Opera singer at Hill church became an 'operapreneur'

by Len Lear
Posted 8/19/21

Alex Gillam is so immersed in the business aspect of her career that she calls herself an “operapreneur.”

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Opera singer at Hill church became an 'operapreneur'

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It is no secret that many people in the arts – painters, sculptors, musicians, dancers, actors and authors – love expressing themselves artistically, performing on stage, etc., but hate having to promote and market themselves, pleading for work, auditioning, haggling over payment, trying to collect the money that is owed them, etc.

But Alexandra “Alex” Gilliam, 28, an opera singer who grew up in Wyncote (and still lives there), attended Norwood-Fontbonne Academy and Germantown Friends School (GFS) and sings as a cantor at Our Mother of Consolation Church, is just the opposite. In fact, Alex is so immersed in the business aspect of her career that she calls herself an “operapreneur.”

“In this day and age,” Alex said last week, “unless you get to a certain level, you have to contact the press yourself, have a press kit, manage audio and a website and promote yourself. For example, people will not take you seriously if you do not have good publicity photos. You have to work on the business side of your career, so I learned web design, coding, InDesign, Photoshop, video editing and so on. Everything I do stems from the way I manage the business aspect of the music such as the video product and the concert product. I have become a web developer and have built websites for many others. As artists, we are always striving to communicate, and putting together a website is part of that. I even thought about a career helping people with technology.”

Alex' first performance as a sophomore at GFS was in a Gilbert & Sullivan operetta, performed by both teachers and students. “It was such a cool experience with high-octane music,” said Alex. “Jody Kidwell, a Chestnut Hill music teacher and mezzo soprano, helped me with it. By doing that, I got bit by the bug of both comedic and musical aspects of performing.

“My dad (an auto mechanic) was a great shower singer. Our house was full of music. I would bop my head to Paul Simon. My mom would play the Eugene Ormandy recording of the ‘1812 Overture.' And they supported my music career goal. Mom said you can always go back to law school later on. She went back to law school when I was 10. They pushed me off the cliff.”

Alex graduated with honors in 2015 from the New England Conservatory of Music, where she was a merit scholarship recipient. She was then the beneficiary of a Barry Manilow-endowed scholarship (yes, THAT Barry Manilow) at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, where she graduated with a Master of Music degree in 2017.

“But when I left Philly, I knew I wanted to come back,” she said. “This city is so passionate about the arts. It is a big city, but it feels like a small town.”

Since the pandemic started in March of last year, Alex has had opportunities to perform online. She was the tech producer and a performer for a group called Isaac and Friends that performed opera, Broadway and other genres. And for a year she has been producing a concert series, “Music for the Soul” on Zoom, founded by a local pianist, Clipper Erickson.

Alex has a working knowledge of Latin, German, French and Italian. “One reason I wanted to pursue classical training,” she said, “was to work in German, French and Italian and learn the diction so you can sound like you really come from those countries. I wanted to hone my instrument so I could apply it to any genre. A clarinetist can roll out of bed and play. With us, though, your body is your instrument. If you get sick, you are out of commission and cannot make a living. We have home remedies for voice like black licorice echinacea tea and steamers that prevent the voice from drying out. Goofy home remedies.”

Alex drives to OMC in her 1965 Mustang called “Diva,” which was a college graduation present. “When I went back to sing at OMC in person in early June, I cried. Tears ran down my face. It was so good to be back and making music together!”

For more information, visit alexandragilliam.com. Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com

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