By LORI ABBOTTS
Daily News Staff
Soprano Laura Strickling, a St. Thomas resident, releases her solo album “Confessions” today. The American art song album explores poetry set to music with a fusion of musical genres and her signature classical approach.
Originally from the Chicago area, Strickling’s earliest memory of singing was performing “Away in the Manger” in church at the age of 5. As a pastor’s daughter, she had always sung in church and in the choir.
Voice wasn’t her first musical love, however. As a teenager, she studied percussion. It was as a music major in college that she had to choose between percussion in the band and the choir, and only then did she have her first ever voice lesson.
“I went to grad school for voice, but then I didn’t sing for four years,” she said. “I got to the end of formal schooling, but I had absolutely no idea how to pursue a career.”
Strickling decided to help put her husband Tylor, the high school sweetheart she married at 23, through law school and landed a job at the National Association of Schools of Music. She thought she was walking away from singing, but the lessons learned at the nonprofit arts organization, such as networking and organizing, “laid the groundwork for me to return to being a singer and pursue a career.”
After the couple spent a year in Morocco studying Arabic, Strickling’s husband urged her to resume singing. A voice teacher in Washington, D.C. encouraged her to enter voice competitions and “even though I was starting a career about five years later than I should have, somehow, with a little bit of luck and a lot of hard work, against all odds, I’m a singer today.”
While Strickling was starting to get steady work singing, her husband spent three years in Afghanistan to start a law school. She spent a lot of time flying back and forth, and the couple eventually realized this was not the way they wanted to spend the rest of their lives. Tyler accepted a job as a Superior Court clerk in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He eventually moved to the law offices of attorney Jorie Roberts, just as the couple learned they were expectant parents. They decided to make St. Thomas their permanent home. She is currently a voice professor at the University of the Virgin Islands in addition to her career as a freelance singer.
Strickling’s career took off, and she has performed on countless concert and opera stages across the country, at venues such as Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center.
With “Confessions,” Strickling wanted pay homage to two composers, Libby Larsen and Tom Cipullo, that helped launch her career. “I wouldn’t be here today if they hadn’t invested in me, so there is this part of me that wanted to honor that investment they made.”
Strickling recorded the first half of the album three weeks before Hurricane Irma, which ground the project to a halt. It took more than a year to get back in the studio to finish the album, which still needed to be edited. When COVID-19 hit, she decided to use that time to finish the album and reached out to her production team in April. The CD was released today.
The art song album, accompanied by pianist Joy Schreier, is a collection of compositions by six contemporary American composers, including Larsen and Cipullo, as well as Grammy-nominated Clarice Assad, daughter of Brazilian jazz artist Sergio Assad, Gilda Lyons, Amy Beth Kirsten and Michael Djupstrom, and most are world-premiere recordings. According to Strickling, art song is poetry set to music, allowing the composer to express their words through music and changing the emotion through rhythm, tempo, melody and vocal technique.
Although trained classically, the art songs allow Strickling to delve into other genres. In the title song “Confessions,” composer Clarise Assad infuses jazz rhythms and harmonies into her classic composition. Lyons is a contemporary of Assad, but her musical compositions are rooted in chant and early music.
“There’s going to be an over-arching approach to the way I sing because of my training and my background, but I don’t want to ignore the fact that other vocal styles exist and I should be able to use my voice as expressively as possible in other ways that you may not expect from a classical singer. I really do hope there is something for everyone on this album,” she said.
“Confessions,” on the Yarlung Records label, is available on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, iTunes and Amazon.