Beautiful Construction

Our lives are constructed so that we keep running into people who will shape our lives. When I was a high school student, I knew nothing about opera. But every Christmas we would get a Goodyear Christmas album with the great opera singers of the day singing Christmas songs. I so looked forward to that every year. There was something about those great voices that hooked something very deep in me. After high school I went to Southwest Baptist University. I thought I wanted to major in music but I was discouraged by a teacher who thought I had no talent, so I majored in theology with a double major in speech/drama. The best singer on the faculty of the Music Department was a bass named Ted Harris. The year that I entered school Mr. Harris was rehearsing for a performance he was going to sing with Jerome Hines, the famous Metropolitan Opera bass. I just sat down in the hall outside Mr. Harris’ door and listened to those incredible sounds coming out of him. I think that was the first time I heard the name Jerome Hines. Skip forward, I was in seminary and one of my dorm buddies was an opera buff who played opera morning, noon, and night in the dorm. I listened with him to all the great singers, especially to Jerome Hines. I found it interesting that he would go into skid row and work in a soup kitchen or sing for the homeless men who came.

While I was in seminary I sang in the oratorio chorus. A beginning sort of voice was coming out of me. In order to earn a little money I got a job as the music director of a small Baptist church in rural Kentucky. During my time there, the area churches had a singing contest. I entered and sang “The Holy City,” and won. The pastor of the church I served said, “Wow I should call my friend Jerome Hines about you.” There was that name again.

My opera buddy wanted to go down to Memphis over the weekend to see their production of Boris Godounov starring….you guessed it, Jerome Hines. We got front row seats. I wanted to watch how he worked on stage. Hines was astounding. Unfortunately, the others singers were local talents who could not compete at that level. Backstage Hines was a little miffed at the production, saying, “This company is not ready to produce Hansel and Gretel, let alone Boris.” We went backstage to see him. He was warm and gracious and I was star struck. I transferred seminaries after a year to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City Missouri. Who should come into the area fro a community concert but Jerome Hines. I went with my old college teacher, Ted Harris, to watch Hines. He was magnificent as always…but he never remembered me from any of these visits. You know the story from here. I heard an internal voice that told me to leave seminary and become an opera singer. I won the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions and moved to New York. One of the first things I did in New York was to arrange for an audition with Jerome Hines of the Metropolitan Opera. Now in 1975 I was going to get to sing for him. I was to go over to New Jersey to audition directly for Hines himself. In those days I was not really nervous. I was excited and ready to go. My voice could do anything and I could pound on it for hours, if necessary, and it would still be fine for the next outing. I prepared my benchmark arias that had won the Met auditions for me and took a train, then a bus, to the New Jersey audition site. It was a small room to sing in. Hines was seated only a few feet from me. Still, I went eagerly to the task and sang Macbeth’s last act aria, “Pieta, rispetto, amore,” which had won for me the Midwestern Finals of the Met Auditions, interpolating a long, sustained, high A flat at the end. Hines was visibly impressed and began talking about his recording of Macbeth with Leonard Warren. He was warm and cordial but every bit the opera star that I expected him to be.

He talked several minutes about great baritones he had known and how favorably my voice compared. I could not have asked for a more favorable review from one I idolized so. I got the part and began preparing the role. The baritone I was replacing, Calvin Marsh, was a Met baritone with a huge voice, beautiful color, commanding range, and a veteran. He was a tough act to follow. My voice was much different than his, darker, almost a bass-baritone compared to his, yet more lyrical because of youth. My old college teacher, Ted Harris, was to sing the bass part of the villain, Eliakim, one of the chief priests (a fictitious character), who conspires with Judas to capture Jesus. I was going to get to see two dreams come true, to sing with my teacher and my idol.

Over the years I continued with the Hines company. Jerry and I became close friends and he became my mentor in opera. The last time I sang with him, he was 75 and still had a strong voice. In his last years he would call me up and talk about singing. He wanted an assurance that he had made a mark with his life’s work. Really, that is all that any of us want, just to know that we have helped others in our lives. How many people did Jerome Hines affect? He was set in place in my life, that is for sure, and I love him for being there♥♥♥♥♥