Vocalist Emma Youngblood's wide interest in musical vernacular includes Gaetano Donizetti's "Lucia di Lammermoor," flamenco dance and the Jonas Brothers. The University of Oklahoma graduate student is a vocal arts major. With her mom and a sister, Youngblood recently attended a concert in Tulsa by her favorite pop rock combo comprised of three siblings. The 20-something grew up in Norman and it was here she first sang opera at a tender age. Before that Youngblood had been a member of Norman Children's Chorus. She'll be making a special guest appearance with that choir at 2 p.m. Dec. 7 in the Nancy O'Brian Center for the Performing Arts, 1801 Stubbeman Ave. Youngblood will be taking time out for the gig at the end of a very busy third semester pursuing her Masters in Music with an opera emphasis.
"I started vocal lessons in high school, then went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania where I got a bachelor's in vocal performance," Youngblood said. "The opportunities I had there were great."
She's having a similarly good experience at OU.
"I think the teachers, faculty and support system here are great," Youngblood said. "I feel supported, included and that they want me to succeed. I have a great teacher in Dr. Leslie Flanagan whose son is also in the Norman Children's Chorus. After I auditioned he immediately took an interest in me. He's such a patient guy and supportive of everything I do."
She's finding superlative opera opportunities in the OU grad school program.
"They put on really well known productions such as 'Lucia di Lammermoor' which is a really hard opera and they pulled it off well," she said. "It's really great to being putting on these crowd-pleasing shows to be able to have the experience on our resumes. I like studying the craft, getting better and better. The end result is so rewarding. I tell my sister that opera is the highest form of singing because you have to sing over an orchestra. Its years and years of building up stamina, agility and breath control. So much goes into building up this incredible instrument that can produce these crazy sounds."
Youngblood's earliest opera experience goes back to 8th grade with the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company based in Norman.
"That was operetta and I got to be in Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Gondoliers,'" she said. "At Norman North and privately, I studied with Tony Gonzalez. He introduced me to a book all voice majors know called 28 Italian songs and arias. It's the opera beginner's book and teaches you Italian art songs, getting your voice moving in the right direction."
Youngblood feels honored to be the special guest artist at the Norman Children's Chorus 2019 finale concert.
"NCC was such an important part of my passion for music and my music career," she said. "I think it's so cool to come back and see all the young kids who were like me. I guess I'm a role model in some ways and get to be part of this music journey with them. NCC's artistic director Sandy Knudson has stayed in touch with me over the years."
Youngblood's association with NCC goes back to third grade. Both parents encouraged her singing then and now.
"Ms. Knudson told me about the choir and I auditioned for her in the Adams Elementary School choir room," she said. "I remember her asking me why I wanted to be in NCC and I told her I wanted a challenge. I still think that's exactly what it is. It's for kids who enjoy singing but they want a challenge. One of my favorite memories of NCC is when we went on a trip to San Antonio Six Flags where me and Ms. Knudson got matching Wonder Woman capes. I still think about that, it's so great."
The Dec. 7 concert is titled "Candles in our Hearts: Christmas Cards for You." There are two choirs divided between younger and older children.
"They sing all different kinds of songs representing different holidays," Youngblood said. "I think a children's choir has among the most pure, angelic and beautiful sounds."