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Rivers of Light – A Conversation with Mezzo-Soprano Emma Vawter

Executive Director Kim Brody had a chance to catch up with Emma Vawter, mezzo-soprano with Ars Nova Singers. When she’s not singing, Emma is an Adventure Director with Natural Habitat Adventures. Emma is an adventurer at heart – in her free time, you’ll find her birding, hiking, biking, trail running, camping, singing, practicing wildlife photography, or any combination of those activities. Her favorite travel and nature experiences include watching baby sea turtles hatch in Mexico, swimming with African penguins whizzing by in South Africa, whale watching in Canada, and scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef.

One of the pieces that Artistic Director Tom Morgan has programmed for this year’s holiday concerts is Rivers of Light by Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds, and it is particularly a propos for Emma, as she regularly manages Northern Lights tours. The photos that you see here are from Emma’s own camera!

Kimberly Brody: Emma, you have sung with Ars Nova Singers for nine years. What is your musical background, and what other groups do you sing with?

Emma Vawter: I have a Master’s in Music from CU-Boulder. I was a cellist through high school, sang in choir and musicals, too, but only got serious about singing classical music in college. In Colorado I’ve sung with Bravo Vail!, Opera Colorado, Seicento Baroque, Boulder Opera, and many other local ensembles in addition to Ars Nova. I’m a “musical omnivore” – I love singing everything from Renaissance to Mahler to music composed yesterday!

KB: You are part of Ars Nova’s Ensemble Singers. How does being part of this small group enhance your experience with Ars Nova?

EV: Small ensemble singing is my absolute favorite. Even when I sang opera, I preferred singing the small ensemble pieces to arias – I had more fun singing the Carmen quintet than any of the arias in that opera. I love that level of collaboration and attention to the other musicians, and the magic that happens when everyone’s voices work together and create something much greater than what those voices can do individually.

KB: What do you love most about singing with Ars Nova? Do you have a favorite piece of project that you particularly loved? If so, what about it do you love?

EV: I love the creativity of the programming and the collaborations. My favorite projects have been cross-disciplinary – our Fiske Planetarium concerts, Frequent Flyers collaborations, and Shared Visions.

KB: Your “day job” with Natural Habitat Adventures sounds so exciting! Can you tell us more about the organization and how you got involved with them? What is it like to lead tours? Are you their Northern Lights specialist?

EV: Nat Hab is a carbon-neutral conservation travel company and we lead small-group adventure travel tours around the world focused on nature and wildlife. Our mission is conservation through exploration, and we are WWF’s official travel partner. At Nat Hab, I plan and manage a number of our Canada wildlife and conservation tours. I organize activities, accommodations, meals, and provide our Expedition Leaders with all the tools they need to lead fantastic trips. I manage our Northern Lights, Belugas & Bears, Spirit Bears, and Haida Gwaii programs. I get to travel to oversee and make sure everything is going smoothly, but I mostly work from Colorado.

KB: What is the most fantastic Aurora Borealis display you have ever seen?

EV: On my birthday in 2022 – based in a cabin on a frozen creek in the boreal forest of the sub-Arctic. It was quiet to start and then the sky exploded in curtains of green, blue, and red. I had a few magical hours of lying on my back in the snow in -40 degree temperatures just giggling in awe!

KB: How are you able to balance traveling with Ars Nova’s weekly rehearsals?

EV: I plan all of my trips around Ars Nova rehearsals and performances!

KB: Do you feel that the Ešenvalds pieces is an accurate musical depiction of the aurora? What musical effects in particular evoke the experience?

EV: I love the woven folk texts and Arctic exploration texts. The way the music changes and swells and sparkles is a great match for the northern lights.

KB: Have you ever led a tour where you didn’t see the lights at all?

EV: 100% of our groups saw the lights in 2022 and 2023! Churchill, Manitoba is right under the auroral oval and because it’s on the shores of the Hudson Bay, which freezes over, rather than open ocean, there are more nights of clear skies than some other popular aurora viewing destinations.

KB: Thank you, Emma! I saw northern lights in Norway, but I think what you are describing is way more vivid than what we experienced. What a thrill to combine your passions this way. Thank you for sharing your music (and your photos!) with our audience.



We hope you will join us for EVERGREEN, our 2023 Holiday Concerts, which feature Rivers of Light, and much more music to inspire holiday cheer.

Emma Vawter speaks about Rivers of Light