How has your BOC experience helped in your career as an opera singer and as a teacher?
BOC has probably helped me in more ways than I even realize. Doing the myriad of roles I played, from character roles like Remendado and Mononstatos to leads such as Laurie in Little Women, greatly broadened the list of skills I can bring to the stage, skills I have used recently as George Gibbs in Our Town with Monadnock Music Festival and as an ensemble member in BLO’s production of Rigoletto. I teach those same skills to all my students, including how to interpret a role, how to stand and move onstage, etc. Watching my students absorb and then show those skills onstage is a joy, and I am incredibly grateful to BOC for helping me become the singer and teacher I am.
As an active administrative member of BOC, how do you feel your “behind the scenes” work helped you in your life and career thus far?
Working as an administrator for BOC helped me learn how to work with many different personalities and opinions. Not all administrative decisions are easy to make; more often than not, they can take longer than anticipated. As a result, learning how to deal with those sticky and difficult situations and decisions in a positive way is crucial to ensuring that the mission of the company continues moving forward. My time on the Board gave me the opportunity to learn how to negotiate and work towards a middle ground that all can agree on, even if that middle ground does not include ideas that I might have really believed in. My confidence in my abilities to work on the other side of an arts organization grew exponentially as a result of my working on the Board.
What’s the most surprising skill that you gained while in BOC?
That’s a very good question! I did not expect to get the administrative experience I gained while a member. I honestly thought I’d avoid that if possible, but in hindsight I’m grateful for the opportunity!
What advice would you offer to young opera singers coming out of college or conservatory, and considering membership in BOC?
I would recommend that all potential BOC members take advantage of every opportunity BOC presents. Membership in BOC is very much like a residency in that there are multiple performing opportunities as well as masterclasses on musicianship, handling finances, etc. It also gives singers an appreciation of how to run an opera company, something that schools cannot provide. All in all, BOC members become incredibly experienced, well-rounded musicians that companies want.
What’s your favorite piece of music (opera, song, theater or otherwise) and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. I am drawn to songs that have a story to tell, that are more than just beautiful music – I guess that’s why I’m drawn to character roles. I love “Kennst du das Land” from Little Women; it is absolutely gorgeous and does a wonderful job of exposing Professor Behr’s love for his home and art. The quintet from Carmen is also a favorite of mine. It’s incredibly difficult to master, but is such fun!
What made you decide to pursue a career in teaching along with your singing career? Any tips you’d give to singers trying to get into a teaching career, and wanting to balance that with a performing career as well?
Teaching is something I have always wanted to do. It actually runs in my family; both my mother and paternal grandfather were teachers. Teachers have always inspired me, and I continue to look up to the ones who introduced me to music as a high school student. I get a huge rush from teaching, especially when I see my students have those “light bulb” moments when they begin to really understand what singing is all about. If a singer is interested in teaching, unless you get a job as a chorus or general music teacher at a public or private school, do not expect overnight success. It has taken me years to get to the point that I can financially support myself as a voice teacher, and I teach at three different locations. There are many ways to attract students; Craigslist ads work for some, as does putting your name on the list of teachers at the BSR website. Also, keep an eye for job listings once the summer comes on both Craigslist and hireculture.org.
Once you begin to get a few students, word of mouth will help. However, the first decision to make is how you want to balance your commitments. It is extremely difficult, if close to impossible, to have a 50/50 balance of teaching and singing. One side has to give, otherwise you’ll be completely burned out. While I still sing quite a bit, I now put more focus on concerts instead of full operas simply because they require less time. If singing is something you’re not willing to tone down, keep your roster of students low. With a little time and patience, a singer can find that balance.
What’s something that you wish you would’ve known about a singing career when you were leaving graduate school? In other words – what DON’T the conservatories tell you?
Conservatories and colleges tell you very little about how to manage a career. They don’t really have time – there are too many other skills they need to teach, and so they will rely on masterclasses to do that, if there’s room in the budget for that sort of thing. However, in my experience, I learned nothing about how to manage my finances, how to look for performing opportunities, how to advertise myself, how to read a contract…I could go on. Schools therefore inject the market with numbers of wide-eyed singers who expect to make it big but know nothing about what to do next. It’s a shame, but it’s the nature of the academic beast.
Do you think the nature of making a career of singing opera changing? If so, how to you think the experience of BOC can help a young singer prepare for their next stage?
I think the nature of making a career has already changed, and we’re seeing the effects. How many opera companies have closed in the past few years, and why? From what I’ve read, it appears to be purely financial – the old financial model of grand opera can barely get by. Look at the Met – it consistently runs in the red even though it rakes in money hand over fist from donors, advertisers and live broadcasts. YAPs and residencies are honestly no longer training programs – they’ve instead become waiting rooms filled with singers who really should be at the next level but can’t advance because the number of opportunities has collapsed as the number of singers has grown.
So, where does BOC fit in all this? Its uniqueness sets it apart because it provides training on both sides of the stage as it were. Members learn how to be professional – how to master a role on your own as well as how to behave in rehearsals. Members also learn arts administration, which I think will become more valuable as time goes on. I honestly believe that the most valuable musicians are those who come to rehearsals prepared and professional, and also are willing to pitch in off the stage whenever possible.
What’s next for you?
Well, right now I have a full load of voice students as well as three show choirs I conduct, steady work as a church choir section leader and BLO ensemble member, and a number of gigs lined up. This April, I return as a judge at the WERS All A Capella Live! competition. In May, I’ll perform with the Greater New Bedford Choral Society and also be a preliminary judge at the MetroWest Opera high school competition. Beyond that, I’m looking into doctoral programs in voice as well as picking up bigger concert gigs. Outside of that, I plan on doing some traveling with my wife, soprano Katrina Holden (another BOC alum). We’ve even talked about putting together a concert at some point, so stay tuned!