By: Grant Vance ~Staff Writer~
Xavier Newswire (XN): How long have you been instructing the vocal arts?
Harriet Beebe Arrasmith (HBA): Oh my gosh. Forty-five years. Almost fifty years.
XN: Did you ever plan on becoming a vocal instructor?
HBA: No, I never did. No. That was not my plan. I sang professionally for a very long time. Never even thought about teaching. It just happened.
XN: You just really enjoyed performing?
HBA: I really did enjoy it for a while. I was in Germany for six years and then I came back here and continued to perform. If you meet your husband and you want to settle down— you can’t live out of a suitcase and make everybody happy. Then you start to teach and then they teach and perform.
Cincinnati is a great venue for that because there’s so much going on here in the arts. I mean, if you aren’t really involved in the vocal arts then you don’t realize what a great opportunity you have in this city, but we have it all. We really do, we have it all. I had a great teacher, and connections and that’s what we did. It was great, it was a great experience. I got to sing with some very talented people.
XN: Have you ever taught anywhere else?
HBA: Oh yes. I taught at UC, I taught at NKU, I taught at Mount St. Joe and Edgecliff, which became Xavier. The Edgecliff college was bought by Xavier, which is where all the fine arts came from. Hence, the building is called Edgecliff. All these pictures are from there.
It was a women’s college, it was theatre, nursing, art, you know, visual art, music and I guess that was all. That was a great place and the building is still over there. The building we used for the music department was called Max Welton.
In fact, that piano is well over 100 years old.
XN: Has teaching affected your own vocal performance?
HBA: Well, yes it does. You end up spending most of your time on the students, and you have no time for yourself. However, the concern now lays with the students. I think being a music major is one of the hardest majors because you have to practice your instrument on top of everything else and you have to be in these ensembles. You know that you have to perform in and then you get involved in theatre productions and you feel like [pause] I watch my students go nuts, I really do. The thing is that you do have to practice.
It’s hard work. I think singers are some of the worst, and that’s alright that I say that about them, because I was one, am one and I understand what happens.
They all want to just be perfect, and to open their mouth, and for everything to be perfect without them having to spend one little bit of mental energy. I always tell my students, there’s one little adjective that goes along with singer, and it’s called dumb, and I will not let my students be one.
The thing about all of you here is that you’re so bright, you’re so smart and so talented and you have the opportunity at Xavier to combine majors and minors that you would never be allowed to do anywhere else. You have to be fearless.
And if you’re not fearless you have to at least act like you are, and you have to not be a dumb singer because I will not have my students called that. I just won’t.
XN: What do you have your students typically perform?
HBA: If you are a major, there are certain requirements. Mostly students sing in English, French, German and Italian. If they are not a music major, then I help them and try to meet them where they are.
I always say, “What can I help you with? What do you want to accomplish?” If you are a music major, there are things you have to accomplish.
If you aren’t a music major or even a minor, then I help them with what they want to do, because that’s only fair.
XN: What do you want vocal performance majors and minors to take away from Xavier?
HBA: I want them to be able to get into a graduate school, if that’s what they want to do. But, there are a lot of our students in music education, and so they will go into a teaching position. And I want them to be able to save their speaking voices.
This is all about the speaking voice as much as it is about the singing voice.
To me it is at least. It’s the same technique. It’s just that we’re speaking with one and singing with another. It’s the same vocal production. They need that for theater.
What is music education without theater? You have to get in front of all of those kids, and you have to inspire them. You are using your voices all day long. If you’re in theatre, you have to be able to sing anything put in front of you.