FOR a long time, opera singing has been a labour of love for Gemma McNamee but now the Mount Pleasant resident is hoping to turn her passion into a career.
Since age 17, Mrs McNamee has had to fit opera between full-time work, study and caring for daughter Kaitlyn, who has special needs.
On Christmas Eve, a phone call from the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester brought with it a potentially life-changing opportunity and sparked a mad rush to raise the $100,000 she requires to accept a spot in the school’s coveted Masters of Performance in Voice program in September.
Mrs McNamee discovered her talent for singing in primary school after tagging along with sister Samantha to an audition for St Patrick’s Basilica Choir in Fremantle.
“I wasn’t interested at first but the choral director talked me into trying out and I ended up being the first and only female selected for their full vocal program,” she said.
A natural soprano, it soon became clear Mrs McNamee had a talent for opera.
Brought up by her grandparents, she began working as a 15-year-old to help pay for her school fees and instrumental lessons.
“Despite my grandparents’ best efforts, I still managed to make some poor decisions in high school and found myself pregnant at age 17,” Mrs McNamee said.
“(Now husband) Glenn and I moved out of home together as soon as I finished school and we both studied at university and worked up until the time my beautiful daughter Kaitlyn was born; in fact Glenn had an exam just hours after Kaitlyn arrived.”
Kaitlyn fell ill shortly after birth and stopped progressing developmentally at about six months.
Three years later, she was diagnosed with a rare chromosome abnormality.
“Kaitlyn was born with a genetic translocation that has resulted in her being developmentally delayed,” Mrs McNamee said. “She is 14 now but effectively at around the 9-12 month old stage both in terms of motor skills and intellectually.”
Both Mr and Mrs McNamee work full-time to pay for Kaitlyn’s care and medical costs, which has made saving money difficult.
Determined to pursue her passion, Mrs McNamee has spent the past eight years studying a Bachelor of Music Performance at UWA part-time.
Due to graduate in June, she sent audition tapes to universities all over the world late last year and has landed a spot in a Masters program she hopes will act as a launching pad for a career in opera.
Mrs McNamee has set up a GoFundMe page at www.gofundme.com/gemmamcnamee, which includes a video of her singing, for anybody interested in helping her achieve her dream. Donations can also be mailed to PO Box 738, Willetton 6955.