Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, Melissa Merli visits with vocalist and musician Molly Netter of Urbana, who now is at Yale University.
Q: You're in grad school now at Yale. What's the name of your program?
A: The official title is Early Music, Oratorio and Chamber Ensemble, but what we're unofficially called is the Voxtet. It's a program that accepts four singers a year — one soprano, one tenor, one bass and one alto. So that means because it's a two-year program, there's always eight of us, and we form an ensemble. And we're the section leaders of a choir at Yale called the Scola Cantorum.
The department I belong to is the Yale Institute of Sacred Music; that funds the Yale Voxtet and Scola Cantorum. There are a couple of different majors. One is organ, and another townie, Steve Buzard, is in his second year in that program. It's nice to have a longtime friend there.
Another singer who went through the program that people here might know is (soprano) Sherri Panthaki. She lives on the East Coast now, and her career has exploded. She's wonderful. She was my first voice teacher.
Q: Why did you decide to go to Yale?
A: It's a highly selective program, so I knew I would be collaborating with great musicians in the field of early music, which is what I want to do. It's the only program of its kind to focus on early music. The Institute of Sacred Music is fully funded by an endowment, so if you're accepted you don't pay any tuition and you receive a stipend.
Q: Do you have to teach, too?
A: You can, but you don't have to. I plan to teach private students at Yale next year. I feel so lucky and blessed to be part of the Institute of Sacred Music. I don't know how it happened. I think my having studied with Sherri helped because she's always specialized in early music. She introduced me to early music.
Q: Why are you interested in early music?
A: I like early music because it's actually similar to contemporary music and jazz. The voice type that suits contemporary music and jazz is lighter and pure. It really works for early music, too.
The way early music is written — it's basically like a lead sheet. That relates to contemporary music and jazz, because with the lead sheet, you can improvise and make the music your own. It has a freedom that I find is a crossover. I think people who have seen me with The Chorale understand I like jazz.
Q: Are you performing with any ensembles outside Yale?
A: So far I have only my church job — staff section leader, soprano — at St. Paul's on the Green in Norwalk, Conn. I hope to do more auditions for group ensembles in New York. There's a lot going on there, especially in early music.
Q: Are you still writing music, too?
A: That has kind of gone by the wayside for a while. In college (Oberlin Conservatory of Music), I changed my major from composition to an individual major that allowed me to sing the compositions of my friends and to study voice, piano and composition as well as have minors in early music and voice.
I still might come back to composition at some point. What I really like is collaborating with people to create something new.
Q: How did you get into music in the first place?
A: My mom (Eve Harwood) would be the first place to start. She's been a musician all her life. She's a professor emerita of music education now.
She would come home with little musical games as experiments. She would have us play with them and put them on the refrigerator. She was such a good teacher. She's a great musician — she plays piano by ear. All four children in our family learned a musical instrument because of her. I was the only one for whom it stuck, for better or for worse.