Welcome to the Friday Faculty Spotlight, this week featuring Assistant Professor of Voice Fotina Naumenko, D.M.A., a soprano who balances teaching and an active performance career, which, in this past year, included being on a Grammy-winning work (the Experiential Orchestra’s recording of Dame Ethel Smyth’s “The Prison” – Dr. Naumenko was part of the Experiential Chorus). The Friday Faculty Spotlight is all about getting to know our faculty better, so let’s get started with some insights into Naumenko’s world.
Q: When did you begin singing?
I began singing in a church choir as a little girl. My mom was the choir director, so I grew up in a musical environment and honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t sing!
Q: How did you develop your voice as a young vocalist?
Actually, I didn’t start taking formal voice lessons until my mid-teens. Instead, I studied piano. Let’s just say, there’s a reason I became a professional singer and not a professional pianist ;). I didn’t practice nearly enough! I’m grateful for the musical foundation it gave me, but I knew singing was my true love once I started taking lessons.
Q: Your bio shows that you sing in a wide variety of vocal genres. What appeals to you about working in a variety of areas?
I like the challenge of using my voice in various ways: it takes a different set of skills to sing contrasting repertoire, and my brain enjoys the workout. Singing a solo song, for instance, uses a very different vocal technique than blending seamlessly into a chamber choir. Variety keeps me engaged and flexible!
Q: You are also a Fulbright scholar. When did you decide that you wanted to meld performance and scholarship, and why?
I’m not sure that it was a conscious decision to meld performance and scholarship – I just followed my interests, and it happened! My family background is Russian, so I explored a lot of Russian repertoire and wanted to study it in depth; wanting to share this beautiful music with singers who are not native speakers led me to apply for the Fulbright grant and subsequently publish www.RussianAriaResource.com, a website dedicated to helping singers pronounce Russian operatic repertoire. I am grateful that my art form allows me to be a lifelong learner – there is always something new to explore!
Q: When did you join Shenandoah and what about the conservatory appealed to you?
I joined the faculty at Shenandoah in Fall 2018. I really enjoyed the sense of community that I felt when I visited. Shenandoah students, faculty and staff strive for excellence but still maintain a nurturing and creative environment. The students I met during my interview were so engaged, open and curious; I knew that I would love working with them! Everyone was so welcoming and made me feel right at home.
Q: Are there any of your live performances or recordings that are particularly special to you? Which ones, and why?
Each of my performances and recordings is special in its own way, because each one brings back memories of the people I met, the experience we shared, and the places I visited. One standout experience was singing a Stephen Sondheim review show with the Boston Pops, with Sondheim himself in the audience. I definitely fangirled a little bit! (OK, a lot :))
Q: Are there any particular teachers who have had a lasting influence on you, and do you use any of their methods with your own students? If so, in what ways?
Yes, all of my previous teachers had a huge influence on me as a singer, and now as a teacher. I am grateful to each of them for their investment in me! Thomas Baresel was my teacher in graduate school in Cincinnati, and his extremely detailed knowledge of vocal function helped me build a strong technical foundation. I often find myself using various versions of vocal exercises and warmups that he taught me during our time together. I’m definitely passing on his legacy to my own students. Olga Kondina is another very influential teacher in my life. With her, I felt like I was finally able to merge technique and expression, instead of treating these aspects of performing as separate.
Q: How do you balance your performance engagements and recording work with teaching?
Google Calendar! No, really! I find that being organized and maintaining clear communication are key to preserving my sanity. It’s a constant learning process to find the proper balance, so that I can be the best version of myself in all areas of my life.
Q: How do you feel when you sing and when you teach?
I love the energized focus I feel when I’m singing or teaching – I get into a “flow” state when I’m fully engaged in the creative process. It’s the best.
Q: What do you hope your students will carry forward from working with you?
My goal with all of my students is to work myself out of a job. I want each student to get to know their own voice (both their actual physical voice and their artistic voice/identity) so well that eventually they can guide themselves! I hope that this self-awareness and self-knowledge will give each of my students a sense of agency and ownership over their music-making, and that they will continue to sing with health and authenticity for a lifetime.