Ivy Leaf - Spring 2009

I've Got the Music in Me

By Marissa Carney


Friedrich Nietzsche once said, "Without music, life would be a mistake." How true those words are for the people who deeply feel music in their souls, whether they play an instrument, sing, or simply must move to the beat.

There are certain things that not only you, but your soul needs," agrees Bonnie Cutsforth-Huber. "This is what my soul needs. It’s honestly what I believe I was put on this earth to do." Cutsforth-Huber, assistant professor of music, is in her first year teaching at Penn State Altoona. Born and raised in northern Saskatchewan, she can’t remember a time that she wasn’t singing. In fact, her mother still has a cassette tape of her daughter singing "Jingle Bells" on pitch, before she was a year old. (Actually, it was more like "Yingle Bells" since she couldn’t pronounce her j’s yet, but really, it’s still pretty impressive.)

Since she was turning over laundry baskets to double as stages and using soap for microphones, Cutsforth-Huber knew she wanted to be a teacher and pass on her musical experiences and expertise. "I’m one of those people who think it’s a real waste of talent not to share with others what you know to help their talent, in turn, grow. I think that’s a selfish thing to do." Because her niche was in the classical and operatic genre, she had to study languages and stage craft. So after finishing her undergraduate degree at the University of Saskatchewan, Cutsforth-Huber came to the United States and Southern Illinois University to get her master’s degree in voice. She then went on to get her Ph.D. in Kentucky, a teaching job in Maryland, a husband, a child, and finally, a job at Penn State Altoona.

All the while, Cutsforth-Huber remained deeply involved in performing, singing in countless opera choruses so she could study the lead singers, entering any singing competition she could, and sending resume after resume, pestering opera companies into giving her auditions. "I tell my students that, in the art world, you make your own luck. It’s not just talent, it’s being a good business person, a good networker, pursing any connection you can. Once you get out there and start singing, the music world is small. Conductors talk to one another, opera directors talk; if you go and do a good job, it gets around very fast, same if you don’t. Once I got those initial opportunities, it led to more."

Cutsforth-Huber now has an agent in New York who helps her get auditions. Last year alone, she gave nine performances on top of teaching full time and being a mom and wife. But amid the stress and fast-pace of her life, "There was never any question that this is what I wanted. And the thing I love about it is I constantly learn new things about myself—not just my voice, but as a person, what I’m made of and what I’m not."

Working with students gives something back to Cutsforth-Huber as well: inspiration. She tries to give her students what she didn’t get from her mentors and teach them the things she wishes someone had shown her sooner. Teaching also gives her the chance to implement new approaches to the study of voice that she learns by performing. "The pursuit of greatness is never over; it is always a work in progress, something exciting that you’re always trying to make better."

And Cutsforth-Huber definitely is excited for this summer when she will play the lead role of Carmen with the Rome Festival Opera in Italy. It’s a role Cutsforth- Huber has dreamed about since she was young; when the conductor offered her the part, she didn’t have to think twice. "When you are born with a talent, it’s a huge responsibility. If you waste it, don’t use it, don’t share it, then you’re wasting the gift. Out of all the billions of people on the earth, you were given that talent, and what a shame it would be if you didn’t find all there was to that gift."

Although she’s accomplished an incredible amount in her life, Cutsforth- Huber says she still has more to learn, and that is what keeps her reaching and growing. She’d like to play Delilah in Samson and Delilah, explore more Mozart pieces, and do more with orchestral performances.

She’d also like to increase her European performances, including Italy and Germany. But above all else, the crowning glory would be to perform with the Metropolitan Opera. "I’d love the opportunity. And if it comes great; if it doesn’t, then it doesn’t. I’m out there doing what I love to do. You go where life calls you. And if the Met calls, I’ll answer and I’ll be there!"