HOXIE — From a young age, Bonnie Cameron had aspirations to reach the big stage. She never dreamed her career path ultimately would lead her back to her small Kansas hometown.
Cameron studied opera overseas, later spending eight years performing professionally in Europe.
When she and her husband decided to move back to the U.S. about six years ago, Cameron originally planned to continue pursuing her opera career in major cities. But after spending time with her parents in Hoxie, she realized she didn’t want to leave.
“I was thinking I’ll go audition for agents in the states and just start singing here,” she said. “And then I realized there wasn’t very much music happening. Especially here, it had really imploded. And I just felt hypocritical going somewhere else.”
So she convinced her husband to purchase and renovate the historic downtown pool hall, and The Living Room was born. The studio space — both modern and eclectic — is Cameron’s home base for teaching vocal lessons; and also is intended to serve as a cultural hub for the community.
Demand for vocal lessons has been surprisingly strong throughout the region, with Cameron currently teaching six days a week and averaging approximately 60 students at any given time. In addition to her Hoxie studio hours, she also offers lessons at the Atwood schools and has been traveling to Hays once each week.
All ages are welcome, and her youngest student currently is a third-grader, and she has had students in their 80s.
“I feel like at any point, you can always work on your voice,” Cameron said.
She had always admired the old brick building, and approached the former business owner to ask if he’d be willing to sell. The answer was an immediate yes, and the couple quickly had a major renovation project on their hands. They converted the building’s back room into their living quarters, a loft-style apartment they “never would have been able to afford in the city,” she said.
And it seems like the building was a perfect fit for a music studio — the brick walls and high ceilings produce natural acoustics, almost like a “built-in microphone,” Cameron said.
Cameron also was involved in establishing the community’s non-profit Main Street Arts Council, which organizes a variety of events such as art walks and a summer theater festival.
Cameron said it has been rewarding to give back to her hometown, and she enjoys the variety of her current career situation. While she still loves the art of opera and was beginning to achieve career goals, she said she began to realize touring with professional productions was a surprisingly lonely way to live.
“It’s a lot of being in a town you don’t know really well, sitting in a hotel room and you go to rehearsal and then you go back to the hotel room,” she said. “You can’t go out and go adventuring, because then your body gets tired. And you can’t try crazy foods, because it messes everything up. You just have to stay fit to sing, because it’s so demanding to sing opera. I just saw a lot of hotel rooms and lonely evenings.”
When opening her business, she chose the name The Living Room because she wants the community to understand the arts are accessible and can be part of everyday life. And the business gives her an outlet to share her passion with young learners.
“I always wanted people to feel music the way I felt it,” Cameron said. “Which is why I have it as the living room. I feel like sometimes there’s a barrier in fine arts. … All I hear is it’s too ‘hoity toity’; it’s too high-brow; I don’t understand it.’ … But it’s not complicated. It’s just an experience.
“I love it when people feel how to sing and experience themselves singing and really using their bodies completely to sing and make sounds. Teaching them how to experience that is just the best thing in the whole wide world.”