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Faculty Spotlight: Sharon Carlson

March 20, 2012

By Sean McEntee ('14)

Sharon CarlsonSharon Carlson said she doesn’t teach voice, she teaches “coraggio”: the courage to walk through the door, to sing the truth.

From opera satires to cabaret to television, Carlson has done it all. She’s performed stand-up shows in Vegas, done gigs in gay bars writing a show a week, and worked as a spokesperson for WTTW Channel 11 in Chicago, which she continues to this day.

Before entering the world of performing, when she was 18, Carlson was taken to see The Fantasticks, a musical from the ‘60s, and it was in this moment she said it hit her: This was art, and this was the art she wanted, an art that could change a life. So when she was in her 30s she wrote her first show, Sharon Carlson in Concert, and performed at McCormick Place here in Chicago.

This was just the beginning.

Carlson went on to work with stars such as Tom Jones, Harvey Schmidt, and Patti Lupone; to star in shows such as Summer Stock Murder; and to write opera satires such as La Triviata, Carmencita, and Madama Butterball.

With such success, Carlson drew on her past desires of teaching. She wanted to be an elementary school teacher so she could play music in the classroom, but she soon realized the fourth grade wasn't her calling.

Carlson came to Columbia in 2004 to write a music theater program for the college, originally titled Music Theatre Vocal Workshop, after teaching private voice at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Now known as Fundamentals of Musical Theatre, Carlson’s courses are required for musical theater students.

As a voice instructor for both the Music and Theatre departments at Columbia College, Carlson refers to her students as “possibilities” and said she loves to see them perform. “I tell my students, ‘Every time you sing, whether it’s in the shower or on the stage, you’re changing someone’s life,’” she said.

But she added that every time she sings, she takes the risk of someone hating her song. This is why Carlson said her teaching centers on "coraggio." It’s important to her that her students “walk through the door” when opportunities arise and to keep singing even after a bad audition or performance. Carlson still performs and enjoys mixing her work with her teachings in order to encourage her students.

“You need someone to believe in you, and that’s the point in my life now where I’m hoping I’m that someone who believes in my students,” Carlson said. “Measurably, my life has been changed and enriched. I love what I do, and I love bringing the possibility to others.”

Carlson is writing an opera, titled Black Hawk Speaks: A Disaster, with fellow Columbia teacher Patricia Morehead and her husband.