Back to School: Back to Work
It’s that time again; time to stock up on school supplies, time to dust off the instrument, time to buy more sheet music, time to start lessons again, and most of all, time to get back to work. Summer stock is over, and the regular performing season is beginning to take full swing.
Now that schooling is over for me, it’s time to find work. This fall season, I can be seen on the Detroit Opera House stage in Elektra and Madame Butterfly with Michigan Opera Theatre, subbing for multiple churches, working as a substitute teacher, and costuming Bowling Green State University's fall opera Amal and the Night Visitors for their Arts Extravaganza weekend. The only thing I wanted out of my schooling was to be employable in the arts, and diversification has been my life. I have done everything from performing on stage to performing in the pit orchestra, costuming, directing, and artistic director. My goal is to always be involved in the Theatre.
This year, I have been blessed with an opportunity to perform with the Michigan Opera Theatre as an apprentice singing my first solo part on the Detroit stage. It will be my second time singing a solo part on a professional stage: increasing my professional repertoire from ten words and three notes off stage to over a minute on stage singing over 70+ musicians without a microphone, but no music career starts on a professional stage. My musical life has consisted of a slow and steady upward motion combining a lifelong passion with a professional career, but I have never forgotten where my music comes from and my passions began.
When I was little, my mother would buy me records, then cassette tapes, and then compact disks of the musicals she would take me to see either at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis or on Broadway in New York City. I would play them during bedtime and memorize every word and note and then be taken to see the musical. I could tell my mother every note from the instruments to the singers that was different than the memorized recording in my head, but musical talent and skill was not uncommon to my family. Everyone in my family had some form of musical background, and it was apparent that I would share some musical talent. Because there was such a musical background in my family, my mother decided it was time for me to begin learning an instrument, and so in third grade, I set out to have my own musical career with my very own instrument.
Choosing an instrument can be a life-long commitment, and for me, it will stay with me the rest of my life. It feels like it was only yesterday that I picked out my first instrument even though it occurred over two decades ago. Because I went to a private school with no music program, my mother took me to our local music store in Columbia, Missouri. I got to try out every instrument possible which is a service the public school system provided for fifth graders. I started with a trumpet since that was my grandfather’s instrument; it was to no avail. I could put lots of wind through but no sound came out. I also tried a French horn, my grandmother’s instrument. There was just as much success as the trumpet. I was not interested in a trombone or tuba, so we moved from the brass family into the woodwind family where hopefully I could find more success. I could squeak out sounds on the clarinet, but my mother said she would not have a squawking instrument in her house. I wasn’t allowed to even look at a saxophone because of the Presidential scandal at the time. What does a saxophone have to do with impeachment hearings?! I’ll never know, but it was out of the question. A snare drum has no melody, and it did not help that it was heavy. Why in the world would I want to play an instrument that just gets heavier as you progress? It’s the only instrument I know that increases in size into a trap set. I was running out of options.
The only band instrument left was the flute. The salesman brought out a flute for me to try and pulled out the headjoint for me to try to make a sound. It was a success; I could make a sound. Then the salesman showed me how my finger could change the pitch with just the headjoint. I never did put the whole instrument together that day. It was settled; my first flute was an Armstrong. It was a nickel plated flute with a c foot. The lining of the case was blue, and it came with a cleaning rod. Shortly after the purchase, we found a flute teacher, and my grandparents paid for private lessons. I’ve never gave it a second thought that I should be doing something else other than music.
Now I enjoy playing for musicals when I am not on the stage. One of my favorite parts of playing for a musical is the variety of instruments required to be performed by one person. Most of the scores call for one person to play flute, clarinet, and saxophone with additional possibilities of recorder, oboe, piccolo, alto flute, English horn, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, and others. Before I played for my first musical in 2000, I learned to play clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, French horn, and piano. How I ended up playing each of these instruments came in an unusual way, but that is another story for another day.
Diversification is the name of the game, and I will always love learning a new skill like another instrument or lighting a stage. Who knows what is in store for me this fall. I love every minute of it, and I wouldn’t change a thing. Back to school, back to work, and back to the theatre is the life for me.
Tenor Blake Bard, from Ulman, MO, is currently singing with Michigan Opera Theatre apprentice for the 2014-15 season including Young Servant in Elektra and the Registrar in Madame Butterfly. Recent Roles include Parpignol in La Boheme with Toledo Opera, Danilo in The Merry Widow and Le Chevalier in Dialogues des Carmelites with Bowling Green State University, Prunier in La Rondine and covering Franz in Les Contes d'Hoffmann with Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. As a Young Artists with Chicago Opera Theatre, Blake covered Egeo and Sole in Giasone and Mambre in Mose in Egitto. Blake holds a Bachelors in Music and Masters in Music in Voice Performance from Bowling Green State University. Other special interests include reed doubling for musicals, costuming, directing, and farm living.