Regan Bisch Interview
Interviewed By: Andrew Gillet
Based in North Carolina, American soprano Regan Bisch has established herself as a versatile performer, having sung works from Mozart to Tchaikovsky. Particularly gifted in Slavic repertoire, she has also shown herself to be gifted as well in American and Hungarian works. An alumna of the Mannes School of Music and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, she has sung a variety of roles as both mezzo-soprano and soprano. This past summer she made her role debut as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni with the North Carolina Summer Opera.
1) What was it that started your love of singing? Were there family members or friends who had an influence?
I've been singing my whole life. My family would sing along to the radio in the car, my mom would play the piano and make up songs about almost anything. A love of music was ingrained in me, in all of my siblings really. The first memory I have of singing in public was my kindergarten talent show, it was the most scared and happy I had ever been. That's when I knew I wanted to make music for the rest of my life.
2) Opera is unique in that it combines a singular style of singing with acting, oftentimes in different languages. What was it about opera that appealed to you over other styles of vocal music?
I initially wanted to be like Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, honestly. Daydream and The Bodyguard soundtrack were the first albums I ever owned and I wore. Them. Out. When I finally got to take voice lessons, I sang my first classical piece and completely fell in love with the art form. For lack of a better word, classical music is really fun to sing. It is challenging and thrilling. It is also moving and emotive. Learning new languages is amazing, it broadens your understanding of the world and makes you a more compassionate person (or it should).
3) Being a musician means confronting failure and adversity on a consistent basis. What made you decide to continue singing, in particular opera, with all the difficulties of being a musician?
Ha. I'm going to be honest with you, the failure and rejection never gets easy, it's always hard. There have been many, many times I have thought about quitting. Something always brings me back to it, though. I love it, and I love the joy music brings to people. As long as people want to hear me sing, I will continue to sing.
4) Did you have a teacher who especially influenced you or your outlook?
My voice teacher when I was in high school was very instrumental in me pursuing an operatic career. She encouraged me and championed me. She even brought me to her voice teacher (Ellen Faull look her up, she was a wonderful singer) to get some extra career advice before I left for college. She still comments on my posts and recordings and tells me how proud she is of me.
5) One of the great difficulties of being a musician is how we receive varying messages and directions from school teachers and private teachers over the years. How were you able to balance those natural discrepancies in judgments?
My advice is always be respectful, but trust your gut. If you feel like you're being led in the wrong direction, it's ok to speak up about that. If you feel like you're being led in the right direction, but in an abusive way? You can also speak up about that or remove yourself from the situation. There are, unfortunately, many unequipped teachers and coaches who either give you bad advice or are abusive. While you're in school, start to build your team of mentors and teachers who you trust and who are kind to you.
6) If you could go back and give your college self one piece of advice, what would it be?
You don't need to go to grad school! Lol. But if you do, go to the school that gives you the most money, because they will use you the most and be your best advocates.
7) What advice would you give to an aspiring musician still in school?
Learn as much as you can and make friends! With other students, with teachers, conductors, etc. Much of the work I have gotten, I have gotten through friendships with colleagues. Also, like i said above, start building your team of mentors who will have your back throughout your career. One last thing, there are many ways to have success in this business, your career may not look the way that you had planned for it to look but that's ok. Don't get discouraged and learn to go with the flow. You may find that you prefer making your living in a different way and playing only for pleasure. That is ok!
8) One of the pains of being a musician is that you reach a point where there will be teachers (school or private or ensemble) who think you're remarkably talented and others who either constantly criticize you or seem to write you off as nothing special. What are some ways you were able to deal with the teachers who only gave negative criticism?
You are going to get negative criticism your whole life! Sometimes from people close to you often from outsiders. You will get bad reviews, you will get yelled at in a rehearsal. It's just part of the business, I'm sorry to say. You just have to hold your head up high, know that your worth is not wrapped up in a performance, audition, rehearsal. Listen to what people are saying to you but take it all with a grain of salt. For instance if everyone is telling you singing/playing flat during a certain piece or section, there may be some stock in that. But random bits of criticism that you know if your heart is not helpful, ditch it and move on.
9) As a Christian, singing on stage in church was for me both an enjoyable yet unnerving experience because of the fear I had that my singing would be judged harshly by congregation members, while at the same time I felt I was supposed to be “singing for God” and not care what others think. Did you ever feel those emotions? If so, what were ways you used to reconcile the two feelings?
I've been singing in church my whole life, it is my safe space. It should be your safe space too. Just do your best and sing the text as if you mean it (which being a believer you most likely do) The congregation is going to love it! And they are not judging you harshly. And those who don't like it probably don't like to hear any singers in church so you'll never win those ones over.
10) What are some strategies you use to help keep yourself from beating yourself up or continuing to sing even when you make a mistake?
Beverly Sills is quoted as saying "In my entire career, I only sang the way I wanted to six times. The rest of the time I just did the best I could". I think about this often when I'm not on my game for a performance, I know I'm in good company. One of the best skills you can learn is how to recover. How to recover a tired voice and how to recover on stage when something goes awry. It's honestly my favorite thing about live performances. I once heard a mezzo at The Met go up for a high note, crack and then recover. It was awesome!! We all strive for perfection, but it is unattainable. The journey toward it is the thrill of being an artist, and there can be magic in the flaws and imperfections of a performance. Nerves can get the best of all of us, even the big time professionals. If you are prepared and you have done the work to get your technique strong, you will then learn to fix things that get wonky mid performance. But you have to keep getting up on that stage to work on that.