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Meet Caroline Nelms

Today we’d like to introduce you to Caroline Nelms. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?

Well, my mom is a professional pianist/accompanist and my grandmother was a professional pianist/organist who was also my piano teacher. Classical music was always in my home but my early childhood memories are full of John Denver, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond and Frank Sinatra. I used to look through all of their records at home in Kansas. I remember lying on the floor with Bach and Vivaldi records too. Who knew records would make a comeback? I guess they’re called “vinyl” now!  Anyway, we ended up moving to California and my mom took me to my grandma’s house every Tuesday to learn piano. I’m very grateful for that because it gave me the basis for my future music endeavors – and I got to hang out with my grandma at the same time. I participated in children’s choir and bell choir at Tustin Presbyterian Church throughout my childhood, which extended my knowledge of music and helped my sight-reading skills. I loved that atmosphere. I was introduced to John Rutter there and many other wonderful composers. My mom would often take me to Pacific Chorale or Pacific Symphony concerts in Orange County. I enjoyed getting dressed up and attending those concerts even though I spent a lot of the time putting lipstick on the headshots of the performers in the programs.


In the late 80s, my mom got a job at Irvine High School playing the piano – working with the chorale, the musical theater program and the show choir. She would take my younger sister and me to rehearsals and auditions after school. My sister and I would bring our clipboards and rate all of the singers. I remember being in awe of the talented teenagers singing, acting and dancing on stage. I was often shy in front of people, but those kids made me want to be a performer. I liked how acting and singing could boost my self-confidence. Because of this, I ended up pursuing singing and acting throughout high school and continued in college with a focus in opera at Pepperdine University. I enjoyed the challenge of singing operatic music and learning new languages – and focusing on opera helped me get through my father’s death when I was 18. I decided to get a BA in “Liberal Arts” instead of music, in case I needed a “regular job” one day. I thought I might want to be an elementary school teacher but quickly realized I just wanted to play with the kids – not tell them what to do. So I ended up continuing on in music, getting my Master’s in Music (Vocal Performance) at UCLA. It was there that I had the opportunity to sing with LA Opera Chorus when Placido Domingo was the artistic director. It was exciting to be on stage with such an accomplished person. I finished my time in Los Angeles and continued down the coast, singing with the choruses of Opera Pacific and San Diego Opera and trying to learn from the principal singers as much as possible. I also started working as a Library Research Coordinator at the Gemological Institute of America in Carlsbad. Working at GIA has been wonderful for many reasons and it has provided me a stable income so I can pursue my music. I am proud that I have been able to perform over 30 operatic and musical theater roles in Southern California to date and I have been a soloist with many orchestras and professional chorales. I sang my first professional operatic role with Lyric Opera San Diego in 2009 as The Dew Fairy in Hansel and Gretel, but I was also the understudy for Gretel.  The soprano singing that role actually got sick for the first performance with an audience and I was called at 5 pm to do the role. Good thing I actually had it memorized! I’ll never forget my director’s “thumbs up” at the end of the show. Since then I’ve gone on to perform many roles with Escondido based opera company, Pacific Lyric Association. I’ll be singing Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen this October.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?

Yes and no. It felt like a relatively smooth road through school and then when “real life” hits you and you have to become an adult, it becomes challenging to “stay in the game” – whether you’re making money or not. Having support from family is very important if you want to do this, but it’s also challenging for family to be OK with rehearsals that happen at nights and on weekends. In addition, there is so much competition – both in professional theater and in community theater. Everyone wants to perform and there are many, many talented people out there. However, I’ve found that if you are consistently inspired and you really LOVE what you’re doing, you will find a way to keep doing it. I remember one of my favorite music professors at UCLA – Don Neuen, who gave me a heart-to-heart one day when I was questioning my path. He said to pray about it and ask God to put up a roadblock if I’m meant to do something else. Well, I did and either I went around the roadblock or the freeway was clear; I’m still singing, twenty years after that conversation in his office. I’m a big fan of doing projects that inspire – whether they pay well or not. I have made some of my best music and theater connections in community theater that led to well-paying gigs down the road. You never know what connections you’re going to make and where those connections will lead you. I did the show “Nunsense” at a community theater back in 2013 and it actually got me a great deal of paid classical singing work – not to mention strong friendships with wonderful, professional musicians – and one of my favorite characters ever – Sister Mary Amnesia.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?

I enjoy singing in a variety of styles. I am good at changing my voice to fit different genres, whether it be opera, musical theater or jazz. I’ve always enjoyed “doing voices” and this has helped me be able to cross over to different styles of music easily. My experimentation with voices began in junior high when I spent a lot of time recording “advice talk shows” with my cassette tape player and also making crank phone calls. (Now there is caller ID so I had to retire that part of my craft). I am always juggling an opera aria, a musical theater piece – sometimes with a puppet – and a handful of American standards. I love having all these “gems” in my pocket at one time. I’ve sung roles like The Witch in Into the Woods and then turned around the next month and sang Gilda in Rigoletto. In addition to performing other favorite roles such as Nellie in South Pacific, Christine in Phantom and Juliette in Romeo and Juliette, I have been compiling videos on YouTube for over ten years. I currently have over 175 videos posted – the first one being an adult-situation Barbie movie I created with a friend in 1989, somewhat like the show Dallas with a supernatural twist (this has absolutely nothing to do with my singing career). But back to music, I created a good deal of content during the pandemic to keep myself sane. This includes a video of me dressed up in a doll costume singing Olympia’s aria from The Tales of Hoffmann amidst a bed full of stuffed animals in baby’s room. Some of the videos aren’t even that good but I keep them up to have a catalog of all of my work over the years – to show how I’ve progressed and the variety of music I’ve been lucky enough to be a part of on stage. I hope that others will enjoy and learn from them. I often go to YouTube to get inspiration and help from other singers, so my hope is that young singers will do the same with my channel. In addition to having fun with YouTube videos, my goal is to sing with as many professional performing groups in Southern California as I can. While I don’t mind flying and would love to travel, I feel that there is so much close to home that can offer fulfilling musical experiences. I don’t need to go to New York. My “work” is being involved in music with close friends. The combination of making music and building meaningful relationships with artistic friends is what drives me to continue.

Can you talk to us about how you think about risk?

Putting myself out there….looking silly…wondering if some of my social media posts are too, “Hey, look at me!” I consider myself a very down to earth person – not a diva (and I’m a “librarian” by day) – so I am constantly battling the inner voice that is questioning whether or not I actually need the attention of being on stage and the risk that is involved – the risk of being a mom and coming home late at night after rehearsals, the risk of putting energy into something that may or may not pay off my student loan, etc. But I firmly believe in finding happiness through being a well-rounded person and singing and performing is just one of the many facets of me. I encounter risk when I’m on my mountain bike every day and I love that. I see singing as a sport and as a big Supercross fan, I compare a singing performance to a race – sometimes a dangerous one. I hope to continue performing as long as I can. I am thankful for my health and for my two-year-old son (who loves music and guitar) and who I had at the age of 41 (somewhat risky!)

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Stan Fry
Roxanne Kellison
Madeline Nguyen
Shawna Sarnowski
Gabriel Gandolfo

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