BUTI Alumni and renowned Mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson discusses her success and BUTI’s 50th Anniversary

Brenda Patterson, part of BUTI’s stellar alumni roster, discusses her experience at BUTI and her success beyond the classroom.  Visit Patterson’s website to learn more about this accomplished mezzo-soprano.

Patterson with YAVP Alumna, Lauren Ambrose (BUTI '94, '95)
Patterson with YAVP Alumna, Lauren Ambrose (BUTI ’94, ’95)

by Jeanne Denizard

You are a beautiful example of what incredible success can come from Boston University Tanglewood Institute (BUTI). From BUTI, you went on to Juilliard and became a renowned opera singer, touring all over the world. How do you think BUTI prepared you for this wonderful musical journey?

BUTI instilled in me and many others a specific form of artistic inspiration. From it comes the requisite courage and grit it takes to be a singer. This inspiration has at its core a firsthand knowledge of the power and necessity of art in the world.

It is essential to know these things in every fiber of your being if you are going to be a singer. Once you know this, you’ll never forget it.

How were you discovered as an opera singer?

The idea of a singer being “discovered” is, of course, a bit of a myth. One’s career is comprised of hundreds of performances, thousands of days of practicing and rehearsing, and also lots of auditions.

As with most singers, I have my own inner and unachievable standards for myself.  Overtime, people come to know and respect you for the consistency of your work.

What do you think has been the pinnacle of your career so far? Any experience where you thought that you’d never have an opportunity to perform and yet, you have?

Patterson in "Ariadne Unhinged" with Gotham Chamber Opera
Patterson in “Ariadne Unhinged” with Gotham Chamber Opera

I cannot say what the pinnacle has been, but I can say what the hardest gig was which is therefore the one I am most proud of.  It was singing the one-woman show “Ariadne Unhinged” with Gotham Chamber Opera, in which I performed a number of songs including Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire choreographed with the Armitage Gone! dance troupe.

You also co-founded the Victory Hall Opera in Virginia. What inspired you to open up an opera house?

I am one of three co-founders of Victory Hall Opera including fellow BUTI alum Maggie Bell. It is not so much an opera house, but an Ensemble of singers and the only one of its kind in the world. I had enough experience in my career to know that if I wanted to do the kind of work I want to do with the people I want to do it with, I would have to create it myself with my like-minded colleagues.

That kind of work is questioning, fearless, personal, relevant to our time, and especially of and by the singers themselves, by placing them at the center of the creative process.

In opening an opera house, what kind of challenges or surprises did you face?  It must have been an immense task.

The challenges ARE immense in running a startup opera company, but as Renée Fleming once said, “Anything that’s not opening night at the Met is a walk in the park.” Singing is harder than anything else.

You’ve stayed connected with BUTI teaching a few classes as well. Please tell me what it was like to return and what kind of classes do you teach?

I go back to BUTI any chance I get!  It is a home to me. The classes I teach there are inspired by my old mentor, the banjo player Bill Crofut, who used to give a class at BUTI about getting to the source of music-making and singing within one’s self. It was about letting go of assumptions, inhibitions, and ideas about how something should be sung and making it truly your own.

What did you like most about attending BUTI and what advice would you give music students that are looking for a good school?

BUTI for me was a magical trifecta of music, Nature, and friendship.  Spending a summer immersed in those three things would be good for anyone’s soul!  Happy Half-Century Anniversary and Long Live BUTI!