Winner of the 2019 Concerto Competition at Bard College Conservatory, mezzo-soprano Hailey McAvoy is a versatile performer of opera, song, and cabaret who uses her voice to connect with audiences and amplify voices of living and lesser-known composers.
McAvoy’s operatic roles span from contemporary to classic and include, among others, The Taller Daughter (Mazzoli, Proving Up; Aspen Music Festival), Zosha (Heggie, Out of Darkness; Eastman Opera Theater), Cherubino (Le Nozze di Figaro; Aquilon Music Festival), The Page (Salome; Bard College) and Carmen in a world premiere production of Rest in Pieces, a modern-day pastiche devised and performed by singers of Bard’s Graduate Vocal Arts Program, and directed by Stephanie Blythe. In summer of 2021, she will be a fellow at the newly-launched Hogfish Training Program, where she will cover Mercédès and Don Caïro in an all-female, fight-club production of Carmen.
Equally active as a concert performer, McAvoy thrives curating and performing in multimedia recitals which tell stories that demand to be heard. In Fall 2019, she worked with colleagues at Bard to present A Question of Love: Exploring Queer Identity and Faith in collaboration with the Hudson Valley LGBTQ Community Center and the Old Dutch Church in Kingston. While studying at the Eastman School of Music, she was introduced to the music of little-known American song composer George Hubbard Miller (1934-1982); she subsequently produced and performed in The Hub Miller Experience, a concert featuring Miller’s songs, readings from letters and journals, interviews with his family and friends. McAvoy has appeared in concert at at National Sawdust (New York, NY) and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Appel Room (New York, NY), as a guest recitalist at the historic Beattie Powers Place Mansion (Catskill, NY) , as a Colburn Fellow at Songfest (Los Angeles, CA) as a guest artist with the LYNX Project Artsong Initiative. Future engagements include Ravel’s Sheherezade with The Orchestra Now (Annandale-on-Hudson, NY), Chamber Music of Brahms and Jonathan Woody with Byron Schenkman and Friends (Portland, OR), and a newly developed recital, which contrasts Frauenliebe und -Leben with pop songs written by women about the female experience, as part of her upcoming fellowship at Hogfish.
Recently, McAvoy has also appeared in cabaret-style performances. In January 2020, she appeared in opera-rock drag show Blythely Ever After alongside Stephanie Blythe at the Appel Room at Lincoln Center; in Fall of 2018, she performed the title role of a cabaret operetta, The Polite Abductress, complete with dialogue in a cartoonish French accent and a man on a leash at the Rochester Fringe Festival.
As a performer, McAvoy is committed to amplifying the voices of lesser-known composers by lending support, onstage and off, to sharing their works. After appearing in The Polite Abductress in 2018, she copy-edited and engraved a new edition of the score for the opera’s west-coast premiere. Currently, she is working with Hub Miller’s estate to publish The Hub Miller Songbook and to oversee a recording of Miller’s complete songs. McAvoy has been awarded numerous grants and awards for her projects, including a Mentorship Grant from the Institute for Music Leadership at Eastman (2017), a year-long fellowship as a translation student and the German book award at the University of Rochester (2018), and the Cummins Prize in the Humanities (2018) at Eastman.
Recognized as an “excellent performer” (Millbrook Independent) and a “gorgeous-voiced mezzo-soprano,” (Broadway World), singer Hailey McAvoy is committed to sharing authentic performances, whether she brings an operatic character or a poem to life. As a singing artist with mild cerebral palsy, McAvoy’s authenticity includes embracing physical disability in her life onstage and off.
I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on singing with cerebral palsy. For as long as I have been singing, I’ve been engaged in conversations around navigating physical disability onstage. When I was younger, I received many different messages, ranging from, “You can do anything!” to, more or less, “You should hide your disability because no one will hire you if they think you can’t move.” At this point, my greatest source of anxiety around my cerebral palsy is not the way it actually affects me and my singing, but rather the ways people might assume it affects me and my singing. In creating this page, I hope to offer some background information about what cerebral palsy is, as well as dispel myths around what it implies, or not, for me as a performer.
More than simply clarifying what my experience with disability really looks like, I hope that my decision to include this discussion of cerebral palsy on my website will encourage other performers to speak openly about their own experiences with disability. In my experience, acknowledging my disability and asking for help when I need it has served as a way to cultivate love and trust between myself and others. It is my firm belief that including disability in narratives onstage is another way to cultivate authenticity in our society. By acknowledging disability and inviting it to be present in the narratives we present onstage, we more truly reflect the diversity of the world in which our art exists, and we harness the connective power of art to include a wider perspective in the stories we tell.
How would you describe cerebral palsy?
Cerebral palsy is defined as “a rare disorder of movement, muscle tone, or posture.” It is caused by abnormal brain development, usually before birth. It ranges from severe to mild, and is sometimes accompanied by other disabilities that impair cognitive function or development. My cerebral palsy is relatively mild and mainly affects my legs; I have no cognitive development abnormalities.
Why do you have cerebral palsy? Can you describe how it has featured in your life?
Doctors believe I have cerebral palsy because I was born prematurely, two months ahead of schedule. At some point during my gestation or delivery, I incurred slight brain damage which, as I grew up, prohibited part of my brain from sending the correct messages to my leg muscles. As my bones grew, my leg muscles didn’t keep up; instead, they were stretched very tightly. As a result, my left leg in particular was abnormally shaped, my alignment in posture and walking was not standard, and the range of motion in my legs was compromised. At the age of 8, I underwent a major realignment surgery. The surgery was successful and corrected a large percentage of the postural and movement-related abnormalities I showed as a child. After the surgery, I relearned how to walk. I underwent other minor procedures to keep my muscles flexible, and I spent plenty of time in physical therapy. I have participated in equine therapy, and also took up swimming to promote muscle development. More recently, I have begun to practice Alexander Technique, Yoga, and Pilates to help manage muscle tightness and spasticity, and I have taken up running to increase my overall fitness.
How does cerebral palsy affect your performing?
In truth, my hope is that CP does not affect my performance in any way that an audience can see. Over years of learning to sing and, more recently, studying Alexander Technique, I have developed a toolbox for managing my cerebral palsy as relates to my singing. Sometimes, depending on the circumstance, I do choose to sing from a chair because it makes me feel more comfortable. Other than the occasional seated performance, I don’t think audiences would pick up on my CP if I didn’t mention it.
So, you sing from a chair. That must mean you cannot move on stage, right?
Incorrect! While it’s true that, in certain circumstances (including some auditions) I prefer to sing from a chair, I do not generally experience challenges when moving around on stage. Why is this? The reasons are diverse and vary as my experience with CP changes over time. I would always welcome a chat on the subject if you are curious! For now, let me say that I have participated in numerous productions throughout my life and, in the rare cases that I encounter a difficulty with the staging that is set, I have always been able to work with the director to find a slight modification which serves the story line and allows me to feel comfortable and free to sing and inhabit my character to the best of my ability.
Great! Now I am working with you. But I feel awkward about acknowledging your disability. What should I do?
Please, don’t feel awkward! I am always happy to clarify anything in particular I might need that will help me to do my job. My biggest piece of advice is this: Please don’t assume that I can’t do something. Stage my scenes just as you would anyone else’s. If there are any elements of the staging that I think will set off CP-related alarm bells, I will speak with you about it and we can work together to find a solution!