Practicing Gratitude: A Conversation with Amanda Crider

When she’s not in a performance hall or rehearsing, you might find Amanda Crider on a mountain. The multi-talented musician delights in the challenge and the rewards.

“I will climb any mountain in any town I travel to if I have the time.” the mezzo soprano said as she prepared for an upcoming series of concerts with the GRAMMY nominated vocal ensemble, Seraphic Fire.

Her approach to music has been pretty much the same. Pick a mountain and start climbing. The Allentown, Penn., native started violin and ballet lessons at 2 ½ years old, and piano at age 6, and was so engaged in the latter that she decided to pursue her studies in piano performance.

The handwriting for a different career, however, was already on the wall. If she didn’t know it, her high school class valedictorian did.

“In her speech at graduation, predicting the future, she said, ‘In 10 years Amanda will be a famous opera singer,’” said Crider, who had already been accepted as a piano major at Syracuse University, and whose public singing consisted of choirs and high school musicals. “I thought, ‘She doesn’t know what she’s talking about.’”

She studied with Robert Weirich; a celebrated teacher whose students regularly win major piano competitions and hold university positions around the country, and who still conducts master classes worldwide. She practiced five hours a day, something she considered a “meditative practice.”

At the same time, she knew she didn’t want to be a concert pianist. In her senior year on a whim, she entered the NATS vocal competition and came in second. The head of the voice department confronted her: “Amanda, why haven’t we heard you sing before?”

She has been winning rave reviews since for her singing; critics have called her performances sensual, volatile, touching, a “tour de force,” a “true star,” a “surprise pick-hit.” She considers herself lucky beyond measure to get paid for what she loves, especially as her musical passions continue to expand. She’s in demand as a concert soloist and is passionate about contemporary and baroque opera as well as mainstays of operatic repertoire. Oh, and she also never really left the piano.

Crider completed her degree in piano performance with honors, then entered the Manhattan School of Music to study vocal performance. The more she learned about singing, the more she enjoyed communicating with her own instrument, whether interpreting music in a recital or on an opera stage. Informed by her earliest times on stage in ballet and musicals, Crider thinks of herself as a “singing actor” who asks herself, “What would my character do in this moment?”

“I really do try to throw myself into the character and not think about Amanda in the moment,” she said. “When I go to see opera, what moves me most is always honesty and vulnerability in performance. I do my best to approach my performance in the same way.”

Accolades have since followed her every move as a singer in grants awarded or contests won. A two-year stint as a young artist with the Florida Grand Opera took her journey on an unexpected leg. Rather than return to New York, she decided to remain in Miami permanently.

In 2013 she founded IlluminArts, an art song and vocal chamber music series that collaborates with museums and galleries to present programs of music inspired by the visual art in the space. The concept has gone over well with concerts in prominent institutions including the Perez Art Museum Miami, the Bass Museum of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami. Crider says, “It’s our overwhelming goal to find a way to present classical music in a way that makes sense for Miami.” IlluminArts allows Crider to combine art and music to tell stories, and to engage modern audiences in a new way.

Another chance event three years ago brought her back to an old love, performing as a collaborative pianist: a baritone friend who had a recital coming up but had lost his pianist. “I didn’t realize I missed it until I started playing again,” she said. Together they performed a recital at the Pittsburgh Concert Society and have been presenting duo recitals every year since.

In addition to being an avid hiker, Crider’s other interests lie in building a meaningful yoga and meditation practice. She also is a long time member of a book club in Miami and enjoys reading poetry, nonfiction, and novels by favorite authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

She looks for new challenges and new mountains to climb — in early music or contemporary opera or the occasional musical. “I feel like the luckiest girl in the world to do this for a living,” Crider said. “I think maybe the gratitude has surprised me most.”

—  Andrew Meacham