"I'm a musician. Since my earliest memories," says Ana María Otamendi. Originally from Venezuela, Otamendi was given a toy piano when she was three years old and "everything went from there."
Her love of music brought her to the States, where she earned her doctorate degree from the University of Michigan. Since August 2011, she has worked as a studio artist/collaborative pianist at the Houston Grand Opera.
"My job has many faces: the coach, the rehearsal pianist, the keyboard player and the backstage musician," says Otamendi.
What she does: At the University of Michigan, she learned how to be a vocal coach, a pianist for singers and instrumentalists, and, in her words, "a true musician." Her accomplishments allow her to pretty much do it all at HGO.
"Most people have no idea what a vocal coach is or what does a pianist do inside an opera house," she says. "A coach works with singers and helps them refine the music they are interpreting.
"Basic issues are addressed, such as 'you are not singing the right notes/pitches/words,' which means we have to learn our part as well as theirs, but we go much deeper than that, creating a dialogue with them that aims to find the true relationship between words and music, the intentions of the composer, the many nuances that a phrase might have, different approaches to interpreting a character, etc."
Otamendi's job responsibilities also include rehearsal pianist, keyboard player and backstage musician. That last one features Otamendi performing "odd jobs."
She says, "Smash a gigantic sheet of metal against the wall to produce the sound of thunder onstage, conduct a small group of musicians backstage to make sure they play at exactly the same tempo as the main orchestra in the pit, produce knocking sounds, break dishes, you name it!"
Why she likes it: Otamendi loves the rush she feels while performing onstage. "I always have, and the idea of communicating my ideas and feelings to the audience through the music I'm performing is quite exhilarating.
"I chose collaborative piano because, for me, there is nothing like the exchange of energy between two artists that hopefully are in a musical communion, and that join their forces and thoughts to create a musical product together," she says. "I also absolutely love opera, so being a part of the musical preparation for a gigantic production can be very rewarding. I also love the coaching part of my job: exchanging ideas with other musicians and helping them grow every day.
What inspires her: Talented musicians who double as bulletproof people.
"Several times in my life," says Otamendi, "I have met great musicians that happen to be great persons who enjoy sharing their gift with others and whose egos don't come in the way of this exchange. I am also inspired by anyone who has found their true calling in life, who develops it with passion, and shares it with others to help them on their way.
If not this, then what: Otamendi's was once a geophysical engineer, "but I always felt it wasn't what I was meant to be. So I decided, against my parents' will, to give music a try. And I have never regretted it."
If not here, then where: "I'd love to live in Europe some day! My second passion after music is traveling, so I'd be happy to go wherever music takes me!"
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What's next: She plans to stay in the Houston for at least a year while working on a number of projects in the States and South America. "However, in the long run, I would love to be able to transmit my knowledge and experience to younger generations of musicians and work in a university setting," says Otamendi.
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