Southern Belle

Mary Deyerle is an opera singer. Now, I’ve never known an opera singer, so I was a bit nervous and a lot curious sitting down to talk with Mary.

Her father joined the Army Air Corp during WWII. Her mother had the same notion, joined the Corp and became a nurse. They met and married. Mary was born in Montgomery, Alabama, but with her father in the military they moved around a bit, living mostly in Washington D.C. and Holland. When Mary was eight, living in Holland, she sang in the church choir. “Somehow I just knew I was better than the lady who was choir soloist,” she admits.

When Mary was twelve, longing to return their southern roots, her family settled in the small Alabama town of Wetumpka. If you saw the film “Big Fish” that’s Wetumpka.
In high school synchronicity presented itself. Retired opera singer Rachel Mathes decided to teach, she wound up in Wetumpka. Rachel told Mary she had potential, “She helped me understand what I needed to do to get there.”

“I went to Birmingham Southern College, the Harvard of the South,” Mary chuckles, a hidden trace of an accent begins to reveal itself. When Mary laughs, the clear connection from her smile directly to her eyes is instantly visible.

Her talent grew with good operatic roles in college, then she attended grad school at the University of South Carolina. “The teacher’s influence is very important. You don’t know what you sound like, you need their ear. They motivate you, give you the confidence to do it and to take the rejection. Teachers like Rachel Mathes and Gene Ferguson taught me to love it, they set the foundation.”

Having earned a living for more than three decades with my voice, I’m very curious about the opera singer’s voice.

“You have to train it like an athlete,” she confides. “You must know its limits and how to take care of it, know what roles you can and should sing. There are things each voice can and cannot do; otherwise it’s like a cello trying to be a violin. We like to think of ourselves as limitless. We’re not. To be an opera singer you need a voice of size, to carry. You need range and three registers; chest, middle and head, then train all the muscles of the voice so they will respond, knitting a seamless line between each register.”

“My most successful roles were those I understood best in my heart. Passion is most important. I have the time of my life on stage.” The smile triggers her eyes, “It’s like the day I got married, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.”

What’s most important in Mary’s life is her love for husband Tom Hack, “I knew I was going to marry him the first time I met him. He’s the light of my life.” They live happily in Hudson with three adorable Boykin Spaniels, the state dog of South Carolina Mary fell in love with while in grad school. Mary’s dream is to one day found an opera company in Hudson.

Only a small percentage of people in the creative and performing arts ever make the big salaries, you’re lucky just to earn a living, so why do it?

“You do it because you love it.”

Mary lays to rest a few misconceptions about opera singers? “We don’t run around wearing helmets with horns on our heads. We don’t throw hissy fits and temper tantrums, the Diva Era is long gone, and we can’t shatter glass with our high notes. Ear drums maybe, glass no.”

She was a part of Paul McCartney’s “Standing Stone,” a symphonic poem, at Carnegie Hall. “He doesn’t read music so he was filled with respect and awe to see it come to life. He was very approachable, signed autographs, treated us as collaborators.” She leans close, sotto voce, “The first day of rehearsal we were all so excited, acted like kids when he arrived, giggling and whispering. I still have my Back Stage Pass. Oh, and he has great hair! Southern girls love great hair.” We laugh and talk tall hair and Dolly Parton. “As a Southern Belle would say, ‘If God created me in his own image, then I have more than returned the favor.”

Under the direction of Conductor of Kurt Mazur of the New York Philharmonic Mary sang her favorite, the Choral 4th Movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Ode to Joy. “One of the most moving lines translates like this: ‘Above the heavens, beyond the stars, must (surely) a beloved Father live.’ I think it speaks to the yearning in all of us that somewhere, in this universe, however you want to define it - in sacred or secular terms, there exists a God, a force, a power of such love and benevolence that protects us and binds us in brotherhood to our fellow man. In our dog-eat-dog world, the idea that love and fraternity can prevail is a real comfort to me.”

We’ll talk next time From The Road.

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