Sophie Patterson has always been loud.
At UCLA, she uses her voice to belt out opera in class. But in high school, she was bullied for being too outspoken, she said.
The first-year music performance student and mezzo-soprano has been studying and pursuing a professional career in opera for three years. She uses her voice and passion for classical music to express her innermost emotions, especially after moving schools three times, she said.
“What do I do when I’m happy? I start singing,” Patterson said. “What do I do when I’m sad? I start singing.”
Patterson’s love for music originally took form as an interest in musical theater. Her first solo was in eighth grade when she sang “All I Ask of You” from the musical “The Phantom of the Opera” at a choir concert. She continued pursuing musical theater at Hollywood High School, which has produced musicians such as Cher and Judy Garland.
At the school, Patterson was introduced to her voice teacher of four and a half years, Juliana Gondek, who also teaches voice classes as a professor at UCLA.
Gondek taught a vocal masterclass each year at Hollywood High School, in which students performed for her and received immediate feedback, she said. Patterson was one of the selected students in 2012, singing “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears out to Dry,” composed by Jule Styne.
“After she sang, I spoke with her teacher, and he explained to me that she was very interested in music and an eager student,” Gondek said. “He thought that she showed great potential, and I offered to teach her privately.”
About halfway through her first lesson with Patterson, Gondek stopped and suggested she look into singing opera. Gondek won her over when she told Patterson how the opera genre focuses on a singer’s voice, talent and technique, as opposed to the value placed on looks in musical theater casting, Patterson said.
The first opera art song Patterson sang was “O cessate di piagarmi” by Alessandro Scarlatti, which includes Italian lyrics roughly translating to, “You could help me, but you’d rather watch me suffer.”
She related to the words because she endured bullying in high school for being outspoken, like when her fellow choir students told her to shut up in class. The kids also didn’t respect her as a singer – they talked behind her back and dismissed her talent, Patterson said.
“(Patterson) is not afraid of experiencing her own emotions or portraying them as an artist,” Gondek said. “She is extremely comfortable in her expressive qualities, and that is an unusual and extremely desirable quality in a young singer.”
Patterson’s mother, Sue Pearce, has been supportive of her daughter’s goal to become a professional opera singer. Pearce is the first to post Patterson’s singing videos on Facebook and advocates for her dream, Patterson said.
“She’s had a lot of struggles with kids throughout her life,” Pearce said. “It’s helped her become strong though, and she is an advocate against bullying. Singing gives her a lot of confidence in herself.”
In her junior year of high school, Patterson attended The Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, where she focused on classical voice training and learned how to play the flute, cello and double bass. Yet even at a new school, obstacles arose again as Patterson faced her parents’ divorce and further bullying, which led her to concentrate more on music.
“Music helped me a lot,” Patterson said. “I would practice (opera songs) more, and I would use them to channel the difficulties I was feeling inside. I finally learned how to stand up for myself.”
First-year Asian American studies student Jenny Tan bonded with Patterson while they were both students at the performing arts school. Now as roommates at UCLA, Tan watches Patterson translate and study every song’s meaning at her desk in order to fully understand the emotion behind it.
Tan accompanied Patterson at a college audition on piano, and Patterson inspired her to start writing her own songs with lyrics, Tan said. Outside of music, Tan and Patterson have bonded over a love of quirky trends like jacket patches and fanny packs.
“When she’s onstage, she’s so in character that you would not think that some of those really random, quirky and spontaneous things she does go with that character,” Tan said.
Patterson hopes to perform in one of UCLA’s operas by the end of her undergraduate years, she said. She also wants to modernize opera, singing it on city streets to make it more accessible to the public.
“I’m not done,” Patterson said. “It’s not like a movie and it gets to a certain point where it’s over – I don’t think the movie’s ever going to be over.”