About Julia Hollander
In my twenties and early thirties I worked as a freelance opera director based in London. Which sounds a very rarified sort of life, but I look back on it as entirely eclectic and sociable and practical..
I had decided on opera as my vocation because of its claim to bring together all art forms – gestamtkunstwerk, as Wagner had called it (basically, I couldn’t decide which I loved more – literature or music or painting, so I set out to do them all at once). It was my job to tell stories by bringing together highly skilled singers and instrumentalists and technical teams and publicists and the whole mechanism of what opera has always been (despite its class associations in English culture) – popular entertainment. It took me all over the world, to many of the most glamorous opera houses in Europe and on continents well beyond. At the same time, whenever I was home in London, during my evenings and weekends I pursued my own singing work in professional London choirs.
When I was 35, my first child came along, and I realised I couldn’t keep up this double singing life. I no longer had the energy and ambition, let alone the time. So I turned to teaching (stagecraft, and theatre history and design) and writing (three published non-fiction books), which were much more compatible with being home with youngsters. It was when my children were little that I started to discover how much singing was possible outside concert halls and theatres. Lullabies, clapping and dancing games, rhymes and chants, hymns and campfire songs. In company with my girls, I was singing more than ever. Over the past five years I have returned to singing and music-making as my main occupation. Alongside my performance work and teaching, I have developed a particular interest in singing with disabled people, especially those suffering from dementia. With them I have discovered how wonderfully social and healthy it is to sing, even when other forms of communication are no longer part of our lives. I have experienced how profoundly I can touch people with my voice, and they can touch me with theirs; I know it is good for us on all sorts of levels. So much so that I have written a book about singing and wellbeing, called ‘Why we Sing’ (published by Allen and Unwin in 2023) – look out for it!