A former competitive ballroom dancer, Merrin Lazyan manages all sorts of Drama Division activities by day, keeps up with a previous life as a professional singer by night, and still manages to find time for sports and reading. She grew up in Spring Valley, N.Y., until she was 11, when her family moved to Manhattan; she got her bachelor’s in psychology from Harvard and a postgraduate degree in classical voice performance from the Royal College of Music in London. Before coming to Juilliard, in July 2013, she was the assistant to the director and senior vice president of publicity for the Random House Publishing Group. Prior to that, she spent five years as both a freelance writer and editor and as a professional classical soprano in the United Kingdom.
What’s the most memorable job you’ve had?
Singing the role of Mina in an opera called Skellig by Tod Machover (B.M. ’75, M.M. ’77, composition) that was performed in 2008 at the Sage Gateshead, a gorgeous venue in the north of England. It was my first truly professional job as a singer, and it was a consummately wonderful experience. The role felt like it had been written for me, the other singers and creative team felt like family, everyone at the Sage was fully committed to the production, and I loved living in Newcastle for a few months. I will always count it among the most fulfilling periods of my life.
If out of the blue your boss said to take the day off, what would you do?
It’s not especially glamorous, but I would probably do things that I have difficulty making enough time for during a normal weekday. I’d go for a longer run than usual and allow myself the joy of feeling completely unhurried. I would organize a few things in my apartment. I might walk around Brooklyn with a camera in hand. I would devote some time to a couple of writing projects that have gone neglected. I would spend more time at the piano than I usually am able to do. And I would surprise my boyfriend with a fun date or a nice dinner.
How do you balance your job and your artistic endeavors?
I spent five years training and performing as a classical and opera singer, and although I’m no longer trying to make a career out of it, music is still a large and very important part of my life. I perform every couple of months with various companies and orchestras around the city, and I balance this with my job by developing good relationships with companies that rehearse on evenings and weekends. I’m also taking a conducting and a piano class in the Evening Division, which I absolutely love. My weeks can start to feel very busy with work, rehearsals, classes, and finding time to lead a healthy life and spend time with the people I care about, but I honestly can’t imagine being happy without the connection to my identity as a musician and performer. I’m very grateful to be able to maintain this part of my life.
What other pursuits are you passionate about?
I’m an avid reader (my library doubles as a bedroom), an enthusiastic hiker and backpacker, and a runner. In college, I was a competitive ballroom dancer, and though I’ve danced only sporadically in the last several years, I still think of dancing as one of the most fun and exhilarating things I’ve ever done. I’m also passionate about writing and photography, though I don’t get to spend nearly enough time on either. Finally, I’m a big fan of playing both volleyball and softball, and I love playing on Juilliard’s softball team!
What do you remember about your first day at Juilliard?
Crossing Lincoln Center Plaza on my way into the office and feeling a jolt of exhilaration as I let it sink in that this would be my home now, and that I really was lucky enough to spend my working life in what is, for me, the cultural heart of New York City.
What was the best vacation you’ve had?
Probably a trip that I took to China during the summer of 2011. My brother lives in Shenzhen, and my father and I spent three weeks there, both to visit and to travel around. It was my first trip to Asia and one of the only times that I’ve traveled to a place where I didn’t have even the most rudimentary sense of the language. My father and I spent time in Shenzhen, the Szechuan province, Xi’an, Beijing, and Hong Kong. We took a couple of 30-hour train rides and saw the incredible, lush countryside as we rolled by. The country is fascinating and full of extremes. It’s beautiful and gritty, fast and slow, modern and ancient.
I think that what made it so special was that I began the trip without any real sense of connection to the country, and I left wishing that I could have covered more of its huge expanse and that I could have communicated with all of the warm, interesting, helpful people that I met on my travels. I left with a deep curiosity, appreciation, and respect. It’s also a visually captivating place, and I loved photographing the people, the cities and landscapes, and the food.
What are you reading?
I’m coming to the end of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary. I have no idea how I’d made it to this point in my life without reading it, but I’m glad to finally be correcting the glaring omission! I don’t think it’s going to be a book that really stays with me, but I can certainly understand how its social context made it an important work. It’s obvious that it has something big to say about the roles that women filled—as well as their freedoms and restrictions—and I’m enjoying the fact that I won’t really have a sense of what exactly that message is until the very end, when Emma Bovary’s fate is sealed.