Graced with opportunity, Westminster grad honors mother’s sacrifice

After Alicia Barry took a bow following her Carnegie Hall debut in January, she lifted up the flag of Guatemala behind her.

It was a moment of joy and pride for the senior vocal performance major, but also one of gratitude. “When I took a bow it was for all of the teachers who have invested in me and the people who have helped me,” says Barry, who was born in Guatemala and adopted at 3 months old in the United States.

The sacrifice of Barry’s birth family and the generosity of her adopted family opened up a world of possibility for the now 28-year-old mezzo-soprano. Gracing one of the world’s most famous stages would have been all but unimaginable if she remained in the impoverished Central American country, where 49% of all people live in poverty, according to the World Bank Group.

“This great, selfless act of my birth mother gave me a better chance at life,” Barry says. “That’s the impression I had coming into the world, and I’ve carried that into everything that I’ve done.”

After she graduates this May, Barry will begin a graduate program in voice performance and literature at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

Even with the advantages of living in the US, Barry still faced hardship to arrive at this point. Ella’s college experience was delayed when her mother was diagnosed with cancer, causing financial challenges for the family. In 2015, she earned an Associate of Arts in Music (Flute Studies) from Bucks County Community College, where she discovered her passion for opera.

She had been singing and playing flute since she was a child, receiving steady encouragement from choir directors and music teachers who recognized a talent that remained somewhat hidden to Barry herself.

“I’ve always had a powerful instrument inside of me and never really realized that until I sang my first solo piece,” she says. “It was mind blowing to me.”

Once sparked, Barry’s motivation to study and learn became an obsession. She began carrying a copy of 24 Italian Songs & Arias of the 17th and 18th Centuriesa touchstone introductory collection for singers, with her everywhere, glancing at it in between orders during shifts as a barista—one of her three jobs at the time.

Westminster Choir College would help her grow her talent. She had first learned about the esteemed institution in 2008 when she attended the Summer Residential Flute Camp hosted by Westminster Conservatory, Westminster’s community music school.

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