Three Tenors (medQ)

My Christmas with Cantus

This is the weird and wonderful story of how my one and only Christmas with Cantus led me to meet tenors David Walton and Aaron Humble who are joining forces with me for my upcoming “A Three Tenors Christmas” at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres.  

plug:

  • Tuesday, December 22 at 8:15 P.M. (dinner seating at 6:15) get tickets
  • Wednesday, December 23 at 8:15 P.M. (dinner seating at 6:15) get tickets

Fyi, as of this writing, availability has gone from “excellent” to “good”….so don’t wait too long to get a ticket!

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The three tenors rehearse with pianist Herb Johnson.

My life is strange.  I’ve known for some time that anybody who willfully puts himself or herself up on a stage in front of other people is unusual.  Being a man that sings really high in front of people makes me a freak of nature.   I shouldn’t be surprised then, that this story is also strange.  Some call it luck but looking back all I can think is that Someone was orchestrating.

When I was in my last semester of grad school, I met Aaron Humble of Cantus as he was getting a tour of Denver University’s Lamont School of Music before the ensemble’s performance that evening.  I’d heard of Cantus on Minnesota Public Radio but had never been to any of their productions.  I decided I needed to look into this group, and I applied to audition that spring.  They hold annual auditions to attract the top male vocal talent in the nation, regardless of any open positions in the ensemble.  They invited me to come to one of their live auditions. That alone was worth the plane ticket.

Instead of singing for a director, or a panel of judges, you sing for the men of Cantus.  After all of the auditionees had sung their songs, we were invited back into the room and then magic happened. We got to sing WITH Cantus.  As I’d prepared my parts for the music ahead of time I had imagined the sound we’d achieve.  It surpassed all of my expectations.  I flew back to Denver with an even deeper respect for the organization.  I was saddened to hear some time later that there were no open positions in the ensemble, but still very glad to have sung with them, even for a day.

While singing a role in Italy at the tail end of the summer I received a call from Doc Rainbow, director of theatre at my undergraduate alma mater, University of Northwestern – St. Paul, inviting me to come sing the lead role of Father in Children of Eden that fall.  We sold or gave away nearly everything we owned and returned to our native Minnesota, anticipating a one month stay and then a circuit of audition trips out west.  Then, just a few days after arriving in Minnesota, I got a call from Cantus.  One of their tenors had taken a leave of absence and they needed a tenor to replace him for their upcoming “Christmas with Cantus” concerts and was I in town and AVAILABLE!?  I was ecstatic.

Rehearsing with them for six hours a day and learning an entire show in two weeks was a rigorous and rewarding experience.  Getting to perform with them was So. Much. Fun.  My contract included singing on their Christmas with Cantus CD in 2011.  That recording is still a favorite in my household, frequently being chosen by our young daughters as their bedtime music.

In the spring of 2012, Cantus was looking to fill this tenor position with a full-time singer, and I was hopeful that I may be able to join this group for the long term. Though I was bummed that they chose someone else, I totally understood their reasoning. David Walton possesses  a tenor range that I only dream of.  On my first encounter with David, I remembered thinking – just from his speaking voice – “wow, this guy is going to go far.”  Which he has. Find out more about him here.

I’ve been so privileged to have performed with David since then in various productions and was thrilled that he joined me and Aleks Knezevich for the debut performance of our tenor trio last year for Christmas at Wooddale in Eden Prairie Minnesota.

As plans for this year’s Chanhassen concerts developed, we needed to find a new tenor, as Aleks was not available this year.  David suggested Aaron Humble, also a long-time Cantus member who is currently on faculty at Augustana College in Illinois.  He is not only a quick study but brings such confidence and experience with him.  You can find out more about him here.

While I never purposed to create this year’s tenor trio with former members of Cantus, it makes perfect sense that that’s what has happened.  Cantus attracts top male talent to the state and the entire community benefits from it.

I’m thankful for the boldness to take chances.  This Christmas I’m especially thankful for the men of Cantus 2010 who took a chance on me.  I will always be grateful for the institution of Cantus.  It continues to create amazing music with many new voices and creating opportunities that go far beyond the ears that hear them.

(By the way, the 2015 “Christmas with Cantus” series starts tonight!)

Three Tenors (medQ)

photo credit: Bethany Jackson of Twin Cities Headshots

Photo Cred. Andrew Kurcan

Confidence

I hear it again and again, students of mine want to “build confidence” with their singing voice.  The following was taken from a message to a student who’d recently sent me a self-assessment of her level of preparedness for a role.

