Class of 2020 B.M., Voice/Opera
After completing her first year as a vocal performance major, Amy Onyonyi (B.M. '20, voice/opera) was thrilled to return home to Nairobi, Kenya and share what she had learned by hosting her first solo recital.
After completing my first year as a vocal performance major at Boston Conservatory at Berklee, I was thrilled to return home to Nairobi, Kenya and share all that I had learned this year. Studying music at the college level, especially opera performance, is not common in Kenya, and even frowned upon by a local majority who claim that there is no market for it in Kenya. I was determined to change people’s minds this summer by hosting my first solo recital.
As soon as I recovered from my prolonged, unpleasant jet lag, I began to list the repertoire that I would enjoy presenting. I settled on a few classics that I knew would be semifamiliar to the audience. I chose a few of my favorite songs that I had worked on throughout the school year with my teacher, Sara Goldstein, and songs I heard my talented peers perform during recitals. The songs included Alessandro Scarlatti’s cheeky "Se Florindo e Fedele" and Gilbert and Sullivan’s playful "Poor Wandering One." After consulting my accompanist, Simon Mwaniki, we chose 13 songs that would entertain as well as whet the palette of those experiencing a live classical vocal music performance for the first time. My cousin, Imani Ager, a sensational cellist, agreed to join us on a few songs, and played three impressive solo pieces.
July 23 approached extremely fast. Finally, the day had come for us to present what we had been tirelessly working on. There was unspoken and spoken pressure to deliver an outstanding performance, as I was representing a prestigious, foreign institution. However, I was confident that I was ready. I gracefully walked on the stage, hearing voice department chair Patty Thom’s voice saying, “Look lively, smile, and bow graciously.” Trying remain cool and collected, I delivered, by far, one of the best performances of my life. It was exhilarating! My aching smile was cheek to cheek and I was fighting back tears as I received a loud applause and standing ovation. In that moment, I felt all my hard work and growth pay off. All the unfortunate comments my parents (my biggest supporters) had heard about this career choice being a waste of time were erased from my conscience. It was at that moment I was certain that I am pursuing what I love.
The most incredible and humbling moment of the day was when little girls ran up to me and tugged on my dress saying “I want to do what you’re doing, too!” The importance of representation in an art form in which the majority do not physically present like you clicked for me. I was inspiring young African, black girls who want to pursue culturally unconventional careers, just as I too had been inspired by South African soprano Pretty Yende.
This recital opened other doors and exposed me to the ever-growing classical music scene in Kenya. I was fortunate enough to be a soprano soloist for Handel’s Messiah, working with Nairobi music's crème de la crème” in All Saints Cathedral’s production of the great masterpiece.
I am now even more passionate and dedicated to pursuing opera because of these important moments of growth, appreciation, and hard work this summer.