Music & Learning: A Virtual Reality

Kensington Mums would like to introduce Juliet Petrus. Juliet Petrus is an international opera singer and equally passionate music and foreign language mentor living in West London. Information about her teaching can be found on her website. Her book with co-author Katherine Chu, SINGING IN MANDARIN: A GUIDE TO CHINESE LYRIC DICTION AND VOCAL REPERTOIRE, is set for release with the publisher Rowman & Littlefield in July 2020.

Juliet Petrus is no stranger to living virtually. An opera singer and educator based in West London, she often spends nearly half of her year on the road. In order to stay connected to her family, friends and students, a strong virtual connection is imperative. 

The life of an opera singer can be challenging. “For those of us who are soloists, our contracts keep us moving from one job to the next, wherever that job may be,” she says. She spent a large portion of last year singing in Europe and another portion coming and going from China. In addition to singing Western opera, she is also a specialist in contemporary Chinese vocal repertoire. Usually, not having all of her musical eggs in the same basket — or on the same continent — provides a certain stability difficult to achieve in her line of work. Of course, most of those eggs scrambled with the current Covid situation.

While the future of classical and live music is yet to be determined, her skill and experience in the virtual realm is stepping centre stage. She has been a private tutor in music and languages for years, and she is proud to say that she has a vast array of students all over the world. 

“While I wish, of course, it were for a much different reason, I’m excited to see that this type of learning is becoming more widely utilized and accepted these days.”

A Life in Music

How does one come to a life in music? When she was very little, on visits to her cousin’s house, Juliet would make a bee-line for the piano in her front room. “My mother astutely saw my interest and enrolled me in piano lessons at age 3. I added the viola at age 10, and by 12, I started singing in choirs,” she recalled. 

As a violist, she played in orchestras and string quartets earning money from those gigs to pay for her voice lessons. “It was always clear to me that I would be a musician, but I wasn’t sure in what form.” 

She entered university to study both the viola and classical singing, but after her first year, it was clear that her interest lay in voice. “Studying opera was the perfect combination of my skills: singing, dance, acting, and foreign languages.” 

After she completed her Bachelor of Music in voice from the University of Michigan in her native United States, she went on to a Master of Music in opera at Northwestern University near Chicago. That experience launched her into programs designed to develop young opera singers and eventually into ‘mainstage,’ professional performances. 

But it was not just the international language of music that captured her time and attention. 

Foreign Languages

In the United States, foreign language was often a subject added in ‘middle school,’ if added at all. When Juliet was 13 years old, she started studying French — ‘late’ for language study by many international standards. But a few years later, she had a teacher who recognized her talent for music and language. “You’ll probably end up going to sing in Germany, so you should learn how to speak German.” Her teacher was right, as Juliet’s recent contracts in Germany and Austria illustrate. 

As a voice major, Juliet was required to take semesters of French, German and Italian. Already having French fluency, she was able to focus on her German and Italian language, which turned out to be very important, and not only because Italy is the birthplace of opera.

“Many years later, I met a wonderful Italian man who has since become my husband. The need to be able to communicate with his family, as well as to reinforce his Italian heritage with our son has made fluency in Italian very important.”

China

It wasn’t until her 30s that Juliet would be introduced to the language that has had the biggest impact on her life and career: Mandarin. At 33, married and with a two-year-old at home, she had an opportunity to join a program in Beijing that would introduce her to Chinese vocal music and language. Her love of the language and culture was immediate and has continued to grow to this day. She accepted a Confucius Institute scholarship to study in Shanghai in 2014, where her son joined her. Today, her fluency in Mandarin has allowed for numerous doors to open, leading to the nearly six months per year spent singing and teaching there from 2017 – 2019. 

“My love and persistence in language study has been one of the greatest determining factors in both my personal life and career opportunities,” she notes. 

A Teaching Artist

It was around 16 that Juliet began teaching voice, viola and piano.

“I come from a long line of teachers. Being able to break down an idea into a teachable method seems to be something programmed in my DNA. But most importantly, I just love teaching. I love watching a student have their “Aha!” moment; I love the challenge of knowing that every student is unique, requiring me to find the best way to communicate with them.”

These days, her teaching has gone entirely virtual, but luckily it’s something with which she is already familiar.

“I am currently teaching voice, viola, piano, as well as Italian, German, Mandarin and English as a second language. I love working with all levels and every age and truly believe that it is never too late to start.”

Juliet’s experience performing all over the world, living and working in a variety of languages and cultures has provided her with a unique perspective as an educator.

Juliet is excited to be able to open up more slots in her music and language studio online, inviting students of all ages and levels to explore with her. She offers one-on-one instruction in music and is also able to form small group classes for her foreign language instruction.

“This time represents an unprecedented opportunity to for all students, young and old, to explore new activities. I truly believe that music and language brings us all closer together, and I would love to guide members of the Kensington Mum’s family on the adventure!

For more information, please visit Juliet’s website to get more information on her classes and updates.