Students and music inspire return to perform

When Gay Anna Santerre walked away from a successful professional singing career nearly seven years ago, she didn’t leave music completely.

Gay Anna Santerre prepares for a November concert.

By Brenda Sexton

The Courier-Herald

When Gay Anna Santerre walked away from a successful professional singing career nearly seven years ago, she didn’t leave music completely.

It stayed in her heart and she shared it on a smaller stage.

During her time away, the soprano, accompanist and composer, handed off her gift to students through piano and voice lessons. She accompanied the Plateau’s Cascade Foothills Chorale. She expanded her horizons by exploring her other passions – raising horses and training dogs for agility trials.

But it was a long way from the hustle and bustle of her former stage life. A life as colorful as the opera stages she performed on in Washington, California, Idaho, Connecticut and Chicago. She became someone else in each of her opera roles – The Queen of the Night from “The Magic Flute” with the Washington East Opera and Opera Idaho, Alice in “Falstaff” with the Sacremento Opera, Giannetta in “L’elisir” with Seattle Opera and the Dew Fairy in “Hansel and Gretel” with Tacoma Opera.

It wasn’t just opera for Santerre. She also appeared with the Bellingham Summer Music Festival, The Walla Walla Symphony, the New Britain Symphony, the Seattle Choral Company and the Bel Canto Institute in Chicago.

She lent her voice to background vocals in the music sound track recording for the motion picture “The Empty Mirror” and a recording of Anthony Davis’ opera “Tonya.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve sung professionally,” Santerre said.

“The music industry can be brutal, and I’m a softie,” she said. She became disenchanted with auditions and the travel kept her from the Buckley farm, her husband and the peaceful, country lifestyle she loved. Her inspiration, she said, comes from those surroundings and performing in cities across the country was tugging her away.

It’s those same local surroundings, as well as friends and family, that are inspiring her to return to performing.

“The kids taught me to use music to recharge my soul,” she said of her students.

“I’m a shy person,” Santerre said. “But when I’m doing the music, I’m someone else.”

“I’m not the horseback riding diva,” she laughs. “But I’m getting back in the saddle. Here I am doing it again.”

In the comfort of her country home surrounded by pasture under a canopy of evergreens, she jokes about being a horseback-riding diva, but it’s far from her shy nature.

“I’m not a diva,” she said. “It’s about the music. It’s not about me.”

The music, it’s imagery; the way it can move, energize and influence an audience, it’s pulling her back to perform.

Her comeback debut was in September at a concert at Lake Washington United Methodist Church, where her father is the retired minister of music. She joined musical forces, her voice, with pianist and friend William Chapman Nyaho.

It was there that lightning struck.

“It was magic what happened at this concert,” she said. “It’s meant to be shared.”

Nyaho, a concert pianist and adjudicator, brings a unique cultural background and extraordinarily eclectic sense of music to the stage. Nyaho’s performing experience includes recitals in Asia, Africa, Europe, North America, the Caribbean and Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center.

International award-winning artist Nyaho, a Ghanaian American and resident of Seattle, studied at St. Peter’s College, Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He continued his piano studies at the Conservatoire de Musique de Geneve, Switzerland, the Eastman School of Music and at the University of Texas at Austin, where he received his Doctor of Musical Arts degree. Nyaho is the recipient of prizes from international piano competitions.

He performs as soloist with various orchestras, including the Moscow Chamber Orchestra and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. Chapman Nyaho has been featured on radio and television broadcasts in Ghana, Switzerland, and on Performance Today on National Public Radio.

The two-part concert starts with a series of music by Santerre and concludes with works by contemporary composer Lee Hoiby, set to Emily Dickenson poetry. In between the pieces, Santerre and Nyaho share research and history about the composers and the music, as well as what it means to them personally.

“It’s just gorgeous music,” Santerre said. “What really struck me is everybody has to hear this music, and how can we make it assessible to every one.”

That’s why she’s bringing it to Enumclaw.

Santerre and Nyaho will perform at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the Enumclaw Church of the Nazarene, 2501 Warner Ave., off state Route 410. Admission is free, but offerings will be accepted.

People shouldn’t shy away from classical music, Santerre said.

“I believe people would find a passion for this music if they heard it more,” she said. “The music made me do it,” she smiles talking about standing in front of an audience again. “It’s not something I can shake. I can’t imagine stopping the music, I can’t.”

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