From Music Student to Opera Star: Kate Lindsey on Studying Abroad

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Victoria Bruick
October 5, 2017

As a Music student, you know how demanding your course work can be, not to mention the requirements to participate in ensembles, take lessons, and prepare for recitals. Studying abroad might seem farfetched if you want to stay on track to graduate in four years.

But what if there was a study abroad program that not only kept you on track with your Music degree, but enhanced it? Our IES Abroad Vienna – Music Program does just that. Hear from IES Abroad alumna and internationally acclaimed opera singer Kate Lindsey (Vienna, Fall 2001 | Indiana University) who spoke with fellow IES Abroad alumna Penelope G. Makeig to share her story.

Kate LindsayFrom her days sitting in the audience to more recently taking the stage by storm, mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey is no stranger to Vienna. In town for a day in the midst of her three-week tour, Kate graciously sat down with me to chat about her semester studying abroad in Austria.

“When I made my debut at the Vienna State Opera in Ariadne auf Naxos, it really caught me off guard. It wasn’t too long ago that I was on the other side in the stalls,” Kate recalled.

Throughout my coffee date with Kate I experienced a thrilling flip-flopping sensation. One minute, we’d be exchanging study abroad tales, and then in an instant, she’d leave me star struck, describing her rigorous day-to-day schedule as an internationally acclaimed opera singer.

Although Kate has every right to a diva persona, she doesn’t have an egotistical bone in her body. Kate was kind, generous, and incredibly down to earth. She shared stories of eating Döner at the Naschmarkt and strolling around the Schönbrunn gardens with some of her closest friends while studying abroad in Vienna.

“It was the best semester of college,” she reminisced. “There was a level of freedom that allowed us to learn so much, not only inside the classroom, but outside, as well.”

Studying Abroad in Vienna: Then & Now

Although 2001 wasn’t so long ago, Kate’s experience studying abroad differed in a couple of fundamental ways to how IES Abroad students live and learn abroad in 2017. It was a semester without cell phones and without laptops. Some of the IES Abroad Vienna alumni from Indiana University had warned her before she arrived that finding sources in English for her Music History paper would be tricky, so she brought all of her research along with her.

“I even pre-wrote some of my paper before I arrived,” she chuckled. “I was always a bit of a worker.”

As magical her time studying abroad in Austria may have been, it was also a time no American could ever forget. Kate quietly reflected on what it was like to study abroad in Vienna during the 9/11 attacks. 

“We had just arrived, and I didn’t really know what was happening. The whole city was stunned. Calls were made free for people dialing the United States, and we filled the embassy with flowers,” Kate said. “It was a surreal time to be so far away, so naturally it is a central memory of that semester.”

Launching a Career in Opera

Not long after returning to the United States, Kate’s career took off. Accepted into the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Artist Development Program at the fresh age of 23, Kate has barely come up for air since.

“Do the nerves ever go away?” I asked.

“No way. I actually get worried when I don’t feel nervous. That means I am not fully present and engaged in what I am about to do.”

Kate explained how she manages to stay present in her daily life. She tries to have regular “unplugged moments” to practice yoga, eat good Japanese food, and spend time with her husband Olly and two dogs, Eddie and Shelby.

Although she has traveled far and wide since her semester studying abroad with IES Abroad, the German language bug has flown alongside her. Kate’s new album, Thousands of Miles, centers on prominent German and Austrian composers who immigrated to the United States.

“It was fascinating thinking about how these composers viewed the American identity and American sound,” Kate explained. “Kurt Weill, for example, wanted to fully immerse himself in American culture, and you can really hear that in his music, even though he comes from a classical European background.”

So how does Kate find the right sound for the multitude of different styles and languages her career demands?

“I’ve had to learn how to tune out the chatter and get to know what my own voice can do,” she said. “Everyone’s voice is different. An important part of the equation is asking ‘What do I like? What feels right to me?’ At a certain point, you have to be your own teacher and remember that your gut feeling is the most important.”

Advice for IES Abroad Music Students

Kate with IES Abroad Vienna Archivist & Student Assistant, Penelope Makeig

Whether you’re enrolling in the IES Abroad Vienna – Music Program like Kate or participating in any of IES Abroad’s other Music programs, Kate offered advice for student musicians still developing their craft.

“Perfection can be boring,” she said, daringly. “A perfect sound can be amazing to listen to, but the heart has to be underneath that. People feel it, people notice it. To have the ability to color the voice and the ability to paint is really valuable. You shouldn’t have to have to turn off musicality for technical perfection.”

Taking the cue from my stupefied expression, Kate explained that the magic ingredients have to simmer for a while. It takes maturity and experience to have the freedom to let go.

“There’s something beautiful in finding a focused stillness and allowing people to come to you instead of plastering yourself all over them,” she said. “That takes time.”

So where does Kate’s journey lead her next? Well, perhaps the most exciting adventure is yet to come. Kate and Olly will soon welcome a baby boy into their family. Who knows, maybe around 2037 he will end up joining the IES Abroad study abroad family, as well!

Penelope G. Makeig

Penelope studied abroad at IES Abroad Vienna in 2014-15, and served as the IES Abroad Vienna Archivist & Student Assistant for two years.



Whether it’s opera music in Vienna or taiko drumming in Japan, dive into a rich musical culture when you study abroad. Check out the 6 Best Places to Study Abroad for Music Lovers.

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Victoria Bruick

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