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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

From the Classroom to the Stage: Nancy Balach and Amanda Johnston

Balach, 38, a member of the voice faculty here on campus, balances the roles of performer, voice coach, soccer mom and wife. She takes pride in juggling multiple roles, both on stage and off.  Balach, a soubrette and lyric soprano, took group voice lessons as a child, studying with up to ten different students at a time.

In these sessions, Balach said she learned by picking apart the voices of her peers, taking the good and leaving the bad.  Sessions like these led Balach to perform in her first opera in eighth grade.

Balach’s parents consistently told her she could do anything she set her mind to and she took their words to heart. She acquired an undergraduate degree in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University and a masters from the Manhattan School of Music.

For what was supposed to be a single semester, Balach followed her husband to Oxford.  Hailing from Pittsburgh, Balach had little desire to live in a small town.  Soon after moving, Balach said she fell in love with the city, taking her own job on campus as part of the voice faculty.

Balach said teaching others has taught her about her own voice. Though she does not get to perform on a stage every day, she was quick to point out teachers perform every day in the classroom.

The recital she performed was proposed by a close friend and colleague.

Johnston, a collaborative pianist, is the lead opera coach on campus, as well as an accompanist for vocal performance students.  Her position at UM is unique to the state.

“We are lucky to have someone like Ms. Johnston,” Balach said.

Johnston is so knowledgeable about her subject that she will be publishing a diction textbook in December, an English and German comparative.  Her idea came from her love for her home country, Canada.  Johnston said she has a desire to expose a repertoire of music unheard of in most of America.

The recital, “A Celebration of Canadian Song,” displayed four different languages – English, German, Spanish and French – languages that are all spoken in Canada.

Featured songs included the American premier of “Involuntary Love Songs,” as well as a piece by John Weinzweig, a humorous song which Balach performed while on her cell phone.

Although the pair has been working on the recital for months, it is not their only focus. Balach said her real focus is her family. She has had to work in rehearsal time around what her three children are doing.

“My kids have really given me a perspective of what’s important,” Balach said.

Johnston, who coaches twenty different music majors, will have to teach a full class schedule on the day of the recital. Though recitals are important, they are not as important as the other aspects of life, Johnston said.

Balach feels the same rush when her students do well as she does from performing herself.

“I now live vicariously through my students,” Balach said.