A few high-profile people in Utah have had tremendous impact on the cultural life of the state.
Maurice Abravanel and Willam Christensen quickly come to mind -- their contributions in promoting and cultivating the arts here are legendary.But there are also some whose work has primarily been done behind the scenes, as it were, but whose contributions have been equally as important as those of their more prominent colleagues.
Betty Jeanne Chipman falls into the latter category. Her name may not be familiar, but her accomplishments as a vocal coach and teacher are well-known to those whose lives she has touched.
In a career that spans more years than she cares to remember, Chipman has coached hundreds of young singers, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in opera and on Broadway.
"There have been so many students over the years," Chipman says. "Stanford Olson was one of them. He's been singing with the (Metropolitan Opera) for many years now.
"Diana Walker was also another one of my students, and she's had a wonderful career singing with the New York City Opera and with Chicago (Lyric Opera). And she also spent three years touring with 'The Phantom of the Opera.' "
One of her more recent students, Karen Evans, just won the Metropolitan Opera regional audition in Denver, and she'll be going to the final round in New York in April. (Before she sings in New York, however, she'll perform the role of Marcelina in Beethoven's opera "Fidelio" with the Utah Opera next week.)
Many of her former students will be returning to Utah to participate in a tribute concert honoring Chipman. The program will be in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square Friday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m.
Chipman, who turns 80 this year, never expected to receive all this attention. "I'm totally overwhelmed by it. I feel like it's been my blessing to have been able to work with all these people."
Chipman started out as an opera singer but decided on a career as a teacher when she was married and began raising a family. "I knew I couldn't be away from home long enough, with five children, to do the lengthy rehearsals that opera demands. So I gave up singing and devoted myself to teaching."
As a performer, Chipman sang with the Civic Opera, the forerunner of Utah Opera. "I did several different productions with the Civic, including 'The Merry Widow' and 'Faust,' " Chipman said. "And with the early Utah Opera, I was in 'Die Fledermaus,' and I gave the Utah premiere of Menotti's 'The Telephone.' "
Though she has long passed the age when most people retire, Chipman is too busy to give it much thought. "I think about (retiring) every once in a while," she admits. "But I really love teaching. I have some marvelous students, and I don't feel like I want to retire now."
Chipman still maintains a private vocal studio in her home, where she teaches two days a week. And along with that, she is very active on the volunteer front, promoting music.
She just completed a four-year term as the national music chair of the American Mother's Organization Inc. "This is a spiritually based organization that deals a lot with children at risk. And we also show parents how to use music as a teaching tool. We realized that not many parents know how to do that, so I started doing lectures about the importance of music in the home."
Chipman is also a board member of Artistic Resources for Teachers and Students Inc. (ARTS). "We're all volunteers in ARTS. We take music and bring it into elementary schools. Schools have unfortunately had their funding cut for music, so we bring music to the children. And we also involve the children in the process of making music."
Helping others, especially children and young people, is what Chipman enjoys most. "I'm happy to see progress and confidence come to my students. And I'm happy to be able to help them develop a talent that they're proud of.
"I call my students my musical children. I feel very close to them. Every student is so important to me. I hope that they can feel my love and support."