Mezzo soprano Elise Rotchford follows her musical muse to some wild places.
Thursday, July 22, 2004
Elise Rotchford’s neighbors on 18th Street in Pacific Grove have come to relish the sound of her haunting voice as it soars and plummets over their rooftops like something with wings. But her neighbors haven’t always appreciated the sweet and ethereal beauty of her magnificent, classically trained voice. Five years ago, when she was living in Marina, the police showed up at her door and sheepishly asked, “Is there an opera singer here?”
“I was insulted,” she laughs. “I never complained about my neighbors having their country-western music jacked up.” Even her laugh is musical.
One of the Peninsula’s most versatile musicians, Rotchford has had a huge influence on the local music scene. She is an award-winning performer; as a promoter with Entertainment & Concert Promotions, she has been instrumental in bringing world-class performers, such as Jose Carreras, to town; and as the school director of Carmel’s new Wayfarer Arts Academy, she’s introduced children and adults to music theory, history, ensemble participation and performance.
The daughter of “a gifted mezzo soprano,” Rotchford began singing at the age of four, but fell in love with the guitar. As a student at Carmel High, the prodigy taught a classical guitar class and seemed set to attend the Conservatory of San Francisco. But she switched her focus to singing at the last minute.
Yet when she bruised a vocal cord performing a solo at the age of 20, Elise needed to find another way to sing while she recovered. Luckily, it was the ‘70s, and when a “really good friend” joined a cult that required its devotees to discard all their earthly possessions, Elise received a flute, which quickly became the third arrow in her lifelong musical quiver.
When her voice recovered, a rock period ensued. Throughout the mid-’80s, Rotchford found inspiration from divas like Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez and Janis Joplin, fronting a bar band called On the Air. Eventually, as many talented singers have done, she found herself working as a studio musician in Los Angeles.
But after six years, LA began to wear on her and she found she “couldn’t do it anymore.” It was 1994, and Rotchford’s sister was still living back in Carmel, so she decided to return home to the Peninsula to be near her. She found an apartment in Carmel across from the Church of the Wayfarer and joined its choir, relishing the welcome change from an LA music studio.
Answering a classified ad for a music librarian, Elise unwittingly set out on another musical adventure and began her second career. Working under Tibor Rudas, a local impresario, Rotchford found herself traveling the world with the Three Tenors—Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti—helping to promote historic performances at Dodger Stadium, Paris, Brazil, and even The Forbidden City in Beijing, an experience she describes as “so magical, just fabulous.”
But last October, after ten years with Rudas, she decided she needed to make a change. This new direction included a position with a new promotions firm (ECPI), a directorship at the Wayfarer Arts Academy, and a new band.
Her association with The Wayfarer Arts Academy is the result of a decade-long relationship with the Carmel church of the same name. As the school’s director, Rotchford is primarily focused on getting young people interested in music, but she has also developed programs and classes for adults as well.
“The Wayfarer Church was perfect for a school like this because it has these two really wonderful concert halls available for live performances by students, faculty and guest artists,” Rotchford says.
The young school boasts a top-notch faculty that includes Dr. Madeline Borquist, Jenny Amador Bifano, Robert McNamara and, of course, Elise. Both private and group lessons are available, as well as outreach performances, master classes and lectures by renowned artists and teachers.
Despite her busy schedule, Rotchford hasn’t neglected her own music. Having performed classically with both the Monterey Opera and the Monterey Bay Symphony, she’s also done a wide variety of personal projects. Comfortable with all styles, Elise’s own music has never easily fit into one genre. Top 40, jazz, classical, opera, world beat, middle-eastern, Brazilian…there are few musical paths Elise has not already taken.
She describes her current band, which remains unnamed, as “this weird mix of Middle Eastern camp with a classical voice.” Featuring two drummers, electric guitar, sitar, flute, and Jamaica—a six-foot, blonde, master of middle-eastern dance—this current project regularly gigs on the patio of the Indian Summer Restaurant in downtown Monterey.
Of course, you may also get lucky and catch her totally unselfconscious solo act along 18th Street in Pacific Grove some foggy summer evening.
For more information about The Wayfarer Arts Academy
(Lincoln & 7th, Carmel) email Elise Rotchford at firstname.lastname@example.org,
or call 624-3550.