Cedar Rapids Opera is excited to announce its first-ever Artist in Residence Program in paport and enrich vocal instruction in high school choir programs by providing onsite lessons by a Cedar Rapids Opera professional teaching artist. This year, we are thrilled to welcome Dorian McCall, a dynamic Chicago-based bass-baritone and educator, to Washington High School to provide two weeks of one-on-one instruction, free of charge, to 18 promising students some of whom experience barriers to access for private singing education.
Mr. McCall shares his thoughts on his residency, his history, and his love of opera below:
CROpera: Who was your musical inspiration growing up?
I actually did not have musical inspiration growi
ng up. I just enjoyed the use of harmony and ensemble and even dissonance by way of singing in my Black Baptist church choir for as long as anyone can remember. I remember listening to the radio in my room and just dancing along to the music of the '90s that my mother would allow. After we got internet and cable in the mid 00s, I continued in the same way, but not the way a typical teenager would. I didn't even start listening to classical music regularly until high school when I got access to a radio that could tune into the public radio and metropolitan opera broadcasts on Saturday. There was no inspiration, per se, just a way of life that I readily fell into.
How did you fall in love with opera?
My relationship with Opera came from a marriage of my love for stage and performance plus my love of music and singing plus my propensit
y to be the loudest person in any room I'm generally in. (The "joke" was "Wow, you sing so loud! Are you going to perform opera when you grow up?" ...now look at me.) When I figured that that was the easiest way to marry my alleged talents, I kind of fell into studies. Membership for the Texas All-state mixed choir in 2010 and a small choral scholarship to attend Lamar University didn't hurt either. Minus the general thrill of performing on stage, I did not have a specific opera bug until my first workshop of Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro as Figaro. That was the first time I sang a role and felt like from start to finish it was bespoke for my voice. Like I was the voice and performer that Mozart had in mind when he was looking to premiere this piece. It was very affirming .
What do you hope your students will glean fro
m their lessons with you?
I believe we have been making a big push for inclusion in the world, not just in the arts, but especially in classical music. I'm hoping that my students will see a facet of themselves in me and be encouraged to refine and shine it, be it as a full-time professional or as an amateur in a choral society or even at home or their worship space. It is very important to me, as this has been made obvious in my own studies and journey with body awareness, that strength is different for different people, but finding the source of that strength and using it efficiently is what promotes longevity and facility in what they are choosing to accomplish. Your body is yours and beautiful in whatever way it comes to you, keep it strong, keep it moving.
How do you hope to see the world of opera change?
This is a loaded and/or trick question, lol. Off th
e record, I'm hoping that Americans will find a musical language as distinct as the other Western European music styles that we study that is also tuneful. I'm also looking forward to the telling of Black and other IPOC stories with those Colored folks at the helm of these projects, and that they might finally peel away from specifically trauma and triumph, but lean into the humanity and existence. Blacks are more than enslaved, victims of Jim Crow, and lacking in civil rights and generational wealth.
Do you have any favorite words of wisdom that have guided your journey?
My teacher in grad school conveyed this to me and I have to work very actively to keep it in mind in my professional and personal life: You are enough.
You are a fountain, a sculpted piece of art. There are those who are going to walk past you and not give you a second glance or acknowledge your existence. There are those who will stop and admire you briefly and continue with their journey. But they will also be those who acknowledge you, admire you, revel in your existence,swim and drink freely of your waters and celebrate you. No existence of one person negates the other, because you are the same work of art and infrastructure regardless.
What would an opportunity like this residency have meant to you as a high school student?
As an eventually non-treble youth that grew up in the Black Gospel tradition, one of the issues I collided with several times was what contribution meant in a classical ensemble context. A residency like this might have helped me digest that there was indeed a place for me, but there's going to be some years of mitigation and study. A lot of what I needed at that age was simply self awareness. I specifically remember being sat down by an older cousin and was taught and coached through how to eliminate vibrato from my singing. I was not aware of the difference at all, like most teenagers in most things. I can't change
the world in two weeks, but I can find a point or two that might stick and augment their singing. That's what would have happened for me.
The Lift Every Voice: Artist in Residence program is supported by Hills Bank and Trust.