From piano to trumpet and finding his voice
I grew up with lots of pianists in my life–my grandmother, mother, sister, and aunt — and those last two are music teachers as well. I took up piano around age 4, quit at 5; restarted at 6, re-quit at 7. Biggest mistakes of my life in music! When the music man came to our school I chose the trumpet, presumably because it seemed like it was the loudest of the bunch. I played from age 9 to 19 and might have considered taking that route into music school, but singing had already become my main focus around age 15 or 16.
I was exposed to lots of types of music, but interestingly was never as voracious a listener or collector as others in my family. I would go through phases, I suppose — I got interested in one album or another, everything from pop and rock to classical and musical theater. I’m still not the audiophile I wish I were, but I try to stay open to various genres. I’ve been driving a lot lately, and I typically turn on pop radio in a car, just to keep tabs on “what the kids are into” these days.
I’ve been realizing lately that from my teenage years until today, all my voice teachers (Frederick Martell, Leslie Guinn, Freda Herseth, William McGraw, and Robert C. White) have really nudged me toward recital repertoire, art song, and vocal chamber music. Perhaps they heard in my singing a quality well suited to the genre, or recognized my enthusiasm for it, or both. However it happened, I’m very grateful, since the kind of communication I learned through that music has served me very well in early music, new music, and opera as well.
Some of my earlier memories are instrumental, playing trumpet in the school band, or playing a piano piece I wrote (very creatively entitled “A Song I Wrote”) for the middle school concert, but I remember some early vocal solos, in our 5th grade Irving Berlin choral show, and bit parts in musicals. But in general, I think I less shy when there was an instrument involved. Only when I moved through high school did I start feeling more comfortable singing in public.
I think I had the sense that I was heading in the direction of a musical career by about age 15. I had some great performing experiences in high school and at summer camp that gave me the confidence and hunger to sink my teeth further into serious study, but I didn’t yet know what kind of career would take shape. Still don’t, I suppose! Halfway through high school I applied to a summer program at the Eastman School, and was rejected for the vocal program, but invited to study trumpet. I went, and had a great time, but had a strong feeling there that I wanted to pursue music as a career, but not as a trumpet player. It’s so hard to know at age 16 what a male voice will be, or how it will work, but I became committed to the work, and got where I needed to be to major in college. One time in college, I had to learn a role in Carmen on eight hours notice, for a colleague who’d lost his voice. That was pretty exhilarating and scary, having to study upcoming scenes offstage, and not an experience I’m terribly keen to repeat
Nowadays, I’ll occasionally sing along with the aforementioned pop radio, but only if I’m alone. And it’s also probably involuntary–I bet I’m turning it into a nerdy vocal exercise or something without realizing it. Similarly, if I’m singing in the shower, it’s probably because I’m warming up for a rehearsal or performance.
As for the rewards and challenges of my career, I would say that all the travel is probably both a drawback and reward. I love seeing new places and catching up with old friends all over, but sometimes I just want to be home for a month, and that rarely happens anymore. What I enjoy the most, I think, is simply working on great music with great musicians and dear colleagues, and I feel very lucky to keep busy doing just that.
If a young person is embarking on a career like mine, I would advise that there’s no one way to do it! Every career is different, and you don’t have to follow what may seem like the conventional path. Stay open to all types of music, and challenge yourself to step out of your comfort zone once in a while; you may end up stumbling into a wonderful new musical path you didn’t even realize was there.