Julia BullockMay 7, 2019
Soprano Julia Bullock (ESM ’09) has headlined productions and concerts at preeminent arts institutions worldwide. An innovative programmer whose artistic curation is in high demand, she was recently named 2019-20 Artist-in-Residence of San Francisco Symphony and 2018-19 Artist-in-Residence of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Julia earned her BM in Vocal Performance at Eastman, her MM from Bard College’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and an Artist Diploma from Juilliard.
You are currently Artist-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Which aspects of this Residency have proven the most exciting/inspiring so far?
The curatorial teams at the Met have been not only helpful but generous with their time and expertise. The Met has had a complicated history since its founding, from their leadership to the appropriation of their art collection. Discrimination against minorities and women dominated much of their history, but over the past few years, the Met’s staff has very consciously made strides to ensure that the art presented to the public, along with the content accompanying it, is presented in a way that is comprehensive and unabridged. It is deeply inspiring to know that a major arts institution like the Met Museum wants to provide a cultural space for everyone, and is living into that mission.
One of the themes of your MetLive Residency program addresses giving a voice to those who traditionally have been made silent. What inspired you to pursue this program?
Research. I just wanted to make sure that whatever I presented at the Met was in dialogue with the artwork, the various museum spaces themselves, and the Met’s history. There are ways that the Met has not necessarily silenced voices, but have excluded them. This residency gave me an opportunity to look closely at that reality, while also honoring what the Met aims to do and has already begun to accomplish.
The residency also provided an opportunity for further exploration of myself as a person and performer. I wanted to examine my own history more closely, to have space and time to uncover aspects of myself that I had silenced for years because I was either afraid to reveal them, or felt they were too painful to express.
I’ve come to realize that this residency served many purposes, and it was just as much about looking outward as inward.
Can you describe how your passion for social justice impacts the projects you undertake and your approach to performance in general?
Justice seems to be intrinsic to music making, because when people come together to make music, ideally every person is given space to resound with freedom of expression. This is a display of respect. So even for some of the most controlling people (or when I’m feeling at my most controlling), in order to make music, there must be a willingness to share space, connect, listen to, and engage with others. Music develops a mindset that is more equitable and just.
I’m also convinced that all music has a social consciousness, because (at least for as long as I can remember) music has encouraged me to be aware of where I am, who I am, and keenly aware of others. And when music is shared by a group of people that makes it social.
Now, I can only speak from my experiences, but I don’t think you can divorce who you are from the music you make, because everything you believe, all of your philosophies, insecurities and strengths are transparent in how you conduct yourself in a musical environment.
Given everything I’ve learned in my years of studying and making music, it makes sense (at least to me) that the passion I have for music translates directly into the passion that I have for the fair treatment of all people.
My general approach to performance: beauty will never be defined as one thing, or in one way, so aim for clarity and transparency of communication –– that’s an undeniable endeavor, because it can increasingly become more distinctly defined.
What advice can you offer to young artists currently in the process of launching their own performance careers?
Rather than consider your performance “career,” I think it’s more valuable to identify exactly what it is that you want to say in this field and why. Have a clear vision for that, let it evolve, keep your eyes and ears open for spaces where you may find a platform to share that vision, and just keep on getting on.
There are many avenues to traverse in music that are wonderfully creative and fulfilling. Don’t limit yourself or your perspective.
How did your time as an undergraduate student at Eastman influence the career you sustain today?
Eastman’s currency is in the excellence of its faculty. Every one of my professors, from the coaches, diction and language teachers, music history and theory teachers, to the philosophy and poetry study professors, influenced my development and were essential to it. They were each invested in their individual studies; it felt like they wanted to share all they were learning, and it was inspiring to glean what I could from their experience and expertise.
Carol Webber (my primary voice teacher) always had music in her life, and she never intended on becoming a professional singer, but when she became a professional singer, she held herself to the highest standards throughout her career, didn’t compromise, and she certainly expected that from herself as a teacher and from her students. The importance she put on preparation and “having something to say” through any and all interpretations are principles to which I adhere everyday.
Sustainability was something I had to learn by stretching myself and testing my limits, but the advice given to me at that time was about investing in myself not only as a musician, but as a whole human being. Eastman is truly a school of study, not a preparatory institution for professional development, and Eastman is where I instilled the concept in myself that I will forever be a student of something, and to delight in that fact.