By Colleen Bemis F'05
April Fredrick ’02 and Hannah (Nelson ’03) Lu are not actors on a well-known TV program. They are, however, frequently on stage—both successful sopranos who share an alma mater and perform with passion and purpose.
Fredrick, who now lives in England, earned her doctorate in vocal studies at the Royal Academy of Music in London and is continuing her “portfolio career” as a full-time freelance soprano. She is enthusiastic about the opportunities ahead. “I’m bursting with ideas and just need structure and time to pursue them.” Recently she sang with the Kensington Chamber Orchestra, the Midlands Sinfonia and appeared on the BBC Radio 4 program Robert Winston’s Musical Analysis.
Lu lives in Houston, Texas, sings in the Houston Grand Opera (HGO) Chorus, has performed regularly with HGO’s Opera to Go program, and also performs with other companies. Last month she sang the soprano solos in Handel’s Messiah with the South Dakota Symphony. Lu received her master’s degree in vocal performance from Rice University.
NATURE AND NURTURE
Lu knew from a very early age she was born to sing, while Fredrick did not seriously pursue singing until college.
“At 18 months, I was found standing in my crib humming the Seitz concerto that my older brother had been practicing on the violin,” Lu said. During her childhood her family performed in churches and convention centers throughout the Midwest.
Fredrick credits NWC voice teacher Carol Eikum with her career choice. Fredrick’s intent was to study creative writing; a phone call from Eikum, after hearing Fredrick’s audition for the College Choir, changed all that. "She said I should strongly consider being a vocal major. The thought had honestly never occurred to me and sometimes I am still surprised and bemused to find that I am a professional singer.”
Respect for their NWC teachers and mentors is something these sopranos have in common. Eikum encouraged Lu to work outside of her comfort zone. “I definitely would not be where I am today if it hadn’t been for her training, guidance and connections,” she said. “She pushed me to do things I was afraid to do.”
Both women give much credit for their spiritual strength, personal integrity and professional achievement to their musical mentors at Northwestern, including Eikum, Cathy Larsen, Kathleen Robinson, Doreen Hutchings and Tim Sawyer.
NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART
Being a Christian in the performing arts world is not for the faint of heart. The sopranos have to deal with intense pressure and possible rejection as a part their daily lives. Fredrick recently felt the sting of a resounding “no” from a concert series organizer. She admitted it was difficult to take. “I need to remind myself each day to develop a thicker skin without becoming callous—no easy thing.”
Lu is pointed about the risk to one’s spiritual well-being. “The performing arts can be a dark world that needs believers, but if you are not grounded in your faith, you can get eaten alive.”
It’s not for celebrity status or audience adulation that these sopranos sing. Both Fredrick and Lu are clear about a single purpose: they see their talent as God-given and with each performance they honor Him.
Fredrick said, “I was made to sing and when I use the gift that God has given me, He finds both pleasure and glory in it.”
“The opera world is my mission field,” Lu noted. ” I believe He has me here to do His work.”