This month’s ‘Humble Beginnings – Chelsea Ritenour’ is about a well known person in the local music scene.
You may know Chelsea from the Armstrong Cable show ‘Music Talks’. First Angel Media had an article about the show back in 2020. She is the lovely host that interviews all the musicians before their set. Not only is she a talented interviewer, but she comes from a musical background herself.
Chelsea was born and raised in the SW PA area. She remembers always singing at a very young age to anything she heard on the radio. She is the age that when she first became interested in music Christine Aguilera and Brittany Spears were all the rage for young ladies that were aspiring singers. Trying her best to sing songs like ‘Baby One More Time’ or ‘Genie in a Bottle’, Chelsea felt that she didn’t have the pop voice of these talented superstars.
She grew up in a musical household with her mother’s love of artists like Pearl Jam, Prince, Nirvana, Alice in Chains and Matchbox 20. Even though she enjoyed listening to these bands, they also didn’t feel like her niche. At the age of 10 she started taking voice lessons kicking off the start of her musical studies. Two years later while she was attending Stage Right musical arts program, someone recommended a different vocal coach. This new coach only accepted students after an audition. Even though Chelsea was only 12 at that time, the coach saw something in her and Chelsea began a journey that was far from the style of the pop divas she first tried to emulate.
During her high school days, Chelsea was involved in musicals with her favorite part playing the role of Peter Pan in her junior year. Here again musicals were not where her newfound love lied. The coach she had auditioned for exposed her to a genre that Chelsea was a natural and felt completely at home. This coach’s training in opera started her on a journey that she hadn’t imagined before.
The summer of her junior year, Chelsea attended the Eastman School of Music in New York. Then after high school, Chelsea obtained a BFA in vocal performance from Carnegie Mellon University and a Masters in music from Mannes.
Between undergrad and grad school, the opportunity arose to travel to Europe to perform in an opera. Her accompanist at the time asked her to sing for some opera house visitors from Germany because of a song in her repertoire, the ‘Queen of the Night’ aria. Upon hearing her solo, the conductor of the opera house requested she come to Freiberg, Germany to perform. Her first opportunity for that opera house was to perform was the part of Arsena in the opera ‘Der Zigeunerbaron’. A bucket list item was checked off when she got to perform the entire role of the ‘Queen of the Night’.
Having met Chelsea, she doesn’t fit the typical mold of a classic opera singer. And apparently back in her younger days even less so. Chelsea had an edgier appearance compared to other people auditioning. At that time of her life she had white hair and always dressed in black, not the typical opera appearance at least I envisioned.
Apparently a lot of the people that were casting also had the same opinion of her not fitting the mold as well. In one audition when it was her turn, before she opened her mouth one of the people held up their hand and said, “I don’t even want to hear you sing. You are just too skinny.” But fortunately her journey into opera was dependent on her singing talent, not her appearance. So from the age of 12 until only 2 1/2 years ago, the only music that Chelsea performed was opera.
Even though Chelsea has a love for opera, she later spent some time touring all through the US with Gary Racan (of The Vogues fame) and the Studio E band. She also did backup singing and harmonies with country singer Darryl Worley in California.
While travelling over most of the country and parts of Europe, she returned home to SW PA between contracts. During those breaks, she started a voice studio to pay the bills and discovered she loved teaching music. Today she not only hosts the ‘Music Talks’ show, but continues giving back to what got her started with her vocal coaching. And on top of being a mother to twins, she is also the singer for an alt metal band named Fatale. You may ask what the heck is an opera singer doing fronting an alt metal band. I asked myself the same thing until I heard her singing her original ‘The Fall of Me’. The resemblance to Amy Lee of Evanescence is uncanny, but you have to check it out yourself to see. When I mentioned this to Chelsea, she couldn’t say enough about how great Amy Lee was and funny enough how much Lee’s vocal journey had an impact on her. In Chelsea’s words, “Amy Lee is the OG of pretty voices in rock music.” Apparently all these activities are just not enough to keep her busy, so she just very recently started rehearsing with one of the musicians from a band called Cherry Lane starting a grunge/alternative sounding band.
I ended my interview with my favorite question and I think my interviewee’s least favorite question, ‘Who do you compare yourself to?’ And being my favorite question it is an essential piece for my article. Chelsea feels she most sounds like Natalie Dessay or Diana Damrau for her classical singing. She says others compare her voice to Pat Benatar or Hayley Williams of Paramore when she performs rock music.
I look forward to seeing where this young lady’s journey leads. The first stop will be upcoming EP releases in the next few months with both bands. Follow Chelsea on Facebook and Instagram for updates on upcoming events and tune in to ‘Music Talks’ to catch her interviews.
I hope that you enjoyed this month’s ‘Humble Beginnings – Chelsea Ritenour’ story and I’m excited to share the next story in March.