Time to Shine: Renna Popli (’23) to perform at Carnegie Hall

Renna Popli (’23) will be performing at Carnegie during March 27. (Renna Popli)

When Renna Popli (‘23) sings, time seems to stop. A beautiful melody bounces through the air, and effortless high notes soar to the listeners’ captivated ears.

This is what the live audience at Carnegie Hall this March 27 will experience. For the  2021 American Protégé International Vocal Competition, Popli filmed herself performing three songs over the course of two hours. Her retakes and preparation paid off, as judges awarded her a spot at the winners’ recital in Carnegie Hall.

“Alma Del Core, which is the song I’ll be performing, is a super upbeat and fun song, while the other two are kind of slow. Being a slow song doesn’t make it less difficult, because you still have to focus so much on breath support, but Alma Del Core is the most exciting to sing out of the three,” said Popli.

Renna began taking singing lessons when she was three years old, but she only began taking it seriously once she joined the Cantabella Children’s Chorus in Livermore.

“[Cantabella is] how I found my love for classical music. That’s what made me pursue music more seriously, because before that, it was just for fun. Once I started doing that, I realized it was something I wanted to dedicate my life to,” said Popli. 

She applied to and passed the audition for the Oakland High School of the Arts, but was waitlisted due to the school’s lottery system. Now, her current weekly routine includes two-and-a-half-hour choir sessions and mentoring from voice instructor Jumi Lee Kim. 
“In my middle school, I was like a leader of every musical event we had. I was very close with the school’s music teacher… once you find out that I do music, you find out how much time I dedicate to it, and how huge a part of my life it is. But people are definitely surprised when… [they learn I sing] classical and opera. I think people think it doesn’t match my personality or my vibe, so it’s funny to see people’s reactions,” said Popli.

The time Popli commits to singing varies. However, interpreting and expressing the meaning of a song requires time and dedication. 

“One thing about singing that is different from any other instrument is that your body is your instrument,” said Popli. “You have to be super expressive. No other instrument has lyrics, so you’re really telling the story. If you aren’t understanding that story, then you can’t tell it properly.”

Before she can perform, Popli translates a song’s lyrics word by word, which can take 45 minutes to an hour. She notes places to put emphasis and change her facial expressions to match a song’s emotions. Looking at the written translation isn’t always enough, so she researches prior to beginning.

“An important part of learning to sing a song, even if it’s in a different language, [is] understanding all the metaphors, all the literary devices of another language. It’s definitely difficult, but it’s necessary to make a full product,” said Popli.

Memorizing the lyrics and the melody, along with dynamics, changes in the tempo, and accompaniment part takes weeks. Eventually, she’ll be satisfied and ready to record.

“You have to interpret the music as your own, which is why sometimes, you’ll listen to two people singing the same song, and it sounds really different. Even though it’s written down on paper, there are so many different ways to interpret it,” said Popli.

She’s broadened her expertise by participating in the Amador choir as well, taking the stage in winter concerts to sing jazz and pop. Despite all that, after school, Popli typically spends about 30 minutes practicing – with the number ramping up as competitions near.

“One of my favorite classical pieces I’ve ever sung is “Mío caro bene”… It was such a fun piece – the perfect amount of a challenge, and beautiful music. I just love that song.”

— Renna Popli ('23)

“One huge aspect of singing is taking care of your voice, and knowing when to stop, so I rarely practice really rigorously, all in one go, because I want to make sure I’m not straining my voice and I’m being kind to my body,” said Popli.

Her go-to drink is either honey lemon tea or a spoonful of raw honey when it comes to taking care of her throat. 

“I am very in tune with my body, especially my voice. Slight changes in the weather will change how my voice feels. I’ll be able to tell the difference between a day where I can sing longer and I can hit higher notes, versus a day where I just need to take it easy and listen to my body,” said Popli.

Renna plans to double major in vocal music and something else in college. So far, she’s sung at Cantabella Children’s Choir, in front of Jumi Kim, and in Amador’s music rooms. Now, she can add one more location to the list of places where she’s sung – a place nearly 3,000 miles away.

“Performing at Carnegie has been on my bucket list forever since I found out that Carnegie Hall was a place that exists,” said Popli. “I’m really really excited. But, I’m definitely nervous because it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and I really don’t want to screw it up. But, I think I`m just going to practice my tushy off just so that I don’t even have to think about it. I can just stand up on that stage and just enjoy it.”