“One note about “confidence” while singing…If confidence is the measure of how good we feel about how we’re doing, as singers we can come about this in a variety of ways.  The most readily available is to listen to ourselves in the moment and assess how pleasing the sound is to our ears.  The only problem with this model of developing confidence is that we will invariably sound LESS good to our audience if all we’re focused on is making our sound SOUND good to us.  Instead, focus on releasing the sound as much as you can.  Think about the way that you would shout your words from the roof tops or across rice park.  Throw your voice out of you the way that you’ve used your voice before…  Anytime we call out to someone or cry for help, it uses ample space, direction, purpose, resonance,  articulation, etc.  AND we don’t stop to think about how it sounds.  Focus on the feeling of releasing/throwing/giving your voice instead of improving your audible sound.”

I believe that we’ve been built this way on purpose.  A good voice is something that is functioning its best when it is being shared in a selfless way.

Packing for a Journey?

Luggage.  A room full of suitcases, bags, parcels as diverse in size, shape and color as you can imagine.  I was grateful for the glass wall between us and the probably musty jumble of containers.  It was the luggage of those traveling into the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.  How would I pack if I was being forced to leave my home for an unknown destination?  I was in Oświęcim, Poland on a tour of Auschwitz I in the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.  

Our tour included passing several other rooms filled with items taken from the possessions of the detainees upon arrival, and some items removed from their bodies, such as human hair.  We stood for a while at the firing wall, some pausing to say a prayer.  We walked into the gas chambers…but we walked out of them too.  This was not the case for the hundreds of thousands of people exterminated there.  

This experience I had was similar to that Dr. Sean Vogt had.  He’s the director of the Apollo Male Chorus with whom I have been singing for a year and a half.  Inspired by a similar visit he’d made to Auschwitz in 2013, Dr. Vogt has built a program to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the its liberation.  This “Liberation of Auschwitz” program will be Tuesday, January 27th at 7:00PM.  The music will include Arnold Schoenberg’s rarely performed “Survivor from Warsaw” whose complex texture and disjunct melodies (utilizing 12-tone technique) seem a fitting portrayal of the suffering of so many.

As a contrast to the Schoenberg the evening begins and ends with the world premier of James Bassi‘s newly commissioned joyful and resolute Five Prayers scored for men’s chorus, baritone soloist, orchestra and dancer.  

This concert may be a hard journey.  Emotionally and aurally it has some challenging material.  However, it will have an impact on this community and hopefully stick in peoples minds, just like that room full of luggage…lest we forget.

Please make an effort to come to this show.  Tickets can be purchased directly through the Ted Mann Box Office.

 

LOCATION
Ted Mann Concert Hall
University of Minnesota
2128 4th Street South
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Tickets: $38-$88 (there is a discount available for groups of 10 or more)

Available at the Tedd Man box office site here.

Questions: 612-624-2345

NorrSound Tenors

The annual “Christmas at Wooddale” concerts at Wooddale Church this year will include the first performance of the NorrSound Tenors, a trio of tenor power.  I would like to take the opportunity to introduce you to the other tenors in the group.

I met Aleks Knezevich the day that I auditioned for H.M.S. Pinafore at Guthrie Theater.  I had seen him around but had never met him.  Once we both began working on the show, we connected quickly.  I was amazed at his hard work as a “swing” where he was trying to learn every male ensemble part to substitute for them in the event that someone was unable to perform.  I did not envy his job, but admired his tenacity. Aleks Headshot 2

His hard work paid off when he was given the lead male role of Ralph Rackstraw when that cast member decided he didn’t want to perform at the Guthrie anymore.  Besides being a hard worker and amazing performer, Aleks is terrifyingly smart.  He has completed one year of med school, but took off this year to perform the lead in a national tour of Jekyl and Hyde.  Though we’ve needed to use some creative rehearsal strategies, considering his tour, I’m thrilled to have him on board.

David Walton is the high tenor that Cantus had been looking for when they filled the spot that I left when I started at the Guthrie.  For the three years that he sang with Cantus, audiences greatly appreciated the soaring and effortless ring on the tops of the chords that Mr. Walton added to the group.  It was fun to finally perform in a production together this past September in the world premier of Jocelyn Hagen and Penny Freeh’s Test Pilot. He is currently pursuing an opera career and performing next summer with Opera Theatre St. Louis. Local audiences recently saw him as Postiglione in Minnesota Opera’s production of La Fanciulla del West.

