As a student at Western Washington University, Heidi Grant Murphy’s (’87, Music Performance) dream was to teach high school choir. But a little voice kept telling her she should be the one at center stage.
Actually, it was the not-so-little voice of former Professor of Music C. Bruce Pullan, who wrote on several of Murphy’s evaluations, in red pen, “You should be a singer!!!”
But Murphy longed to raise a family in Bellingham, her hometown. She pictured herself teaching choir at Bellingham High School, sharing her love of music with students at the school she had attended.
Instead she was recruited to University of Indiana’s Jacobs School of Music and a shot at the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions. Soon, she made her debut at the Met and spent the next 20-plus years singing with the world’s most prestigious opera companies and symphony orchestras.
Grant’s voice, perhaps one of the best sopranos on stage today, still inspires music critics to write with emotion, if not in red pen. “Her singing was sensitive, deliciously multicolored in tone quality and altogether stupendous in its technical control,” wrote a Boston Globe critic after one performance. “You realized that this was why people have adored and worshipped the human voice.”
Murphy recently returned to Western to receive an honorary doctorate and sing the school’s Alma Mater at the summer Commencement ceremony.
An introduction to opera – and car maintenance: Murphy learned to love singing in church, where her father, Jeffrey Grant, was a pastor. But her operatic training began in her family’s garage, where her father liked to listen to The Metropolitan Opera on the radio while tinkering with his father’s old truck.
Western was a safe place: Murphy felt supported and encouraged by Western faculty members, particularly Marianne Weltmann, whom she credits with teaching her how to use her voice safely. They also nudged her out of the nest. “A lovely, safe place, Bellingham,” Robert Scandrett, professor emeritus of Music told her. “You should try something in a bigger pond.”
The world came to her: In her senior year, Murphy performed with Norman Phillips, a baritone visiting from the prestigious Jacobs School of Music. He persuaded Murphy to not only attend graduate school in Indiana, but to try out for the Metropolitan Opera’s National Council Auditions, something of a regional “American Idol” contest for up-and-coming opera singers. She won the contest and headed to New York City after just a year in Indiana.