(Courtesy of MaryAnn McCormick)
MaryAnn McCormick, an internationally acclaimed mezzo-soprano, has been hailed in the press as "charismatic," "spell-binding," and "elegant." Performing roles such as Carmen to Suzuki in Madame Butterfly, McCormick has sung worldwide, won a Grammy, and just celebrated her 100th performance at the Metropolitan Opera – a feat not every accomplished opera singer can claim.
McCormick, a native of Pittsburgh, admits that her road to becoming as successful as she has, has been challenging and complicated, especially since she became a Christian seven years ago.
"Since becoming a Christian, it's not been as easy," she says. "Many performers wouldn't hesitate to do whatever they need to do to get ahead, but as a Christian I can't do that. This is a very ego driven and competitive career – it takes a level of expertise and training to sing in this environment under intense pressure, and to be emotionally savvy."
Located in New York City at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, The Metropolitan Opera House, where McCormick sings, is the largest classical music organization in North America. This season, with 209 performances in 28 different productions, she was one of only 365 singers on their roster.
Her faith has gotten her through the rigors of the profession in many ways. Music is a subjective field. Some producers may not like a singer's voice, others might. It takes a lot of perseverance and determination to pursue a musical career that doesn't provide a guaranteed income or future certainty.
Before becoming a Christian, if she didn't get a part, McCormick thought it had something to do with her talent. "I would take it to heart and think I must not be very good," she says. "But what I've learned in Christ is that God as a loving Father always has a purpose and I have to trust that He opens and closes doors for a reason."
Not only did God give McCormick a voice, and the courage to stand in front of 4,000 people of whom a few might criticize her performance, but he gave her a boldness as a Christian to turn down roles that she feels do not glorify God.
She explains that the choices of performances from which she can choose have gotten narrower. McCormick recently turned down a promising opportunity with a big theater because the content was "vulgar" and the character was scripted to blaspheme God. Other productions increasingly expect singers to perform with partial nudity or mime sexual acts on stage. Still other stories are written with "faulty ideology where good is considered to be evil and evil is considered as good," she says. She's uncertain of the ramifications from turning down roles, but remains confident in God's plan for her life.
McCormick says the challenge of being a Christian in the Opera house is finding her mission – being salt and light – and being willing to risk financial loss and mockery (both of which she has experienced) for living out her faith. Ultimately, she says, "I cannot live my life without a solid theological understanding. God is sovereign over all things – even if I get fired. Being salt and light means being more than just a good person. People need to know why I'm different and that it's because of Christ. And I pray for boldness to share the Gospel."
Since she was a practical atheist for many years in the Opera world, the obvious shift in her life and belief system, including how she carries herself and the language she uses or doesn't use, has made a profound impact on her colleagues and friends who knew her before. "I know that my behavior and actions may be the only Bible that some of my colleagues ever read," she adds.
Additionally, she points out that Christians often shy away from talking about their faith in her profession. "There is so much silence in the media arts, so many are afraid to say anything, to be rejected, or mocked – or worse, lose their jobs because of their views."
McCormick's musical talent was identified at age seven when she began to play the piano by ear, and then excelled quickly in piano lessons. By age ten she was already studying with a college level professor from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
She attended church during her youth along with her mother and enjoyed singing in the choir. When she was a senior in high school, the church's choir director asked if she would sing a solo one Sunday morning. She was to sing, "O Rest in the Lord" by Felix Mendelssohn from his oratorio "Elijah." When she started practicing and teaching herself the song at the piano, she says, "a strange voice came out of her mouth." She suddenly exclaimed to her mother, "What's going on? I sound like the woman who sings 'God bless America'!" She has since sung this oratorio throughout her career.
McCormick was as surprised as everyone else was after she sang in church. At the time, she was already attending a magnet school for the arts in Pittsburgh as a piano major and quickly added voice to her studies. After graduating she was accepted to the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester in New York. She then pursued graduate studies at the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. At age 25, she sang her first lead role at the Boston Lyric Opera, the title role of Rossini's Cinderella.
In addition to performing all over the world, McCormick teaches voice instruction to students ranging from age 8 to 77. She also performs at Christian colleges giving her testimony in hopes of encouraging young musicians to engage and participate in the culture and be bold about professing their faith in a fiercely competitive field that is often hostile to the Gospel. She also has a music ministry, Soli Deo Gloria, through which she offers concerts and gives her testimony related to the pieces of music she sings.
McCormick offers hope to young people exclaiming, "It's not over until the converted lady sings!" Citing Psalm 73:28, she says, "But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works."
On the web: http://maryannmccormick.com/