If you’ve not heard soprano Deborah Sternberg’s voice on stage or in the choral rafters, you may have heard her voice in a movie—singing as part of the live soundtrack during AFI silent-film screenings of “The Wind” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”
But soon, the Germantown resident hopes her voice will be a mere digital download away.
Sternberg, who’s been has been a professional singer since 1996, is working on her first solo album—her first album ever, actually—called “The Avian Project.” Local composers Andrew Simpson, Eric Kitchen, and Maurice Saylor are developing songs for Sternberg’s voice. Canadian composer Gabriel Thibodeau is also on board for the project, Sternberg said.
The plan is to start recording by spring. They’ve already picked a venue— Spencerville Seventh-day Advenitst Church, which has been described as sounding like the inside of a cello.
In the meantime, she’s trying to fund the endeavor through Kickstarter. As of Wednesday afternoon, she had 29 backers and $2,045 toward her goal of $7,850.
She says once complete, the album will be available online, in addition to a released CD. You can hear a few samples from the upcoming album on her SoundCloud page.
Patch caught up with Sternberg last week to talk about her music. Here are excerpts from the interview.
PATCH: How did you get into
singing opera in the first place?
STERNBERG: Well, opera wasn't my first medium. I played piano from the age of 4. I was able to hear music and imitate. My grandparents had given me a small toy piano and one day, apparently, I played "The Brady Bunch" theme song. My grandparents paid for piano lessons from then on to the time they passed away. Then my parents continued. So through high school, I pretty much had piano lessons weekly. But then voice was something I did. I enjoyed singing in all of the school choirs, from elementary school through high school. I also played the violin.
PATCH: So, when did opera come into the picture?
STERNBERG: The choral medium was perfect for me. I'm an excellent sight-reader ... hand me the music and I can pick it up very, very quickly. Opera is a completely different story, where you have to memorize everything. Memorizing and then acting, I was always afraid of it.
A few years ago, Andrew Simpson approached me and said he's writing this opera, "The Outcasts of Poker Flat," and said my voice was the character [Piney]. "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" premiered at Kennedy Center, on Millennium Stage as a reading. Last summer we were in the Fringe Festival, where we performed it fully-staged.
All of a sudden I wasn't afraid any more. I just did it and it was fine. It made me think, what have I missed out on all these years because I loved it.
PATCH: You have lots
experience professionally. What made you want to just now work on an album.
This is your first one, right?
STERNBERG: It is. For years I've been talking about doing something. I had a few ideas. What happened is this past year, the score for Avian Songs came across my desk.
My voice teacher, Bonnie Kunkel—she's in Darnestown—had this friend who lives in Cumberland, Eric Kitchen, who sent Bonnie a score for soprano. That was the "Olney Avian Verse." Bonnie thought it would really be perfect for my voice.
I took it home and played around with it and I just loved it. It felt like birdsong without being too obviously birdsong. It resonated with me, and that hadn't had that happen with new music. I thought what if I could record it?
I got together with the composer and he was thrilled. He said, “Now I know why it hasn't been performed yet. It was waiting for you.”
But I thought, I can't just record just this. There needs to be more. Instead of going with something that's been around, what if I got some of my composer friends on board?
PATCH: Plug your project.
Why do you think people should buy this once it's released? What makes it
different from what's already out there, as far as opera goes?
STERNBERG: It's completely original music written for the love of the art song, and it's contemporary classical music—which is not to be feared. Part of the reason I like this music so much is because it's very lyrical. It just made sense to my ear and it made my ear happy, so hopefully I can do it justice.
Editor's note: The song embedded with this article is from Deborah Sternberg's SoundCloud page. The track is an excerpt of "The Faithful Bird," by Eric Kitchen.