Photograph by Frank A. Leon

Pitch perfect

September 7, 2021


By Cheryl Spain

Music has always been a big part of Esther Jane Hardenbergh’s life. Hardenbergh, W’82, began playing the piano at 4; she also played violin, organ, and guitar at an early age.

“I was very musical,” she said, “but I intended to be a doctor.”

That changed for the third-generation Spider while at UR. Disenchanted with the sciences, Hardenbergh pursued a degree in music and followed it with a master’s degree in music performance at Boston University. That led to years singing professionally in New York and Europe.

“I was one of not a lot of sopranos getting called to sing background,” she said. “Although it wasn’t always solo work, I loved every second of it.”

Although Hardenbergh enjoyed success as a working musician, a desire for financial stability pulled her in another direction. She got a doctorate at Columbia University and took a faculty position in music at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music. There, she enjoyed both the singing she loved and the security she needed.

“I sang more than I ever had,” she said. “I became a real soloist at that point, running all over the country, singing with orchestras.” She became chair of the department of vocal performance and director of the Patti and Allan Herbert Frost School of Music Program at Salzburg, which provides young artists an academic and musical experience in Austria.

Hardenbergh retired in 2017 and now spends her time traveling with her husband, Whit, and their Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Ringo.

“I had amazing teachers, both in and out of school, who really affected the path my life was going to take in ways that I couldn’t have planned,” Hardenbergh said. “I really enjoy being that kind of person in a young person’s life. I could not have planned my life better if I had tried.”