Valley opera performer’s path: ‘Sesame Street’ to ‘MacBeth’
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at firstname.lastname@example.org or metro editor Marly Reichert at email@example.com
A little encouragement was all it took to set Howland High School graduate Sierra McCorvey on her journey of a lifetime.
From a high school band member, she rose to become a top local opera talent.
McCorvey graduated from Howland in 2009. She recalls her high school music teachers who helped her begin her musical journey.
“My music teachers were Anjanette DePoy, Nancy Moore, Craig Raymaley and Greg Rezabek,” McCorvey said. “It was their team effort that got me into music school with a scholarship.”
The family is filled with musicians — both her father and grandmother graduated from Youngstown State University’s Dana School of Music, and her aunt was an adjunct voice teacher at Dana in the 1990s.
“My home, growing up, was always filled with such a great variety of music. I went to my grandmother’s piano recitals and opera rehearsals with my aunt while I was young, and “Sesame Street” had great opera divas that made opera so relatable and accessible to young minds,” McCorvey said. “I would always try to mimic Denyce Graves as she sang a very ‘child-friendly’ Habanera to Elmo.”
McCorvey said she was a band nerd early in life, playing flute in the Warren Junior Military Band.
“I was singing and mimicking an operatic voice with the other kids in my flute section,” she said. “My flute teacher said, ‘hey, you have a really great voice’ in passing and I held on to that. With the help and guidance of a community of great music teachers, I did not have to ‘mimic’ anymore.”
McCorvey went on to attend Dana school, where she is finishing her master’s degree in voice performance. She will graduate this fall and plans to begin her doctor of music arts degree in voice performance with a vocal pedagogy specialty.
“I am still waiting on financial aid and scholarship in order to decide which school to attend,” she said.
At Dana, she got her first leading role as Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte at YSU.
“Cosi fan tutte is quite a feat for an undergraduate program, but we had great directors, teachers and coaches that helped the entire cast through what was such a monumental experience in our young careers,” McCorvey said. “All of my castmates from that show are doing such great things now. I fell in love with the acting and the beautiful music then. I felt like ‘opera’ is something I can do at that moment. Dana School of Music has a wonderful opera program with teachers that guide the students in how to study a role.”
PASSING IT ON
Her passion for music has kept her busy outside the classroom as well. While attending school, she found time to get involved with the Opera Western Reserve as a young artist. She applied in 2013 and did not get in. She did not give up and reapplied the following year and was accepted.
“Opera Western Reserve will sometimes allow their young artists to take on roles in their professional productions with more experienced artists,” she said. “At OWR, I was offered contracts to sing roles in “Porgy and Bess,” “Macbeth” and “A Taste of La Traviata (the 2020 COVID-19 production). I have also sung in a few OWR cabaret productions. All the opportunities at OWR have led to other professional roles and gigs.”
Besides a full schedule centered around music, McCorvey finds time to “pass it on” to young people, both in music and in important life lessons.
“I love to teach,” McCorvey said. “Not just music, but ‘how to have a better life in general’ — a phoenix rising from the ashes type of curriculum. My jobs outside of music have been in working with inner-city students; mentoring them in life and education. I worked with nonprofit programs such as Heartreach Neighborhood Ministries; Mind, Body and Soul; and Upward Bound. I am currently a graduate assistant for a college / trade prep program called Academic Achievers. I have also taught music lessons in the area for about 10 years now.”
Her ability to teach and mentor played a role when she was placed on the Opera Western Reserve (OWR) Board of Directors. She works closely with Carol Baird, Robert Pierce and Lynn Ohle to make opera accessible, fun and relatable to younger crowds.
She said OWR has come a long way and weathered the pandemic last year. She said this year will be a great one.
“We have a great season arising from this pandemic — look out,” she said.
She said opera is meant to be a career and she has spent too much money on her education to consider anything but opera.
McCorvey does have a few hobbies, such as taking photographs and painting. She spends a lot of time at museums trying to gain an understanding of present-day and historic culture for the shows she in involved in. She also continues to lend her voice to her church choir at Holy Family Parish in Poland.
McCorvey lives on the North Side of Youngstown in the home that fits her life. The home is historic in nature and was the home of great musicians and historians Wally and Marcellene Hawk Mayhall. She said it is in a musical community with one neighbor leading one of the top bands in the city, one is a trumpet teacher, and another is a voice teacher and accompanist.
“I know I want to be involved in the art form in some capacity,” she said. “The preservation of the art is in its ‘sharing’ — and it does not have to be at the Metropolitan Opera. It’s happening right here in Youngstown. We are bringing beautiful music and great stories into our own communities and creating our own stories. Mozart and Puccini are not the only great opera composers. The beautiful voices of opera are still very much alive. There are so many other great stories and beautiful voices that need to be heard.”
As for McCorvey’s story, she said, “I am only at the very beginning of a lifelong journey of learning to be an expert in singing. Under the mentorship of OWR and my trusted teacher of 12 years, Dr. Misook Yun, I am constantly looking for learning opportunities to push me into the next level of my potential — you have to be relentless in the process, because there are always setbacks, but you must keep pushing and learning. I have not yet, by any means, ‘arrived,’ but I believe in taking on good opportunities that lead to better opportunities. This will get me closer to my potential.”