Too Stupid To Quit 2- Saved For Later
by Donald Kaasch
Complex voices take a lot of time to come together. It’s kind of like the difference between a bucket of legos and a bucket of duplos. The buckets are the same size but there are 100 legos for every 25 duplos. Dump them on the floor and it’s not hard to guess which will come together soonest. Nothing against duplos but, IF the legos are finished being put together, there should be a great difference between the possible complexities of the two.
Being ‘saved for later’, when you’re in it, feels exactly the same as being passed over, forgotten and left out. When everyone else seems to be coming together vocally and are making sounds that are earning compliments, encouragement and even award recognition, it can be a very lonely time. It costs a lot and leaves you bruised and battered, fearful and alone.
The important thing about complex voices is this; in an acoustical arena they tend to ‘cut’ through the orchestra and unfold out into the theater more than simpler instruments. They also contain a greater palette of colors and possibilities of expression and can withstand greater demands placed upon them. Simply put, they can do more, change more, develop more and evolve more than their more confined and defined ‘duplo’ colleagues. They are usually late bloomers and can often be misjudged as unfixable messes’ way too early in the process.
I’m still a late bloomer. At 51 years old I’m still vocally growing and learning new things that my voice can do. I remain utterly imperfect and flawed but I am still developing vocal landscapes and solutions through an ever-evolving repertoire.
When I finished my undergraduate degree in vocal performance at the University of Colorado in BoulderI was still low on the tenor totem pole and a vocal shamble. Even my own parents shook their heads at recitals… and asked my voice teacher, Dr. Barbara Doscher, “Do you hear it? We don’t hear it. Do you hear it?”, ‘it’ being anything that sounded promising or hopeful. It must have been hard on them, paying the costs of such a degree, to not hear the ‘hoped for’ sounds that would engender a sense of money well spent.
Shortly before graduating, as is with most departing seniors, I had graduate school on my mind for the upcoming fall. Not wanting to leave Dr. Doscher (who did ‘hear it’), I asked the then Chair of the Voice Department if I could return in the fall. I was told cleanly and clearly that I was ‘sub-standard’ for the graduate program and not waste my or the schools’ time. Panic set in big time. If my own school had no faith in me, who would?
In the following two months I sang a few disastrous auditions for regional theaters with the common suggestion that I study a bit longer— those were the kind comments. They were all correct, even the hard assessments. I was a vocal mess and I would remain so for a long time to come. Maybe I still am…
My wife Catherine and I were married in the middle of that summer and we drove out to another family wedding in Illinois in August. I cannot remember why we decided to drive up to Northwestern Universityin Evanston, a northern suburb of greater Chicago. We did so unannounced and didn’t think of things like auditioning or even expecting anyone to be there during the summer break, before the start of a new fall semester. We just did it.
Upon finding our way to the School of Music on the Northwestern Universitycampus we found the only office that was open and poked our heads inside to say ‘hello’ to, of all people, the Dean of Graduate Studies, Dr Paul Aliapoulios. He was a very generous man and seemed to take an interest in the fact that I was a tenor without a graduate school. He said it was too bad that they were out of session because there were no voice teachers in the building and, catching himself, he made an internal phone call to someone named ‘Norman’ and walked us up to the fourth floor to a studio with the name ‘Norman Gulbrandsson’ on the door. He knocked, we entered, and were introduced to the man whose name we had just read. Norman Gulbrandsson was one of those workaholic voice teaching legends whose name stood on its own, over time. He was ‘Stormin’ Norman’ and we were standing in his domain.
I had no music, was not warmed up (not that it would have mattered) and was told to stand by the piano. I don’t remember what I sang to this day but I’m sure I didn’t pull off a miracle. I didn’t pull any wool over his eyes OR ears but Norman Gulbrandsson heard something….something that gave him the insight that I should be fast-tracked into Northwestern’s graduate program. He made a single phone call down to Dr Aliapoulios’ office and said, “Do what it takes to get him here”.
Northwesternis a part of the mysterious ‘Ivy League’ and is VERY expensive. Between a healthy scholarship from monies already allocated and a Teaching Assistantship in the Music History department I was fully covered financially. I had gone from substandard to indispensable with the same voice heard through a different set of ears.
Catherine and I returned to our newlywed apartment in Denver quite stunned, packed up and drove to Illinois in a little U-Haul truck filled with our meager possessions, pulling our 1967 VW bug behind us. It all took place inside of two and a half weeks.
Being ‘saved for later’ really does feel the same as being passed over but if you have a propensity toward being too stupid to quit, you never know what you might find…
The career of American tenor Donald Kaaschhas taken him to the principal theatres of the world in title and leading roles at the Netherlands Opera, Teatro alla Scala, Metropolitan Opera, Teatro Colòn in Buenos Aires, Grande Théâtre de Genève, l’Opéra de Paris, TMP Châtelet, Zürich Staatsoper, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Australian Opera/Sydney, Théâtre de la Monnaie in Brussels, The Royal Opera House, Deutsche Oper Berlin, Staatsoper Hamburg, Staatsoper Stuttgart, Teatro Reggio di Parma, Los Angeles Opera…
He maintains an active international concert presence with major orchestras such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony, the BBC and Royal Philharmonic Symphonies, l’Orchestre de Paris, l’Orchestre National de France and l’Orchestre de la Radio-France, Berlin Symphony Orchestra… among many others. The title role in the Berlioz La Damnation de Faust is perhaps his signature concert role and one which he sings worldwide with conductors such as Prêtre, de Waart, Soustrot, von Dohnányi, and Soudant.
Recent engagements include: St François d’Asisse and Kat’a Kabanova with the Netherlands Opera, The Tempest at the Royal Opera House/Covent Garden in London, La damnation de Faust at the Semperoper in Dresden, Boris Godunov at the Teatro Réal in Madrid and Dallapiccola’s Il Prigioniero with the American Symphony Orchestra in NYC, Lincoln Center.
Future engagements include: Il Prigioniero with the Netherlands Opera, Elektra in Brussels, Toulouse and Santiago (Chile) , Salome in Liege, Kat’a Kabanova at both the Paris Opera/Bastille and the Opera Oviedo in Spain and Mahagonny at the Teatro Real Madrid.
Recordings include Rossini’s Armida with Renée Fleming on Sony Classics, Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex with James Levine on Deutsche Grammophon, Lizsts’ Christus on MD&G and Oh Fair to See, a collection of English Art Song with Peter Lockwood for Globe and Thomas Ades’ The Tempest with EMI. He is also featured on DVD in the Stuttgart Opera production of Alceste (SudWest Rundfunk and Arte) as well as the Netherlands Opera production of St François d’Asisse from (Opus Arte).