In Sault Ste Marie the locks bring the noise. You can hear the alarms of the gates, the foghorns, and the sound of the boats on the lake. But just a few blocks away from the locks, you can hear sounds like no other, all you have to do is listen…
Karen Hughes Beacom is an opera singer with more than twenty years of experience. But opera wasn’t something she sought out. During a study abroad trip in college, opera found her.
“I was doing a semester abroad in Vienna and I was with a lot of singers. And our school was across from Staatsoper in Vienna. And we would sit outside our classroom windows and wait for the the standing room line to start forming so we could get in line for our 15 schilling tickets which at the time was $1.35 to go see the Vienna state opera and so we went to operas once a week, twice a week for the whole. And the singers were preparing for there auditions back at school and it was a fun atmosphere. And I thought I’ve got to sing. I love singing.”
When Karen came back to the states, she said she took her first voice lesson and started her career as an opera singer.
Karen has performed on stages both nationally and internationally. But in 2005, she found herself in between jobs and in Sault Ste Marie. She said she never thought the Soo would be her new opera home. She said Sault Ste Marie chose her, the same way opera did.
“I feel like in my life my jobs have chosen me. I feel like the career has chosen me. I would have never gone out and picked opera but the teacher was presented, the opportunity came to me.”
Karen has been working as the artistic director with the Soo Theatre Project since the group started in 2005.
She teaches opera, harp, and piano… She also runs the opera and musical theatre programs. She directs all of the stage productions and plans each show at the Soo Theatre Project. And she continues to perform as a singer and harpist.
“All of those worlds have collided into this upper peninsula that often has a reputation of not having much opportunity but there is so much happening here.”
At the Soo Theatre, Karen said schedule changes depending on the season and the show. Throughout the year, she teaches voice, harp, and piano lessons to students in the Soo. Her schedule changes when they get into a new season and start rehearsing for new shows.
She said the long days and hard work is worth it because of the feeling she gets from performing.
“I don’t think I am as happy or as present in anything that I do as when I’m singing. So I think doing everything and then helping other kids find that joy and presence of mind and that gift makes it all worth it.”
As a freelance opera singer, Karen said she makes around $700 per show. The paycheck comes along with a stipend from the Soo Theatre Project. On top of those two jobs, she also works as a freelance harpist, she’s the chorus master for the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra, and the director of music at Little Stone Church on Mackinac Island. With all the work she does across the UP, she said she makes more than enough to pay the bills.
Mark Twain said if you find a job you enjoy doing, then you will never have to work a day in your life. By the sound of it, Karen won’t be working anytime soon.
If you want to see Karen in action, you can see her perform in "Madame Butterfly" at the Soo Theatre Project on August 7th and 9th.