SOM Alumna Sarah Nordin Performs at Carnegie Hall for Special United Nations Event
Sarah Nordin (MM, ’07) is a singer of diverse talents. She can sing opera as well as Broadway style and has sung in nearly a dozen different languages. But her most recent adventure was a new one. She was asked: ‘Can you learn to sing in two new languages in two weeks?’
As it turns out, she can. Nordin was recruited in November to sing at a special concert for Azerbaijani diplomats and their family and friends, who were in New York City for the United Nations Environment Assembly. After working with a native speaker on her diction, she was able to sing the Azerbaijan national anthem, as well as a series of art songs in Azerbaijani and Turkish. The concert, made possible by the Azerbaijani American Cultural Association at Carnegie Hall, featured a sold-out venue (at reduced capacity).
“It’s a lot like interpreting poetry,” she says of the process of learning to sing in a new language. “The words themselves can mean a lot of different things. Most music has at least two if not three meanings. So I spend a lot of time just thinking through what the different possible meanings could be, and trying to figure out how this song speaks to me. I can’t really memorize it until I’ve done that, because I have to have my emotions in the right place to remember the words.”
Her skill for learning languages quickly is something that she connects to her time at the University of Tennessee. At the end of her time as an undergraduate at Lee University, she won the Atlanta district competition of the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions (now known as the Laffont Competition). As a result, several universities were interested in recruiting her to their program, but from the beginning, Nordin was most interested in the University of Tennessee.
“It was largely because of Carol Freeman, who was in charge of the opera program at the time,” she said. “I really wanted to work with him. And it turned out that I was also able to do a young artist program with Knoxville Opera. As part of that program I sang a lot, but I also helped with marking parts and the logistics before the orchestra came up. So I was getting real-world experience at the same time that I was getting a graduate degree. That was really useful for me as a singer to see that side of it, the ‘office work’ you might say of the opera world.”
The combination of that experience with the high-quality education of the University of Tennessee School of Music provided a breadth of experience that allowed her to excel and, later, to develop a flexibility as a performer and an artist. That would become key to her success as her career developed post-graduation.
“My key has been taking the initiative myself as a self-empowered person to cast a wide net,” she said. “I had to try a lot of different things and see where my niche was.”
Fast-forward to the present, and that wide net has allowed her to gain a tremendous variety of experience as a performer. Partially due to that experience, the prospect of performing in the context of a United Nations assembly did not intimidate her, she said. But learning the language well enough to perform in front of native speakers was still a challenging task. The performance was not televised in the United States, but it did broadcast to Azerbaijan. After the concert began, however, she received immense positive feedback in real time.
“People were cheering and standing up in between songs, not just at the end,” she said. “The song at the very end of the concert was a folk song that most of the audience would sing while at home. They sang along and were clapping along and I sang it through several times.”
Going forward, she says she’ll continue doing what has gotten her to this point: ambition and initiative.
“You have to create your own path and constantly be working in order to get more work,” she said. “Being willing to be your own boss is the thing for being an opera singer.”