Music lecturer Alison Meuth earned her first role in a professional opera at the age of 25— nine months after the birth of her third child.
“I got married and I remember everyone being like, ‘she’ll never do anything with her voice,” Meuth said. “And then I had my first baby and they were like, now she really won’t.’”
Meuth continued to pursue a career as an opera singer. Her three children were homeschooled, traveling with Meuth while she performed. She was willing to sacrifice anything for singing except being a mother.
“I really felt this was the time women should be allowed and should be able to do whatever they want,” Meuth said. “They should be able to be mothers and they should be able to also pursue their dreams and their careers without having to feel guilty about either.”
Meuth’s first professional role was Inez in director Fiora Contino’s production of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il trovatore” at the Civic Center in Peoria. The fact that it was a minor role did not diminish her excitement.
“I was assigned a dresser, somebody whose job was just to put my clothes on me, and I had this fantastic dressing room,” Meuth recalled. “I remember being in the room and just being so excited. I’d never been so excited as opening night ever and I probably sang for a total of 10 minutes on the stage but it was amazing.”
Meuth began singing in church when she was 10 years old. Her father, a professional clarinetist, played when Meuth performed in New York. Even before she could sing, Meuth loved attending rehearsals with her father.
“I just thought the singer was something so special,” she said. “And I’d never ask for anyone else’s autograph but at the end I’d always ask for the singer’s autograph on my program. And I would always ask to be able to talk to the singer and see the singer. Even though I knew a lot of instrumentalist friends of his, they never seemed nearly as special to me as the singer did.”
At 13, Meuth began taking voice lessons. In high school, she was hired to sing on call for a funeral home. Meuth never considered being anything but an opera singer.
“From the time I was 5 years old I knew I wanted to be a singer, even before I could sing,” Meuth said. “And I was really willing to do anything to sing. I was willing to sleep on people’s floors if they’d let me sleep on their floors so that I could go to an audition. I remember staying in youth hostels so I could go to an audition. I’ve slept on the train going 24 hours solid between here and New York City, because I was willing to do anything.”
During her seven years teaching at Knox, Meuth has come to appreciate the potential of a liberal arts education to bring beauty to students’ lives. Singing lessons can help improve students’ confidence and even help people learn English as a second language. She said Knox’s Music department has outlets for students of all skill levels and backgrounds.
Meuth’s students will hold a studio recital next week. It will feature sopranos, altos, tenors and basses singing in a variety of languages, including English, German, Italian and French. The recital will feature musical theater and folk songs as well as opera. Meuth said this is an important step in students’ development as musicians.
“You get to help them develop into an adult, into the person they’re going to be,” she said. “I get to see them at their best, I also get to see them at their worst. I get to help them when they’re a little shy and they’re timid and they’re worried about a performance and the ones that are super confident I get to see them continue to grow. So it’s just really, really satisfying to teach.”