Last winter college sophomore Olivia Boen worked as an intern for Lyric Opera’s Ryan Opera Center. It was a perfect fit with her being a vocal performance major at Oberlin Conservatory of Music. While she’s not the first aspiring opera singer to intern in the company’s offices, her connection with opera and with Lyric is deeper than most – both of her parents are longtime members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra.
Principal horn Jon Boen, Olivia’s father, joined the orchestra in 1978 and her mother, Laura Miller, has been a member of the violin section since 1984. “The opera has always been part of my life,” says Olivia. “There was never a point when I suddenly realized it – it simply was a fact from day one.”
Her parents came to opera by a more circuitous route. “My mom had been a pianist in college and taught music,” says Jon. “We moved to Greenville, Mississippi, where she started a choir. I sang in that choir. My introduction to music was singing.”
Singing may have been his introduction to music, but soon enough he became an instrumentalist.
At the beginning of 7th grade in Rockford, Illinois, Jon walked into the band office. “I saw a chart of instruments on the wall, and the French horn looked cool. I had no idea what it sounded like. ‘I want to join the band, and I want to play the French horn,’ I said.”
He was handed an E-flat mellophone. “It smelled really bad. The next year I got a single F-horn that had bubblegum and electrical tape covering the holes. When I was a sophomore in high school, my mom – against my father’s wishes – worked as a substitute teacher and used the money she earned to buy me my first horn. I still have it. To me it represents my mom standing up to my father and sticking up for my dream. It took great courage to do that. I’ll never sell that horn.”
His wife, Laura Miller, comes from a family in which both parents were musically gifted. “My dad was an incredible music educator. And so was my mom, but being a woman of the times, stayed home with her three little girls and taught private piano lessons at the house after school. My mom and dad had met at Youngstown University, where both were music education majors. My dad was a very fine trumpet player, studied with Louis Davidson of the Cleveland Orchestra.
“I started piano lessons in third grade, but in the middle of fourth grade, I began violin with Clemens Faber, a member of the Cleveland Orchestra. My parents made sure that we had the best teachers available, and when Mr. Faber passed away, my mother drove across town for lessons at The Cleveland Institute of Music with Margaret Randall and David Cerone."
There were more lessons, more performances, four years at Indiana University, a one-year position with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and in 1982 she auditioned for the Lyric Orchestra.
“Jon was on the committee when I auditioned,” she says.
“She was wearing a white skirt and a periwinkle blue sweater,” Jon laughs. “I don’t remember what she played.”
Their daughter, Olivia, was born in 1995. Her first formal musical experience was not singing but piano. “I started piano lessons when I was four and studied with the same teacher through high school. I also studied violin.”
She began voice lessons in seventh grade. “I got to high school and told everyone I wanted to be a jazz singer,” she says. “I never studied jazz, but I said I wanted to be a jazz singer because it’s different than what my parents do. I’ve grown up around opera singers but becoming one is a long and difficult process – a process that for me is still ongoing. It’s quite a journey. Looking back at my early high-school self, I can see that I was just scared.”
Winter Term at Oberlin is a time for independent projects, an opportunity for students to branch out and try something new. “I thought that since I’ve grown up at Lyric I might as well see the administrative side of the company,” says Olivia. “So I asked if I could intern for the month of January. I learned a lot and am glad I had that experience.”
Since then Olivia has completed her sophomore year, is studying in Italy this summer, and will return to Oberlin to continue on her journey. Stay tuned.