It began with subtle soreness. Seated at the piano, in the midst of the kind of four-hour practice that had become de rigueur during her first year at the conservative Bob Jones University, Kimberly Beasley clutched her wrist, completely unaware that the minute discomfort would change the course of her budding musical career. Beasley had developed tendinitis—likely as a result of those marathon sessions in front of the keyboard—and the pain would become such a nuisance, that she’d soon switch her major in order to focus on a different, albeit related, passion: singing.
In her office on the second floor of Jacksonville University’s (JU) Phillips Fine Arts Building, Beasley doesn’t seem all that hung up on the implications of that decision made over two decades ago. As a professor of voice and renowned soprano, Beasley is fortunate to live the kind of life where her passions align almost perfectly with her profession. Aside from her teaching duties, she sings with the Jacksonville Symphony and will soon be performing music from her new CD “Fashion Sense” for audiences from New York to London to her home in Denver. It’s safe to say changing majors to focus on her voice was a good decision.
“I’ve always loved the physicality of singing,” Beasley says from behind her sturdy desk. Her office, with its blackboard full of musical notes scribbled in chalk and large grand piano, doubles as a practice space for her and students. “I just love the act of singing. All the resonance in your head, [singing] is a natural high. Believe me, you don’t want to knock on my door after I’ve been singing,” she laughs. “I’m pretty ditzy.”
Beasley’s path from the West to professor here in Northeast Florida is long and winding. But two themes play heavily into the narrative: music and academia.
Raised in a conservative household in Colorado, Beasley didn’t have much exposure to the popular songs of the day. Rock n’ roll was banned. There was still plenty of music, however. Beasley’s mother—a fourth grade teacher—played the violin and her father—an endocrinologist—played the trombone and piano. Dad gave piano lessons, and Mom made sure the kids practiced.
That conservative upbringing carried Beasley to a conservative college. When her mother passed away after a long battle with cancer, Beasley returned home to attend the University of Colorado, where—after changing her major—she finished a degree in music theater and married her husband, James, who teaches composition and rhetoric at the University of North Florida. After the couple earned their graduate degrees from Valparaiso, a combination of academic pursuits and compromise lead the couple to Chicago in the early 2000s, where she began playing with the famous operatic baritone Sherrill Milnes, a 30-year veteran of the Metropolitan Opera. Beasley associates this period of her life with tremendous creative growth. Milnes taught her a lot about what it means to be a professional singer. “You know how to do it, and you just do it. You don’t apologize. You own it,” she says was her biggest takeaway from the experience.
Beasley has parlayed her professional network, flexibility as a performer, immense talent and bona fide passion for the music to make a significant impression on Northeast Florida’s classical scene. And, as an educator at JU, she’s passing her knowledge on to the next generation of singers.
“I still love classical music,” she says. “Maybe I didn’t know what I was missing [when I was younger], but I remember putting on my favorite piano concerto in the living room, looking at my score to follow along. I’ve never lost that.”
To buy her new album, “Fashion Sense: Songs in Recital” visit kimberlybeasleysoprano.com.