Jamie Chamberlain and Nathan Granner have been teaching your little ones how to turn your home into a stage and sing out loud for the last six months. After a summer hiatus, this darling duo (and Ester the Opera Dog) is back with a brand-new season of Sing Out Loud. While you might know them as purveyors of kid-friendly opera, they have a whole lot more under their professional belts. We spoke with them about how they got into the industry and what they love about creating kid-friendly opera content.
Tell us a little bit about yourselves
[Nathan]: So I'm a Midwestern guy from Kansas City, Missouri. I came out to Los Angeles to go to UCLA, but after about 15 years of being my own artist. I was an opera singer, a producer, a technology developer. I had five bands going at the same time. It was insane. I got my first break in 2002 when I signed to Sony Classical through a group called the American Tenors, which got really popular on PBS for a while, and then I was able to kind of branch off and do my own recording work while still pursuing my Masters. Once I graduated, I just went for it and started being a true opera tenor on the stage and sang with a bunch of different companies across the country.
And you were part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera, The Central Park Five?
Yes, I was in The Central Park Five last summer and it was an incredible production to be a part of. I’m so proud to have been in it and see it get the recognition it deserves because it’s really a great piece. But it what’s funny though is that I landed the Marketing Directorship at Long Beach Opera after we wrapped. And it was cool because they allowed me to work with them and also keep signing on the stage.
Jamie, your turn.
[Jamie]: Well, I am born and raised in Southern California. I grew up in Santa Barbara and I was lucky to be exposed to musical theater and classical music at a really young age. My mom was an opera singer and she had, um, attended Julliard in New York when she was a young singer. So, I always felt a strong draw towards music and I sort of started out in musical theater. I also went to UCLA, just way before Nathan did. My trajectory was just more traditional. I was very fortunate to get hired to sing in the LA Opera Chorus as a graduate student, and that led to about 12 seasons, on and off, with LA Opera. I believe I did about 49 shows as a member of the chorus.
What were some of the most memorable performances you were a part of?
[Jamie]: Well, my first show at LA Opera was Nabucco in 2002, and the chorus gets to sing Va, Pensiero, which is one of the most famous choral pieces of all time. Lawrence Foster was conducting, and we were called out for an encore. And it was like ‘Oh wow, I’m performing an encore of a chorus number on a grand opera stage in my first show [with LA Opera].’ Something like that doesn’t usually happen super often, especially in America.
So, how did you two meet?
[Jamie]: Nathan and I met in 2016 singing, believe it or not, Romeo and Juliet at a concert in Palm Springs. We still laugh about it. All the pieces kind of came together and we became fast friends.
[Nathan]: Yeah, we both were fortunate to have sort of cultivated a great network of people in the area who would cast us together even before we went public as a couple. So just being able to work together and help each other out, it was just this serendipity that happened for us.
Now, walk me through Sing Out Loud. What’s the creative process like?
[Jamie]: We kind of divide and conquer. We’ll both come up with an idea for an episode, but I’ll lead the storyboarding and script writing. After we perform and shoot, Nathan handles the post-production side—all of the editing and things like that.
[Nathan]: Yeah, we have a really strong partnership where we come up with an idea together and then can each go off on our own to do what we’re good at individually, then come back together to create the show. We’ve figured out how to segment in three acts in 18 to 20 minutes. We start off with an intro, go into the opening act, have a little dialogue before our second act and all the solos, then our third act sort of wraps everything up with sing-a-longs and goodbyes.
[Jamie]: A big goal of ours is to normalize opera as a part of everyday life. So we sort of think like ‘Okay, we’re cleaning the house today. What operas have songs that goes along with that theme?’ So I’ll start thinking, a lot of the characters that Sopranos play are maids, but I don’t want to make it as simple as ‘I’m playing a maid.’ We don’t want to emphasize that. So I’ll take songs and make up lyrics that fit for our audience and have them incorporate those songs into their everyday lives.
What do you have keep in mind when making opera content for kids?
[Jamie]: Positivity. And also, just a gentle reassurance within our vein of fun. I like to think of it as if Mr. Rogers did opera. Where you can be fun and silly but can also talk about something more serious. Especially now, we’ve had moments where we pause to thank essential workers.
[Nathan]: Yeah, and you know, opera plots can be very scandalous and not very reflective of modern day thinking. There’s a lot of classism and racism built in to opera. So we’re constantly finding ways to pull aspects of these characters in opera and make them less intimidating but still giving these kids a foundation of operatic knowledge.
[Jamie]: Exactly. And on a personal level, this all feels very full circle for me. I teach Vocal Technique for Beginners at UCLA, and I always thought I’d only teach adults how to sing. But as I started teaching more, and started doing Sing Out Loud, I realized that I’m not teaching voice to kids, but early childhood music education. There’s really a void for that right now. So to have the opportunity to explore this new vein of my teaching career and create this new content from scratch, has been incredible.
We can’t talk about Sing Out Loud without talking about Ester.
[Jamie]: We definitely can’t. First of all, she's an adorable little piglet and we love her. I think we got her from the shelter on a Friday and then we got a call the following Monday to do our first episode with a 24-hour turnaround. At this point, Esther’s only been with us for three days and we had to start shooting. We didn’t know what to expect, but she was just so calm on camera and has now become a little starlet.
[Nathan]: She’s used to our schedule now. She knows what days we’re filming because all the tripods come out and knows where the camera is. In one of our sketches, we’re waking up in the morning and sitting in bed deciding what we’re going to do for the day. And all of a sudden, Esther decides to jump up and get into the shot right in between us. She looks at Jamie for a second then turns her head around and looks directly into the camera. We were dying. It was perfect.
[Jamie]: Dogs are the best. I can't even believe this dog is real. So that was all I had to say, and I think that’s a note to end on.
You can check out all the Sing Out Loud episodes here.