Singer takes flight

Voice coach pursues flight, teaching careers

Dr.+Susan+Carter-Fricks+works+with+students+as+a+voice+coach+in+both+choir+and+musical+theater.+After+her+opera+career%2C+she+started+flying+Falcon+20s+and+jets.

Ryann Daugherty

Dr. Susan Carter-Fricks works with students as a voice coach in both choir and musical theater. After her opera career, she started flying Falcon 20s and jets.

By Marisa Green, Lovejoy High School

Whether flying a jet, teaching in a classroom or performing in Carnegie Hall, Dr. Susan Carter-Fricks does it all. Carter works with students as a voice coach in both choir and musical theater. She began her 35 year career as a highschool student when she was asked to coach vocalists for All State. 

“I actually started [teaching voice lessons] in high school, which was a lot of fun,” Carter said. “I played piano from age 4, so I could really accompany people. Some younger students who were auditioning for All-State said ‘Can you help me?’ That was my first paying teaching job, and that was fun. I was actually paid with a poodle puppy, which was the best payment ever. And [the student] ended up making All-State which was really exciting.”

Carter discovered her passion for singing through choir and musical theater; she would later develop opera skills. 

“Just like every choir kid here, I sang as a kid,” Carter said. “I was in love with musical theater, and that’s where all my angst went. We all have a place for our emotions to go. That was mine.”

Carter began her professional musical career by getting her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music. Her first teaching job was at Tarrant County Junior College then she joined the faculty at The University of Texas at Dallas. 

“I knew I didn’t want to teach choir,” Carter said. “I love choir, but that’s not my personality. For me, at UTD, most of my students were older than me, which was kind of freaky and kind of cool at the same time. The neat thing about it is the choral director, Dr. Stuart Clark, was also head of the Dallas Symphony choir. He said ‘Some of those folks could really use voice lessons,’ and asked me if I wanted to come. I then became, I think, the first voice coach for the Dallas Symphony choir.”

Carter spent a year in Europe through UTD and acquired agents along the way with her performances in opera. After her trip to Europe, she returned to Dallas and moved to New York City with her kids, where she lived for the following 12 years of her life. 

“It all happened because of people who knew people, or they heard me or whatever and I thought, ‘well this is easy,’ which was so ridiculous,” Carter said. “It was an exciting time, and I was very fortunate for those 12 years. I worked out of New York and sang all the roles I wanted to. I always wanted to do leading roles. I could have gone to bigger opera houses on small roles, but I’d rather sing in smaller houses and sing major roles. I did it the way I wanted to, and I had a great career.”

Carter sang in leading opera roles including “Queen of the Night,” “Lucia,” “Constanza” and “Donna Anna as well as performing as a soprano soloist in Carnegie Hall. 

“I had lots of singers I loved, and I wanted to emulate,” Carter said. “All the big ones back then. Beverly Sills, Joan Sutherland, Katia Ricciarelli, [and] Kirsten Flagstad, all the big singers, because that’s what you have to do. You have to see who’s making the bucks and who’s successful. So you’d have to kind of figure out ‘how can I find my path through this?’”

After 12 years, she decided to make a change in her life. She moved closer to her kids by selling her NYC house by Lincoln Center, taking the earnings from her opera career and moved into a Jeep in Arizona. 

“I had two goals as a high schooler,” Carter said. “I wanted to sing, and I wanted to fly airplanes. After I had my career as a singer, I sold my New York condo, took the money, and I moved to Phoenix. By then, my oldest daughter was flying. She had an aviation degree, and that was her dream. I said ‘when you can teach me, I’ll fly down to Arkansas’ when she was in school.  I took my first seven lessons from her. I was kind of burned out from singing. I had everything, but I knew I didn’t want to stay [in NYC]. I was getting older. I wanted to do something else. I moved to Phoenix, sold everything and lived out of my Jeep. It was the best.” 

After a year and a half, Carter was flying Falcon 20s and jets. Three months after that, she began flying for Walmart Aviation, which is one of the biggest corporate fleets in the world. She ended up flying airplanes for 10 years. 

“Then I thought, ‘Well, okay, I’m getting old,’ so I went back and got my doctorate in music,” Carter said. “I thought, ‘I don’t need to be flying. I mean, I could have just stayed there and just been a chief pilot or something, but I didn’t because I wanted to go back to teaching, and I missed music.”

Carter took over the position of director of vocal studies at Missouri Western State University. She was hired to start their musical theater program. She requested $40,000 for the musical “Phantom of the Opera,” and she helped develop their musical program, the school later placing second in the nation. Following retirement, Carter moved to Texas and taught at Grand Prairie; she then received a message from Cathy Koziatek, the choir director at the highschool. 

“She just had the most amazing resume, and when she came in for an interview, we immediately clicked,” Koziatek said. “She has a spirit of lightness and joy, and that’s what we value here at the Lovejoy choir. She is an incredible musician, singer and teacher. People don’t have the sort of background that Dr. Carter has. She has sung opera all over the world, and she’s taught. Her career is so interesting and amazing.”

Freshman Sophia Konecny works with Carter for musical theater and choir singing lessons. 

“She’s really fun,” Konecny said. “She always finds a way to make it fun, and she’s so different from any other voice teachers I’ve had. She’s made me a lot less shy and open up a lot more. Dr. Carter is accommodating to students’ needs, and she really makes sure to get to know you.”

Carter has plans to fly again in the future; she has been a voice coach for the high school for three years now.

“I was president of Future Teachers in high school,” Carter said. “I loved teaching. I knew I was going to teach. I love people’s energies and trying to figure out what they need to get them where they need to be. Sometimes that’s a challenge, but I find that every person is unique. That’s why I would have a hard time in choir. Those people who are fabulous choral teachers. I’m like, ‘How do you do it? How do they get all those energies and make one cohesive sound?’ I like to take the wild energies of an individual and find a way for them to achieve their goals. That’s my favorite thing.”

This story was originally published on The Red Ledger on May 23, 2022.