No last acts – just another opening for Quilling

Published 8:35 pm Friday, March 7, 2014

Brenda Quilling lives up the road from me, less than half a mile on Sandy Plains Road, yet we didn’t meet in the Green Creek neighborhood.
We met one Sunday when, as guest soloist, she treated our Tryon congregation to her beautiful voice. Since meeting, we’ve chatted about the area and the interesting people who pop up to thrill us with their stories.
Do you ever wonder where “they” came from? They are the ones who are from somewhere else. They call Polk County home. Do you ever wonder about the decision making process in selecting one of the smaller counties in North Carolina?
The beauty of this area brings many to our doors and stores. Some folks explore. Some folks go up the road. Some folks stay. Why?
Away from the lights and big city traffic snarls, Polk County straddles the mountains on the west and the Piedmont on the east. Brenda knows first-hand the big city lights and big city living of San Francisco, New York City and Dortmund, Germany.
Louis L’Amour writes in his autobiography Education of a Wandering Man that to travel is to learn. Brenda’s life is testimony to learning across geography as well as to many great teachers who mentored her along the way.
Brenda traveled many miles from her home in Sidney, Mont. to study music and share her gifts with a world audience.
With love and encouragement from her first voice teacher, her mom, Brenda learned more than 20 songs by age one and a half. Brenda’s world overflowed with music from her parents who sang in the community, songs of Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald. She also had the great good fortune to study clarinet with Carol Stafney. With a keen eye and ear for talent, Stafney introduced Brenda to classical singing and paved the way to her first recital singing Schubert’s “The Shepherd on the Rock”. Later Stafney took Brenda and another band student to Minneapolis to hear her first opera, LA FANCIULLA DEL WEST (Girl of the Golden West) with Dorothy Kirsten. Twelve years later Kirsten selected Brenda as first place winner in the MET auditions in Los Angeles, and later a National Finalist in 1975.
With music scholarships at different colleges, Brenda finally arrived at Concordia College to study with her “dear voice teacher” Thelma Halverson. Many years earlier Halverson taught voice to Brenda’s mom in Stanley, Wisc.
Brenda auditioned for The People Tree at Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Mont. For almost five years The People Tree sang pop across the country including major nightclubs with Joey Bishop. During this time, the group recorded Richard Quine’s “The Morning After”. A highlight of this period: Quine played the recording for Barbara Streisand who said that Brenda “sang it just the way she would have sung it.” Brenda’s idol doled a compliment that nourished her career.
Brenda left The People Tree and pursued her love of opera, art songs and oratorio.  She completed a master’s degree at the University of Southern California and then went to Graz, Austria for the summer opera festival. After the festival in Austria, she returned to San Francisco for her first professional operatic engagement with Western Opera Theatre.
After a three-year stint with Western Opera Theatre, Brenda moved on to New York City for six years where she performed leading mezzo soprano roles with fifteen different opera companies across the nation.  In the early eighties Dortmund Opera offered Brenda a three year contract singing major soprano roles, including Verdi’s Aida. During her time in Europe, she also performed as a guest artist with the Netherlands Opera.
Brenda decided to return home after three years abroad. After 38 years of singing, Brenda chose to really enlarge her boundaries and hone her renaissance qualities. She pursued business and the entrepreneur life.
That’s another story, for another time.  Why did Brenda move to Polk County?
A moment’s pause before Brenda quipped: “the beauty.” Also, the horse-friendly places and people create a perfect setting to enjoy her horse farm. Then, there is that “third chapter” urge of baby boomers to give back. Brenda’s current top-of-the-to-do-list – teach voice to all who are interested.
Her passion to teach “properly produced and supported voice” (classical training model), reminds me of the thread that weaves throughout her life and career.
Like her dear voice teacher Thelma Halverson; her junior high band director, Carol Stafney; and first-voice-teacher-mom, Brenda hopes to reach out to local high school students to introduce them to opera.
This introduction begins in the classroom and culminates in students attending the opera AIDA at Bob Jones University on March 22.

– article submitted
by By Paulette Carter

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