Award-Winning Columbus State Music Alum Performs for Prince Charles

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- An accomplished operatic soprano and 2005 Columbus State University music graduate, Paula Sides knows how to prepare for a performance.

But Sides’ role in an intimate May 12, 2011 concert before Prince Charles at the Royal College of Music in London presented a fresh challenge: How to curtsy.

Paula Sides, a 2005 graduate of Columbus State’s Schwob School of Music, prepares on May 12 to receive from Prince Charles the Royal College of Music’s Tagore Gold Medal. Her parents, Berita and Claude R. Mooneyhan of Smiths Station, Ala., were among the audience, comprised mostly of RCM faculty, students and performers' family. (Photo by Chris Chrisodoulou, RCM)

“That was really freaking me out,” said Sides, a Smiths Station, Ala., native who attended Columbus State on a Servant Leadership scholarship. “I ended up doing fine, though.”

Sides and other graduate musicians who performed during the prince’s annual visit to the government-funded college even got an opportunity to chat for 20 minutes with the British royal. Protocol kept her from asking about the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton less than two weeks earlier; Charles handled the questions.

“It was really fun because you just talk to him,” she said. “I remember feeling like my face was cramping up from smiling. It was amazing.”

Sides was chosen to perform as winner of the Royal College of Music’s most prestigious honor for female students, the Tagore Gold Medal. At Prince Charles’ request, she sang My Heart is Like a Singing Bird, a challenging song by former RCM Director Hubert Parry, one of England’s most celebrated classic composers, who also wrote three songs that Prince Charles selected for the royal wedding.

“It was really exciting to perform that song because it shows you can sing,” she said.

Sides, 28, has been amazing audiences with her voice since she was a preteen, when she sang the lead role of Mary during a Christmas pageant staged by North Highland Assembly of God in Columbus.

Growing up in Smiths Station, the daughter of Berita and Claude R. Mooneyhan, Sides said she didn’t begin moving “from gospel to classical” until she enrolled at Columbus State in 2000.

She got bitten by the opera bug at age 19 after attending, with other CSU music students, an Atlanta Opera performance of The Marriage of Figaro.

“That was the most life-changing thing,” she said. From that point on, she spent dozens of hours listening to old opera LPs in the music library at the entrance to the Saunders Center for Music Studies, which houses CSU’s Schwob School of Music.Paula Sides as Emilia in Flavio.

Among her Schwob faculty influences was organ professor Joseph Golden, longtime director of operatic studies. “I learned so much from him about opera,” she said. CSU’s former vocal studies director, Teresa Hopkin, now at Emory, played a key role in developing Sides’ voice.

Another turning point was when CSU’s University Singers got to perform at New York City’s Carnegie Hall, and Sides was asked to perform a solo.

“That gives you such confidence, to sing in such a place,” she said. “It made me realize I should pursue music as a full-on career and not set limits on myself. The only limits you have are what you set for yourself. If you say there are no boundaries, then there are none and you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Even as a student at the Royal College of Music, Sides began performing professionally as the only American artist in the English Touring Opera, the oldest and largest opera company in Britain, a government-funded effort to “bring opera to places that normally don’t get opera.” She divides her time between Yorkshire, in northern England, and London, where she’s now preparing for two roles in a fall tour.

She wishes Americans, particularly in the South, got the early exposure to opera that she’s helping offer British youth.

“People (there) haven’t had the opportunity to see it enough,” she said in a phone interview. “Once you see an opera singer perform and hear the stories – the best operas are about real life, about love and passion – then you fall in love with it.”

Despite the fact she’s gotten rave reviews from British opera critics, Sides said she’s cognizant about the importance of growing professionally while remaining grounded in her roots and her role as part of an ensemble.

“I’m not a diva,” she said. “It’s about being consistent and a really great colleague, being great to work with and having an `it’ factor when you’re on stage. I love performing and it comes across.

“People have to see you’re passionate about every note you sing.”


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Captions: (top to bottom)

Paula Sides, a 2005 graduate of Columbus State’s Schwob School of Music, prepares on May 12 to receive from Prince Charles the Royal College of Music’s Tagore Gold Medal. Her parents, Berita and Claude R. Mooneyhan of Smiths Station, Ala., were among the audience, comprised mostly of RCM faculty, students and performers' family. (Photo by Chris Chrisodoulou, RCM)

Paula Sides, right, portrays Emilia, daughter of Lotario (Andrew Slater, left) during a 2009 English Touring Opera production of Handel’s opera Flavio. Sides, a CSU alumna who won rave reviews from the British press for her performance, will reprise it during an Oct. 14-Nov. 23, 2011 tour. (Photo by Richard Hubert Smith)