Most of my friends and relations seem to remember me as always singing. The truth is that, as a young child, I hardly sang at all. My mother, Jo Cohen, had a remarkable dramatic soprano voice – and could accompany herself beautifully on the piano. Reasoning that if you couldn’t sing like Mom, you might as well not sing, I just didn’t. But one day, my first-grade teacher asked for volunteers to entertain the class. For reasons unknown, I raised my hand – and sang “Over the Rainbow” (how I learned the words is still a mystery). “Just like Judy Garland!” everyone said. Did I run home and tell Mom? Nope.

When Mom came home from the next Parent-Teacher conference, she decided we should have a serious discussion. “Mrs. Weintraub tells me that you sing. Do you sing?” So I chirped away: “Some-where! over the rainbow, way up high….” “You do sing!” Mom exclaimed, “Want to sing something else?” And from her piano bench, she brought out “Getting to Know You” – thus doubling my repertoire. I’ve been singing ever since.

In high school and college I became a choral soloist and section leader. The Sarah Lawrence College Touring Chorus performed at major music festivals in Europe, Israel and the former Soviet Union. Sarah Lawrence also introduced me to Balkan dance and music, for which I developed a lifelong love. I continued to study voice, which kept me from going off the deep end while I pursued a law degree and a full-time career in labor relations, and I performed featured roles with several local opera workshops. I also studied privately for the cantorate; from 1989 until 2010, I served Reform Jewish congregations in the New York metro area as a cantorial soloist – and still chant services at the High Holy Days.

In 2005, I saw an announcement of upcoming auditions for THE SOUND OF MUSIC at SummerStage at Leonia, NJ. I had never performed in musical theatre, but decided to audition – since Mom had taught me most of the music years before. Lo and behold, I was offered the role of the Mother Abbess – and must be one of the few women who can say she looks as good in a wimple as she does in a yarmulke. Receiving my own standing ovations at the end of each performance was not a bad thing, either.

So here I am. If it’s made up of musical notes, I can sing the socks off it – in about ten languages (Albanian is the toughest) and as many vocal styles. If it has steps (except for tap, darn it!) I can learn to dance it. I have a sterling work ethic, am almost unnervingly reliable, and always do my best not to bump into the furniture.

Susan Cohen DeStefano

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