’s voice is placement, according to Levine.
“Placement is about where the sound should be produced in your head,” she said. One wants to think of placing the sound in front of the face so as to affect the vocal muscles and support the singing from the diaphragm with placement in mind.
Levine’s interest in the classical form took root during childhood years. Her father was a University of Chicago sociology professor who played the piano, violin and viola and played in a string quartet. Classical music has always been “part of the fabric of my life,” she said.
In middle-school she began to study voice, technique, breath control and diction, but she was still enamored by pop music of the day. Her idol was Olivia Newton-John. Levine sang along with her records.
As an adult, Rachel “was very good about practicing, but that wasn’t enough,” said Levine, now a mother of two, who moved with her family to Ambler last year. She would listen to recordings of herself singing, and on days when she would perform, she would stay quiet, rest her voice. Yet after all the study in technique, examining the sound of her voice and so on, “ultimately what helped me to learn to sing was relying on sensations and not thinking too much.”
The upcoming performance at Christ Ascension was organized when Levine began speaking with Linda Meltzer while the two waited to pick up their children from Plymouth Meeting Friends School (PMFS). They discovered one another’s affinity for classical music. Meltzer is a professional cellist who will also perform in the concert Sunday. Scott Robinson is also a PMFS parent, as well as a Chestnut Hill resident.
More information about Sunday’s concert is available at firstname.lastname@example.org