Lisa DrewMy Humble Beginnings
My mother informs me that I took kindly to her guitar (pictured on right) when I was about 4 years old and used to strum (not with any chords, mind you) and sing Peter Paul & Mary’s version of “Lemon Tree.”
have been one of the fortunate ones – to have this wonderful gift of song bestowed upon me. I grew up in the Levittown suburbs of Central Islip on Long Island, NY and was treated to required music classes beginning in 3rd grade with the Thompson Flutaphone, a white plastic instrument with a purple mouthpiece, resembling a clarinet. In order to get into band or choir, you had to pass this class which showed you had the ability to learn music.
I started with the clarinet, never really succeeding, but managed to somehow ummm “play” my way up to high school, it was marching band that ended it for me. My real love was…
It was in my 9th grade year (now living in Santee, in the suburbs of San Diego, CA) where I attended Grossmont High School. I had the incredible good fortune to sing in The Red Robe Choir and to have as my choir director and music instructor, Robert “Bob” Boucher. Bob had a marvelous way of teaching you how to sing in a choir and blend with voices. Of course, he also taught sight-reading in a frightening way. He would put music up on the overhead projector and would have each person down the row read a line of music in rhythm to a metronome until it was your turn. Sometimes you just got lucky and the music ran out before it got to you!
Bob also had this wonderful gift for getting boys to sing in the choir by just listening to their speaking voices and matching their pitches on the piano. We even had the football players.
Mr. Boucher was the first person to give me a solo. It was Schubert’s Ave Maria,in the high school Christmas Pageant (I was actually a soprano back then.) I was so excited about this and kept this as a secret as to suprise my parents when they came to see the show. My father said they had tears when they heard me sing. This lead to more solos with the choir and the opportunity to sing a solo on the Civic Center stage (where San Diego Opera performs) for the first time during my senior year. I owe Bob so much for his patience, time, and thoughtfulness. Thank you, Bob!
How I became an alto is also an interesting story… In my junior year of high school there were audtions for the 1977 California All State Honor Choir with Dr. Harold Swan as the guest conductor. Well, since sopranos are a dime a dozen (sorry my sop friends) I decided to try out as an alto. Luck was on my side, for not only did I get into the Honor Choir, but was also chosen to sing in the trio “The Heaven’s are Telling” from “The Creation”.
Out of high school, I was with a group of friends who heard about auditions with the San Diego Opera for the chorus. Having never sung any classical solo rep before, I went along on a lark, and sang Summertime (it was the only ‘aria’ I knew) and was hired! My first opera was Aida in 1978 with Martina Arroyo (Aida) and lead to a 20 year career of singing in over 80 professional productions with San Diego Opera and The Minnesota Opera.
And to keep things interesting, I sang in a women’s trio aptly named The Grimes Sisters that we formed during the opera Peter Grimes.
The three of us loved singing in the local piano bars after rehearsals and even found ourselves performing for the San Diego Opera Guild fundraisers and appearing at The San Diego Wild Animal Park.
My vocal coach at the time, Martin Wright, formed a small gospel group and he and three female backup singers had a great time touring San Diego and Arizona.
During the ’80s, I also sang in a vocal jazz quartet called Fourtune appearing on Reading Rainbow with Levar Burton. Yep, that’s me on the left with the perm!
In 1991 I decided to relocate sight unseen to the Twin Cities hoping to further my singing career, not knowing that I had stumbled upon the “Choral Mecca” of the Midwest. I was introduced to my then vocal coach, Emma Small and her husband Don who played organ at St. Mark’s Cathedral. She was wonderful in introducing me to the vocal scene and I quickly found myself associated with the Minnesota Opera, the Minnesota Chorale, Contentus Musicus (early vocal music ensemble), The Lyra Baroque Orchestra and The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera. Adding to this a singing restaurant job, church soloist position and a full-time temp job rounded out my overabundant life. Crazy, but true.
I managed to carry this hectic schedule on for a couple of years until Concentus folded. My temp job turned into a permanent one at a group of radio stations run by Clear Channel and in 2000, I found myself without a voice due to some badly prescribed medication. I lost the opera, my church soloist position, and the ability to even carry on small conversations without bronchial spasms for about 10 months.
After discovering the problem had to do with a medication I was prescribed, I soon recovered and in 2002-2012 found myself performing with the incredible early music group, The Rose Ensemble, a now internationally acclaimed organization touring the country and in Europe. During my tenure, the Ensemble took 1st place twice at the prestigious Tolosa Choral Festival in Spain, was the recipient of the Margaret Hillis award for Choral Excellence by Chorus America. I can be heard on 7 of their recordings.
At the same time, I auditioned for Philip Brunelle as a soloist for the Sandstrom High Mass.
The audition with Philip led to a church soloist position at Plymouth Congregational in Minneapolis, which is where I am today, just celebrating my 15th year. My wonderful relationship with Philip has led to solo performances with the Berkshire Choral Festival, The Heitzeg Nobel Symphony, William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence & Experience at Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, Seigfried Matthus’ Te Deum at The Cathedral in St. Paul, and Petite Messe Solonelle with the Tucson Chamber Artists and other fantastic opportunities in the Twin Cities.
I currently reside in the Shingle Creek neighborhood of North Minneapolis in Minnesota with my husband and best friend Bob, a writer and published author, and 2 cats, Freddicat and Lilly-Lil.
In addition to singing, I develop affordable websites for small business and individuals and create artwork from my photography. Please visit my site & portfolio at Websites for a Song.com!
Your comments and emails are always welcome – thank you!