David won the Twin Cities district in The Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions this past weekend, and will sing in the Regional Finals on Jan. 31st.  Also, David’s been asked to be a Resident Artist next year with the Minnesota Opera!

I have created three arrangements for the trio this year and I’m excited to share them with you.  There is an acapella  medley of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “What Child is This,” as well as “Gesu Bambino” with piano.  The final selection is “O Holy Night” with orchestra.  Please come out to one of these performances.  We’d love to see you there!

Friday, Dec. 12th, 8:00 PM

Saturday, Dec. 13th, 8:00 PM

Sunday, Dec. 14th, 2:00 PM

-Nathan Bird

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Two Things Wright

I’ve been enjoying learning a little bit more about the birth of flight as I prepare for Test Pilot in a few weeks.

Penny Freeh with guys Test Pilot

Rehearsing airplane choreography with Penny Freeh

While most of what I’ve been learning has to do with what to sing or how to move, there are two things about the Wright brothers that really stick out to me.

As they were trying to figure out this whole flight thing, they were working in their bicycle shop.  They had been trying to figure out how to maneuver the plane once they were to get into the air. The solution that they ended up using was arrived at by simply playing around with the box from a tire inner tube.  (The process is called “wing warping.”)  Not only did they arrive at the solution by just noticing the world around them, but they were solving problem C before they had even passed problem A.

They were open to finding a solution before they even needed it.  They were dreaming. And they were planning on their dream coming true.

The second thing that really inspired me this week is about an equation – the all important equation for lift.  They were finding all of these dead ends in their attempts to solve it until they realized that part of the equation – which had been “proven” to be the case – was actually false.

So the two things…

1. Plan ahead.  Don’t get caught up in the problems of today such that there is no energy to dream about solutions for tomorrow.

2. Question. Question the status quo.  Don’t let the “rules” by the experts keep you on the ground.

 

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Wright-Glider-LC-DIG-ppprs-00571” by (unknown) – http://lcweb2.loc.gov. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Summer Starts

We’ve been a bit silent here on the blog for a while.  As the season changes, and our schedules along with it, here is an update about what to expect in the near future from Nathan and the Birds.

Summer Lessons

Clip art musicians

After Nathan’s second spring student recital this coming Tuesday, he will have officially wrapped up another year of voice lessons through Waconia High School, Prior Lake High School, and his own private studios at home and at Colonial Church of Edina.

Beginning this week he will be primarily teaching at our home studio in Northeast Minneapolis, while maintaining the Edina and Prior Lake studios as well.  This allows for a much broader and more flexible schedule.  Click on this link or open this pdf (Call for voice students Summer 2014 (general memo)for information about purchasing summer lessons.  We are using sort of a punch-card system this year.  Check it out. Pass it on. Sign up!

Weddings

Nathan and I are looking forward to performing together in two weddings late in June.  Wedding gigs have always been one of our favorite things – in fact it was doing this sort of thing together that kept us so connected when we first became friends 12 years ago (yikes!).

Know of anyone looking for voice or piano music for a late summer or fall wedding?  We’re game!

Concerts

Details aren’t being made public quite yet, but based on the success of last year’s A Summer Night Romance concerts, it’s fair to say that there are plans brewing.  Nathan has been working with a growing team of professionals to help develop his processes as a concert producer. Expect great things to be happening as the year unfolds.

On Sunday, June 8, there will be a fun jazz concert with the Apollo Male Chorus and the George Maurer Group. Nathan has been working as one of their section leaders and will be singing with them on this event. See link above for tickets, and let us know if you’ll be there!

As always, check out the events page for info about upcoming productions involving Nathan.

Newsletter

Our monthly newsletters have been on hiatus as well, but we are reviving them soon, like within a couple days soon. If you’re not sure if you’re on the list, sign up here. If you don’t get around to doing that until after we’ve sent it out, you’ll be able to find it on the archive page, and I’ll be sure to get you on the list for the next one.  This next May/June edition will share more about how we have each been engaged professionally in the recent past, as well as more about summer plans.

Baby!

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The girls (and Nathan) are pretty excited about bringing another boy into the family.

And if that newsletter doesn’t end up getting to you in the next few days like I ‘promised,’ it’s probably because we decided to take a vacation at the hospital.  Our baby boy is due to arrive around June 9 (which also happens to be our wedding anniversary), but this mama would be really ok with any time now.

Thanks for following and supporting us on this journey – both professionally and personally!

Hope you have a great weekend and enjoy the beautiful weather.

~Naomi, for both of us

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