An Interview with Sally Drutman
Lately, I’ve been feeling old. I know I’m not that old (depending on how you define the word) but I’m definitely feeling old. My kids are growing up - seemingly fast as hell. I’m having more thoughts of them as young adults, me old, and death. You know, all the good things that come with age. And while I know a lot more, I’m still as confused about life at 40 as I was at 20. For a creative person, I’m learning that confusion never goes away — it’s a constant nag. But I’m rambling now... back to the reason I mentioned age. Sally Drutman is 24 years old and only a year out of a college. She’s a professional opera singer and also dabbles in poetry. One of her poems was published in the third issue of Unvael, which is how we began talking in the first place. After I discovered she was an opera singer I needed to know more about her. Why? I have no idea… I just did.
The cafe where we met was surprisingly not busy. In Boulder, CO it seems every cafe I walk into is packed with people. This particular cafe was nestled on a quiet, but busy, side street.. Once I found a table, Sally and I sat down and started our conversation about how she found her passion for opera, her move to Salt Lake City, and our mutual love for the outdoors.
I once read in a article that between the ages of twelve and fifteen is when a person starts to form a foundation for their talents and aptitudes. That’s when “shit sticks,” so to speak. In the past when I've spoken with anyone creative, almost all of them seem to have found their calling around their teenage years. And when I think about this theory in relation to myself, it definitely rings true to me. Even though I didn’t pursue photography at the time, I started to form my creative foundation at age thirteen when I got my first camera and first picked up a guitar.
Sally grew up in a household that fostered musical talent. However, it wasn't until she worked with a determined voice coach in her teenage years did she realize her desire to become a opera singer professionally. Starting out, she began exercising her vocals with a voice coach - but because of scheduling conflicts Sally wanted to stop with the lessons altogether. However, that same coach stopped her in her tracks and told her she would create a schedule to fit Sally in and that she saw “massive potential in her.” These words stuck with Sally. This teacher believed in her - she guided her - she obviously knew what she was talking about. So Sally kept singing and specifically started training in opera.
The latte I ordered was kicking in now. I listened to Sally tell her story of the last decade of her life— more specifically, about her home in Oregon, her friends and parents, school, her questioning her original decision to get into medicine and subsequent decision to pursue opera, her fear of what her parents would think about a life in the arts, all of it.
Eventually Sally devoted her life to music and concentrated on opera. She chose a small music school in the Sugarhouse area of Salt Lake City - which just so happens to be one of my favorite areas in that city. She graduated in 2017 and then moved to Berlin - the apparent “opera capital of the world” - to focus on her craft and get some amazing international experience. She learned German during her travels and spent the winter in Berlin performing and experiencing a different way of life. She loved all of it, but all this traveling left her homesick at times. I remember listening to her and thinking how cool it was to get to hear the story of an artist’s life. Besides their close friends and family, how often are they telling this to people? My guess, not often. And it makes me feel lucky and inspired and also a little weird to be with a person and hearing their story. A good weird.
I’m not quite sure when Berlin came to be the creative hub of the world but at some point it did. Curating Unvael Journal has led me to communicate with and see so many different artists and I can’t even begin to count how many of them are from Berlin, and Germany. I read a while ago Berlin invests a lot of money into their art community and that creatives flocked to the area - and still are. I use the word “invests” because while you don’t see an immediate payoff by doing so - eventually you will. And while it may not always be financial gain for the city - it pays off in so many other ways. When Sally said Berlin was the hub of opera it struck me as weird and I stopped her to make sure I heard her correctly. If you had asked me where the opera hub was I’d immediately say Italy or Spain. I honestly don’t know why I would - but that’s what I thought in that moment. Opera language? Italian, right? No. I was wrong. German is the popular language of opera and therefore Germany is the current hub. German, often considered a harsh language due to the way it is spoken, is popular for opera singers - a singing style not often related to harshness. Or maybe I’m just ignorant of that entire way of life because I’m not in it. Whatever the case, Berlin, you are winning the art world right now.
After our conversation, we left the cafe and headed to my car. Once there, we decided to do a bit of exploring in the mountains so I could snag a few photographs of Sally. Eventually we made our way up Boulder Canyon and started driving through a little town called Nederland. During the drive we talked more about family, how we are both mountain lovers, evergreen tree lovers, and overall nature lovers. Being closer to nature is a big reason I moved with my family out to Colorado just 18 months ago. “Mountains, Gandalf. I want to see mountains again.” (Forgive me if you don’t understand the LOTR reference). As for Sally, while she misses Oregon, she loves SLC. She loves the mountains surrounding that city. She loves driving up the canyons to explore the wilderness. Sally and I have a lot in common. “Ugh, this car is going so slow,” I said on the one lane road up the pass. Sally agreed. We have that in common as well. “Tourists.” I said with a smile.
I have such an intrigue towards the music and dance side of the art world. I grew up playing music, and still dabble in it, but it wasn’t something profound that would impact me greatly. I’ve always been massively intrigued by ballet and dance. It’s mesmerizing. I can watch a dancer for hours and just get lost in the scene. Photographing a dancer is even better. I appreciate all sorts of musical styles and don’t limit myself to just one or two genres. I don’t know much about opera, so to find Sally and get to speak with her about her love of the genre, it opened up my eyes and enlightened me to that world. It doesn’t matter what kind of art we explore or what medium we choose to utilize - we all do it for the same broad reasons. I asked Sally what she felt like on stage, singing. I asked her if she gets lost in a piece or musical number and just zones out. “Yes, of course,” she said. Opera isn’t that much different from painting or ballet or photography. It’s an outlet, an escape from the daily life we all struggle with. It saves us - regulates us - keeps us grounded. For some, it does that more than others. It’s a passion or just a fling or maybe even a long-term commitment. Whatever it ends up being, it helps.
At this point, Sally and I started winding back down Boulder Canyon road towards town. On the right side of the canyon, all the trees were still pleasantly covered with snow from the early, and decent, snow storm we had just a couple days prior. The left side of the canyon was nearly dry because it sees a majority of the sunlight throughout the day. We stopped at a pull off area to fire off the last frame on my roll of film. I have never liked ending a session with anything left on a roll... I’ve been that way for years and I’m betting I’m not alone. I feel bad I didn’t have more time to explore the mountains with Sally but it was for good reason, Issue Four of the journal was being delivered and I needed to sign for it. Sally assured me all was good and that she had some more time to kill before her flight and was going to venture deeper into the mountains to see, and feel, more. From there, she was flying back to SLC to recoup from a crazy couple weeks and needed to get started on grad school applications. For an opera singer, grad school helps a lot. It refines your voice even further. For Sally, and a majority of opera singers (and many singers for that matter), your voice is just starting to get better in your 20s and right around 25 is supposed to be a perfect age to nail it down.
Sally’s timing couldn’t be more perfect.