Lydia Crone Howery (pictured at top left above during a performance), a 1999 Music Education graduate of Erskine College, lives in Florida and is a member of the recently formed Gulfshore Opera ensemble “GO Divas.” She and her husband, Darrell Howery ’99, were both athletes at Erskine, and both went on to earn master’s degrees (Lydia in Voice Performance and Darrell in Criminal Justice). Darrell teaches criminal justice at Lely High School in Naples, serves as a firearms instructor with 4-H, and also works with the grounds crew at the Red Sox spring training stadium. They are the parents of four children. Here she reflects on her Erskine experience and the direction her life has taken since her college days.
Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed, Lydia! Let’s start with your time at Erskine. What organizations and activities were significant for you during your years on campus?
I can’t believe it has been over 20 years since I graduated. The two most significant parts of my time at Erskine had to be playing volleyball and singing with the Choraleers. These are the memories that come to mind when I think of my time at Erskine.
Actually, music and athletics came together for me—at home games, I would sing the national anthem and then run out onto the court to play. Good memories. Choraleers is something I cannot talk about without feeling many things. We worked hard, we rehearsed diligently, and then we had moments—moments of pure bliss. I specifically remember when we sang Mozart’s Requiem and I truly felt the presence of God as we sang. It was almost indescribable and one of my most memorable performance experiences.
While at Erskine, I also sang with the Chamber Choir and at one point I led the Sweet Fleet, a women’s ensemble. Erskine was my springboard into the field of music.
Please tell us about one or more mentors among the faculty and staff who were especially helpful to you.
Three members of the faculty made a huge impact on me as a young musician. Funnily enough, I didn’t start out as a music major. I went in with the intent of pursuing a degree in medicine. However, I auditioned for the Choraleers when I arrived and sang with them my whole first year.
At the end of freshman year, I realized my favorite part of school was the time I spent at choir rehearsal! I went to speak with Dr. Porter Stokes, the director of choral activities and the voice department, and he encouraged me to think about the possibility of a degree in music. I changed my major and the rest is history. He became my very first voice teacher, and he was such a great one. It all started with his teaching.
Then there was Dr. Matthew Manwarren, head of the piano department. He was such an outstanding musician and such an inspiration. Having him accompany me for my senior recital was simply amazing. He was so supportive and encouraging.
The third was Dr. John Brawley. He taught theory, but I remember him most for his quiet, reserved way and his beautiful smile. He always made me smile and was incredibly knowledgeable and such an amazing teacher.
You majored in Music Education at Erskine. What were your plans at that time—teaching in high school, elementary school? And how did things develop?
Since I changed my major going into my sophomore year, I had a lot of cramming to do. I wasn’t sure what I planned to do with a music ed degree at the time; I just knew that I wanted to sing, and maybe teaching others how to sing would be just as good! After I did my student teaching, I knew elementary wasn’t for me, but I had enjoyed my time following a high school choir director during a January interim. By the end of my time at Erskine, I knew I would be going on to graduate school, so I didn’t really need to figure out how I was going to use my music ed degree. I can say, though, that I am so happy to have had that training, because I have used it to direct many, many choirs over the years and to teach my own children as well.
You went on to complete a Master of Music degree in Voice Performance from The Boston Conservatory (now Boston Conservatory at Berklee). How did you get there and what was it like? Were there some elements of your Erskine experience that helped you as you began working on your degree in Boston?
I auditioned for several graduate programs during my senior year and decided on Boston. I absolutely loved the city and the school had a wonderful reputation and historic feeling. I ended up not loving the program, to be honest, but I definitely grew as a person. It pushed me and challenged me and definitely made me cry at times—but in the end, I came out better than when I went in. I think that my well-rounded education at Erskine really helped me to balance all of the things that were thrown at me in grad school. I was able to prioritize and time manage better than many of my peers.
You married an Erskine graduate, Darrell Howery. Would you like to tell a little of that story? And now you have four children, right?
Darrell and I had a biology class together in our freshman year, but I didn’t know this until I met him in the training room. He was getting ice for his shoulder (he played baseball) and I was getting ice for my knee. We got to talking and realized we were in the same class.
I wasn’t really interested in having a relationship at the time, so we were friends for a while. We started dating toward the end of our freshman year and we were engaged by our senior year. We even applied to all of the same cities for grad schools! He ended up going to Northeastern University in Boston to get his master’s degree in Criminal Justice.
