Creativity Amongst Crisis: James Emerson

By Stella Joseph-Jarecki (Enquiries:

I recently put out the call to my immediate musical network, to see who would be happy to share with Fever Pitch Magazine how they have adapted during this period of social distancing. The last few months have been disorientating and frequently exhausting, and stage four lockdown has recently been implemented in Victoria. Prioritising your mental and physical wellbeing is more important than ever.

This prompted me to start an ongoing series called Creativity Amongst Crisis. Today we will be hearing from James Emerson, a young baritone who is currently studying his Masters of Music in Opera Performance (and consequently experiencing this new age of Zoom lectures, Zoom rehearsals, Zoom singing lessons…) You can follow James’ projects through his Instagram account here.

Can you tell us a bit about the kind of repertoire and musical career you are interested in, and how you’re currently working towards it?

I am a young baritone currently doing my Masters of Music in Opera Performance at The University of Melbourne. I am aiming to have a career as a versatile classical singer who is able to perform in operas, concerts, recitals and perhaps some musical theatre too! 

What have you found to be most challenging aspects of this time of COVID-19, as a performing artist and more generally day to day?

One of the most difficult things has been being unable to perform for others, as well as being a bit restricted when it comes to working collaboratively in a team. The online space has been really interesting, but I hope it has made many of us realise just how important social interactions are.

I really do miss singing in front of an audience and being able to work with some truly amazing people. It has been such a tough time for the entire industry, but I know once we get through this, the arts will thrive more than ever. On a more personal note, I miss being able to catch up with family and friends and being able to work with my singing students in person, rather than over Zoom or Google Meet.

Anything particular you’d like to reflect on in this strange and disorientating socially-distanced period?

I was very fortunate to go on my first Europe Trip from Christmas until the end of January. I had never been overseas before (except to New Zealand once) and it truly was a life changing experience for me. Reflecting upon this now, I cannot believe I was just over there and just how quickly the world has changed due to this pandemic.

I do feel very blessed and lucky to have had this experience as I was able to do something on my own and see a different side to the world, as well as doing it all just before everything happened. It has greatly inspired me to continue my work and to keep on singing.

Do you have any projects in the works you’d like to share?

Currently I am involved in our Masters performance of Die Zauberflöte, where I have been cast as Papageno. Before Stage 4 was introduced to Melbourne, we were intending to have this filmed/ performed in September, but it has now been postponed until the end of the year.

I really am looking forward to this production, as I performed the role of First Boy with Opera Australia back in 2009 and Papageno has always been my dream role. So to have this time to learn the role and perform is really exciting!

James as First Boy, in Opera Australia’s 2009 production of Die Zauberflöte.

Have you learnt anything specific that you may not have been forced to learn, were it not for COVID-19 restrictions and the flow-on effects?

During this time, I’ve been able to reflect on myself as a performer and what I need to fix in order to hopefully take things to the next level. For me, acting is one of my weaknesses, but over the last few months and with some excellent coaching from our Masters course, I feel like I am starting to gain a better understanding of what is needed in a role and how to go above and beyond what is written in the score.

How do you sustain hope for the future, or overcome periods where you feel less motivated?

To me the answer is quite simple. We sustain hope by ensuring that we leave a legacy for the next generation. It’s not about me, it’s about the others.

My family, friends, singing students, mentors and fellow colleagues all inspire me to continue, to feel like I have something to contribute to this world, and that’s what I intend to do once we return to some kind of normalcy.

There are periods, which I am sure many of us have experienced throughout this year, where we can feel completely unmotivated and perhaps even question why we do what we do. I personally think you need to look beyond the present, and have some hope and drive to go above and beyond. It helps to see this time as an opportunity to plan, to work on a role, a new piece, a language or just do something that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had time.

I really believe our generation has a great opportunity ahead of us to shape the future of the performing arts in this country. When we are able to perform again, I’m sure many new ideas will come to surface and it will inspire more people to take an interest in what we do.

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