Indiana University

Student of Sylvia McNair to perform at Teatro Real in Madrid

The number seven is an important number to Paloma Friedhoff Bello. It is the number of her family members who have attended Indiana University. It is the number of notes in a musical scale. And it is the approximate number of hours that it takes to fly from her hometown of Madrid, Spain, to the United States, where she is working toward a master's degree in vocal performance.


In March, Paloma Friedhoff Bello sang for the king and queen of Spain in Barcelona.

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Friedhoff Bello is a La Caixa Scholar, a competitive scholarship from Spain's largest bank offered to a small number of students each year for the past 25 years. It is equivalent to the Rhodes Scholarship in the United States. She is one of 40 students currently studying in the U.S. since 2010 as a part of this program, which places young scholars at the top universities throughout the country, including Harvard University, Georgetown University and MIT. Friedhoff Bello's choice was IU Jacobs School of Music.

"I've always heard about Bloomington and the prestigious Jacobs School of Music. It's always been around in my family, and I was fortunate enough to come here," she said.

Soprano idol

Friedhoff Bello grew up hearing about the Hoosiers from the other members of her family who previously attended IU, but that was not the only reason she was drawn to IU. Jacobs School faculty member Sylvia McNair has been Friedhoff Bello's idol since she started listening to her music when she was only 10 years old.

"I always listened to her CDs and always had them playing in my car," Friedhoff Bello said. "But I never imagined I would meet her."

Not only did she meet her, Friedhoff Bello was given the opportunity to study with McNair.

"She's taught me so much not just about vocal technique and how to be on stage but about the classical world, and the opera business. She has talked to me about all of her experiences in the opera world," Friedhoff Bello said.

While she has one lesson per week with McNair, Friedhoff Bello spends hours in rehearsal each day at the Jacobs School of Music preparing for concerts and recitals.

"The atmosphere of the music school and the students are what motivate me. Everybody has the same goals to excel in life and everybody just looks for excellence," Friedhoff Bello said. "The teachers are motivating."

Fluent in four languages, Friedhoff Bello is driven to use her talent and creativity to include different musical elements in her performances. For her last recital, Friedhoff Bello put together an orchestra, a piano trio and a group of eight cellos to perform some of her favorite works.

"More people than I expected ended up playing in my recital just because they wanted to be a part of it," Friedhoff Bello said. "What amazes me is that all of those students were so happy and thankful to do it. It was a lot of work, but they were so professional and kind."

The Friedhoff family's interest in music helped her understand a variety of instruments and how they work together. The daughter of two professional musicians, she played the piano most of her life. Her father, John Paul Friedhoff, was the first member of her family to study at IU. He played the cello and studied under Jacobs School Professor Janos Starker, starting in 1969, and is now the principal cellist at the Opera House in Madrid. Her brother followed in his father's footsteps in 1998, also studying cello with Starker. Other family members who attended IU played violin, viola and piano.

Friedhoff Bello's mother was an opera singer and encouraged her to join the choir in her town at the age of 16.

"The first thing I remember when I got into the choir was the soprano soloist," Friedhoff Bello said. "I remember thinking, I want to be that. I want to be the soloist."

Friedhoff Bello went on to study music at the Escuela Superior de Canto de Madrid. She spent one year in Germany doing post-graduation work and attended summer programs in France and Austria before coming to IU.

'A teacher's dream'

"Paloma is a teacher's dream," said McNair, a two-time Grammy Award winner. "She is one of the most self-directed, self-motivated human beings I have ever known. She works very hard to create opportunities for herself -- and then surpasses even her own very high goals."

Those goals are not limited to the music industry. Friedhoff Bello has taken advantage of numerous opportunities offered at IU.

"I wanted to experience the real college experience. I go to a lot of the sporting events, like basketball games, swimming, diving and volleyball. I visit the local restaurants, the Kirkwood Observatory and play intramurals," she said.

Friedhoff Bello is the winner of the fall 2010 tennis intramurals championship. She also created an intramural women's soccer team and a co-ed soccer team and was part of a women's basketball team. Her basketball team made it to the finals and played the championship game at Assembly Hall, one of her favorite moments at IU.

"I am very, very grateful for the La Caixa Scholarship, because I wouldn't be here if it weren't for that. It is a privilege to be one of their fellows. I've been able to study and soak up every drop of my Bloomington experience. Every day of my life I am thankful for the scholarship that I have."

In 2011, Friedhoff Bello received an Encouragement Award at the Metropolitan Opera District Auditions in St. Louis. In March, she sang for the king and queen of Spain in Barcelona. She will debut at the Teatro Real in Madrid this month in the chamber music series.

Friedhoff Bello plans to return to Europe at the completion of her scholarship this year, but her motivation to keep learning will continue.

"She has an insatiable hunger to learn. She is blessed with a beautiful voice, a strong mind, a generous heart and a pure soul," McNair said. "She's got it all."