We laugh about it now, because there are over 60 schools in Boston, and ours happened to be right down the road from each other. I could wave goodnight to him from the steps of the grad house while he was standing outside his apartment complex. God had it all worked out! We got married in June of 2001 after we had both finished our graduate degrees. We have four kids now (ages 17, 12, 10, and 5).
You are now a member of GO Divas, and we’d love to know more about that as well as how have you exercised your musical gifts with other opera companies in various locations along the way.
There were several women in the area who auditioned at the same time for Gulfshore Opera. The director loved our voices and wanted to use us in some capacity, so GO Divas was born! We are six women with music degrees and various performance experience, and we perform a variety of classical vocal ensemble pieces, from the “Witches’ Chorus” in Verdi’s Macbeth and “Lift Thine Eyes” from Elijah by Mendelssohn to contemporary ensemble pieces like “You’ve Got a Friend” by Carole King and many pieces by the Beatles, like “Blackbird,” “Day Tripper,” and “Good Day Sunshine.”
GO Divas was scheduled for a debut performance back in April, but that was canceled due to Covid-19. We were finally able to debut November 20, 2020 (outdoors)—so exciting! We changed gears for the Christmas season and did several Renaissance Christmas performances in December, featuring A Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten and many madrigals and early carols to round out the program.
Currently, I am also a core singer with the Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida and we have a concert coming up called “A Celebration of Song.” I really enjoy singing with this group, because it brings me back to my Choraleer days. I just love choir music. Before this, I had a wonderful time singing with Erie Opera Theatre in Pennsylvania and the After Dinner Opera Company in New York City, performing many roles with both companies.
What do you consider some of the highlights of your performance career so far?
There have been some great moments in my performance career, but probably one of my favorites would have been when I performed the role of the mother in Amahl and the Night Visitors and my son was my actual son (my oldest)! He was only nine at the time but did an amazing job. He also was able to perform in another opera with me in New York City as well, at age six. Actually, this performance was definitely a highlight. I was able to create a role in a brand-new opera (based on George McDonald’s fairy-tale novel) The Day Boy and the Night Girl, and in it my character was pregnant, but I was also pregnant with my daughter at the time! Some of my other favorite roles were Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus and Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni. Another highlight was being able to return to Erskine to perform a recital as a professional a few years back.
You have been appointed an adjunct faculty member at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Bower School of Music, and we would love to hear about that, but we’re also interested in your work as a Harmony Choir teacher at PACE Center for Girls.
This year, amid COVID-19 panic, I started teaching at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Bower School of Music. We were online at the start of the semester, and I teach voice classes, so that was a little tricky. I definitely had to change some of my methods and get better at using Zoom and Canvas! It was a challenge, but we were actually able to spend the last few weeks in person, which was so wonderful.
I am also a harmony choir teacher at PACE Center for Girls, an outreach of Gulfshore Opera, but unfortunately, I was unable to teach this year due to COVID restrictions. This is a school for at-risk girls, and I love teaching them. I go in for one hour a week and we learn music, sing, and just have fun letting music be an escape from whatever they are dealing with at the time. And some of them are so talented! I really miss those girls and hope I can return next year.
When this interview is published, we will have recently celebrated Christmas. Music is such an important part of our celebrations. Are your husband and children interested in music, and have you established certain musical traditions in your family for the Christmas season?
Well, I have always homeschooled our four children, so music is a part of everything we do! Especially at Christmas, we enjoy a special time each evening around the Advent wreath as we light the candles, read from scripture, and always sing some carols…it really is my very favorite family time of the whole year. My daughter loves to play Christmas songs on the piano, and we gather around the piano to sing on Christmas Eve. Currently, my oldest plays guitar, my 12-year-old plays the drums, my daughter plays the piano, and my youngest has his own little piano, guitar, and drums, so it can get very loud in this house, but I love every minute. Music is definitely a part of who we are!
What advice might you give to an Erskine student today? What about advice tailored to music majors?
I would tell current students to make the most every moment of their time at Erskine. It really is a wonderful place to learn, grow, and prepare for life. For music majors, I would say to practice, practice, practice! You are so blessed to be in a small community with professors who care about you. You owe it to yourselves and to them to devote yourself fully to your craft—be patient with yourself, but diligent in your practice. Remember that you are a work in progress. Put the time in and believe me, it will pay off!