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Stephanie Rhodes Russel on Creating and Building Our Communities Through Genuine Connection

By Stephanie Rhodes Russell | July 2019

In a world of perpetual motion, the greatest moments of clarity often come when we take a moment to stand still. Much of my life has been a blur. An amazing wash of color and sound, driven by ambition, the love of a challenge, and the joy of creation. A myriad of memories, successes and failures, loves and losses that create the rich canvas of my past. Despite periods of great fulfillment, there was something missing.

As an opera pianist and vocal coach, and now as a conductor, I have traveled consistently throughout my adult life for work contracts that typically range from four to twelve weeks and typically offer only one day off a week, making trips home a near impossibility. “Home” in the past decade has been located in seven different cities and three different countries—which further complicates the sentiment. And with this transience came the constant lurking of loneliness. It would recede into a thin stream of gray at times, but occasionally resurge as a black void.

There came a time when I had to stop. Stand still. And ask myself the hard questions that are frequently easiest to avoid: Is this really what I want my life to look like? What are my priorities? Are they evident in the current snapshot of my life? The answers were mixed, but in stillness I discovered a greater need for intention and change.

I decided to fully commit to my career as a conductor. I bought my first home (sight unseen!) in Salt Lake City, moving closer to family that I love dearly. There I met my now husband. I returned to school to complete a doctorate. And I founded a non-profit that had lived in my mind and heart far too long without finding realization. With careful, conscious decisions, I discovered the missing element that added meaning to my life’s tapestry—community. 

Mozart’s The Magic Flute at Miami Music Festival.

Shane and Stephanie Rhodes Russell at Brighton Resort 

Community is often understood as an organization—something that exists beyond our control. It can be as basic as an HOA and as intimate as family. But belonging to an organization can’t be equated with community. Community means connection. It is a place where our focus turns outward as we seek to build others. The often ingenuine nature of networking gives way to a stronger ideal—making an impact through conscious selflessness as we support those within our sphere of influence. We are the creators of our communities and as we choose to be intentional with our creation, our lives and legacies grow richer than ever before. This issue of ELEANORA celebrates community creation through the lens of women in opera and the arts. Our contributors share the varying perspectives and insights of administrator, director, singer, and organizations.  

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Women’s ALI Leadership Intensive. Photography by Hannah Smith.

Community won’t fix everything. There will still be times of lonelinessI will still rush far too frequently and need constant reminders to take a moment and stand still. But as I am intentional in creating connection, I find my life imbued with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose than ever before. Opera helped lead me to that discovery, and I hope it can now provide insight to others searching for the same. Create community. 

Stephanie Rhodes Russell

Stephanie Rhodes Russell

Guest Editor, July 2019

Stephanie Rhodes Russell is the Associate Conductor of the Grand Teton Music Festival and the recipient of a 2019 Solti Foundation U.S. Career Assistance Award, designed to aid outstanding young conductors in developing their talents and careers. Stephanie is a renowned opera collaborator and has served on the music staff of the Bolshoi Theatre of Russia, The Dallas Opera, Houston Grand Opera, LA Opera, San Francisco Opera, and Washington National Opera, amongst others. As founder and Board Chair of the non-profit Women’s Artistic Leadership Initiative (Women’s ALI), she is dedicated to the education and empowerment of young female artists, training them to become future community leaders by equipping them with both leadership skills and business acumen. An alum of the Houston Grand Opera Studio and San Francisco’s Merola Opera program, she holds degrees in Collaborative Piano and Piano Performance from the University of Michigan and Utah State University respectively, and completed a doctorate in Orchestral Conducting at the University of Utah. Connect with Stephanie on LinkedInFacebook and on Instagram @stephrhodesrussell.

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