By Bonnie Adams
Westborough – As a young girl growing up in Worcester, Karen Amlaw loved to sing. But because her voice was, as she described it, “really big,” Amlaw, who now resides in Westborough, was forbidden by her family to practice inside. Fortunately, her voice was welcomed at her school and then later at several local churches. She even pursued her love of music during her college years at the University of Rochester/Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., where she completed a minor in music; her principal instrument was actually violin.
“[But then], I listened to all the people who said I couldn's make a living at music,” she said.
Instead, she pursued a career in restaurant management, where she was successful. For 15 years or so, her singing was relegated to the occasional karaoke night or other social occasion.
Then, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred.
“It made me think, “What am I doing with my life? What else can I do?”” she said.
Amlaw decided to approach an official of the church where she had once performed, curious to see if she would be welcomed back. She was. With that step, music was once again her life's focus, as she began to audition and perform throughout central Massachusetts.
She quit her restaurant management job and lived off her savings, while she took lessons from teachers and noted performers Maria Ferrante and Sondra Kelly. She continued to audition and sing whenever she could. Eventually she also took a job at Robinson Music in Westborough teaching keyboard and piano, where she still instructs many classes a week.
Amlaw acknowledged that it is hard to make a living as a performer. But at this stage in her life, she has the confidence and maturity, she feels, to “know and believe that I am on the right path.”
“It also works in my favor that I am a “dramatic soprano”,” she said. “Most women don's get these roles until they are about my age anyways.”
Over the past few years she has sung in many performances including the title roles in classics such as “Tosca,” “Aida,” and “Madame Butterfly.” She has performed with Opera Worcester, Mass Theatrica, the Greater Worcester Opera (formerly Worcester Opera Works) and the Lowell Opera Company.
This summer, Amlaw will perform as a featured artist in Greater Worcester Opera's Summer Concert Series – Opera Gala Wednesday, Aug. 10 and will also attend the Coaching Divas Advanced Opera Workshop. She was recently named as an alternate in the Connecticut Concert Opera American Opera Idol Competition.
She will continue with her teaching duties as well.
“That will always be a part of my life somehow,” she said, “otherwise known as developing the performers and audience members of the future.”
She will also lead Children's Summer Singing Weeks at Robinson Music.
As far as the future goes, Amlaw is sanguine about her prospects. It is not always easy, she admitted, but well worth it.
“Such is this business – audition 10 or 20 times, get hired once or twice, maybe,” she said. “That's the way it is. You don’t go into this business if you don’t have tough skin. Nothing personal – rejection is just an understood par for the course.”
But one thing is certain. Now that Amlaw has found her voice again, there's no chance of it being silenced.