Sarah Tannehill Anderson: Music for All

The Sought-After Soprano is Also Known for her Community Commitment

If you’ve been paying attention to the Kansas City classical music scene during the last 20 years or so, you’ve heard her voice.

Described as “sparkling,” “stand-out” and “soulful,” Sarah Tannehill Anderson is one of the most sought-after coloratura sopranos in the region. But what isn’t necessarily apparent from the stage is Tannehill Anderson’s tenacious attitude and entrepreneurial spirit.

In the past few years, she’s launched the singing workshop “Raise Your Voice KC” and this season started up a happy hour music series called “The Society of Song.” A few years before that, she sold 500 t-shirts emblazoned “Kansas City Music Buy Local,” to bring attention to the musical talent in town and create a sense of community beyond the sports teams.

Her love for Kansas City was spontaneous from the first time she visited, and it proved a love for a lifetime. She grew up in Jefferson City, Missouri, and attended the UMKC Conservatory for her master’s degree. Her career took her to Germany, New York City and Chicago. But by 2005, she was going through a divorce and worn out from the pace.

It was a turning point. She thought, “I’m leaving this life. I could move anywhere. I could move to Paris. What do I want to do?”

“And I was like,” she snapped her fingers, “I’m going back to Kansas City.”

As she was finding her footing, Tannehill Anderson got her first Kansas City gig as a stand-in for a soprano with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City who had lost her voice during a run of Ambroise Thomas’ “Hamlet.”

“They called me that day. Five hours later, I am in the pit performing this mad scene having only seen the music that day,” she recalled. “A few days before I was trying to practice and get back in the swing, and I just had so many emotions . . . It really forced me out of my funk and that musical grief I was feeling. Sometimes you just have to have a performance to force you to get over it.”

From that dramatic beginning, she soon built a reputation. “When I got here, I sang a lot of gigs. I didn’t say no to anything,” she said. But she attributes her success to her professionalism more than her unique voice. “I always showed up on time and knew my music.”

Along with regular appearances with Bach Aria Soloists and Lyric Arts Trio, she’s also performed with William Baker Festival Singers, newEar Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, Kansas City Chamber Orchestra, Midwest Chamber Ensemble, NAVO, the Cecilia Series, Missouri Choral Artists, Kansas City Baroque Ensemble, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the Kansas City Ballet, William Jewell College’s new ensemble Cardinalis, Trio Allégresse, and as a soloist with ensembles around the nation.

Not only that, but for 18 years she sang with the Grammy Award-winning Kansas City Chorale. You hear her voice on many of their award-winning albums, particularly as a featured soloist on the 2012 “Life and Breath.”

These days, she’s best known for her choral work and art songs, but she got her start in opera. Actually, she got her start as a violin major, but after her violin teacher heard her sing, she was encouraged to focus on her voice. She worked on building an opera career even though that type of performance wasn’t her first choice, but her mentor’s advice was sound.

“I felt like I was a trained marathon runner after all that opera. I could do anything, I could sing anything, I could go back to the repertoire that I always wanted to do, and it felt like a million bucks,” Tannehill Anderson said. “And that’s where I am now.”

“My voice has changed so much since I was an opera singer,” she said. “When I came here, it took me about 10 years to calm down and stop singing 100 percent all of the time. To just enjoy the voice and let it be warm and pretty.”

Years of piano lessons also gave her grounding in theory. “When everything is based on that foundation, your level of confidence as a musician is just a completely different thing.”

Her love of theory allows her to be a versatile musician, and she can sing just about anything written in the last 400 years, from Baroque repertoire to premiere performances for Ingrid Stölzel, Forrest Pierce, Kurt Knetch, Jean Ford, Narong Prangcharoen, Robert Pherigo and more . . . most recently, Ed Frazier Davis. “I love what happens to the voice when you use the outer extremities and extended techniques,” she said.

Paying it Forward

Beyond being a first call singer, Tannehill Anderson focuses on ways to build community. On her website, she shares listings for other musicians. “I never say no to a gig unless I can recommend somebody I know,” she said. “I think it’s really important to pass it on. Pay it forward.”

She shares her knowledge as a teacher. She was an adjunct professor at William Jewell College for more than a decade and now runs her own private studio. She started “Raise Your Voice KC,” a monthly vocal workshop for women ages 30-85, about four years ago. “I feel like adult women are sometimes overlooked when it comes to singing,” said Tannehill Anderson. “They are so great. They have so much depth and beauty and wisdom. And so much passion.”

Workshops include sight-singing, vocal exercises, technique and more. “It’s a nice big voice lesson,” she said. “There’s a little bit of therapy going on,” she laughed, “okay, there’s a lot of therapy going on.”

She’s also looked for other ways for people to incorporate healthy singing into their lives, creating “The Driving Diva,” a collection of warm-up exercises folks can do in their car on their way to practice, as well as VoiceRx, a subscription-based online series of 15-minute practice sessions.

Her latest venture, “Society of Song,” fulfills a different desire for performance. “I wanted something that was fun,” said Tannehill Anderson. She curates casual concerts, usually involving a glass or two of wine, that take place in private homes and art galleries — a different venue every month. “The hope is to actually have it be an outlet . . . for these amazing musicians. My God, we are lousy with talent,” she said. “I want to offer that as a platform . . . I mean, I love to perform, but I’m even more passionate about showing off my best friends in town.”

Visit www.raiseyourvoicekc.com for upcoming performance dates.

Above: photo from the artist

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

Leave a Reply