TWU’s School of the Arts, Media + Culture is set to present the second installment of its Faculty + Friends Recital Series — Songs of Love, Loss, and Laughter.
The recital, which will be held Jan. 11, features bass-baritone soloist and TWU alumnus Chad Louwerse, and renowned pianist and SAMC Music instructor Betty Suderman.
From the balmy songs of Napoli to the dreamy, Spanish-inspired airs of Don Quixote, the eclectic selection of art songs, spirituals, and just-plain-funny songs will delight first-time recital goers and connoisseurs alike.
Louwerse and Suderman will perform works by Tosti, Ibert, Schumann, and Canadian composer Jeff Smallman.
Event at a glance:
Songs of Love, Loss, and Laughter
Date: Sunday, Jan. 11
Time: 2:30 p.m.
Place: Langley Mennonite Fellowship 20997 40 Ave.
Tickets: Students/Seniors $10; Adults $15; Families (two adults and children) $30.
Available through Eventbrite or cash at the door.
Louwerse on Love, Loss and Laughter
In anticipation of the Jan. 11 concert, Chad Louwerse recently spoke to The Times about his career in music and the struggles he faced in choosing and following his path.
LT: Begin by telling us a bit about yourself. Where were you born/raised?
CL: I was born in St. John’s, Nfld. and moved around a lot growing up. My dad’s job finally landed us in Sidney, B.C. when I was 11, where I lived until leaving for university. Sidney is home for me, though I now live in London, Ont. My dad was very musical and I owe a lot to him in that regard and so, I’ve been singing or playing an instrument most of my life.
LT:What drew you into a career in opera? Is it simply that you are one of the rare individuals who have a voice suited to the genre, or was there more to it than that?
CL: The funny thing is that I used to mock the sound of operatic singing. I wasn’t drawn to it at all, though I have always loved classical music — a recording of Bach was the first music I ever bought with my own money. Another irony is that once I started singing in voice lessons, I said that I would never sing opera. Cosmic jokes. Of course, I love it now.
A career in opera is just one part of a classical singing career, which also includes concert work (singing things like Handel’s Messiah) and recitals or solo concerts. It was a combination of, as you say, having a voice suited to the genre, luck or blessing, depending on your point of view, and a practical extension of the kind of training I have had.
LT: Was it a calling for you? At one time, you struggled with reconciling a career in the performing arts and having a strong relationship with God? What made you feel that way and do you still struggle with that?
CL: Yes, I think it is a calling. Pursuing any art form professionally is a calling in that it can be a difficult life choice. Among other things, the wages of an artistic life in opera are time away from loved ones, learning how to live out of a suitcase, and all the uncertainty that can come from any self-employed occupation.
Please don’t mistake me, there are a lot of great, inspiring, and amazing things, too. However, the only motivations that are long-lasting and that matter are that my heart won’t let me do anything else and that I feel as though it’s what I have been made to do. I love singing and sharing music with people.
I did struggle with reconciling a career singing opera with my faith. At the time it was really a worry about whether or not the subject matter of opera was acceptable more than anything else. In retrospect, while it was perhaps an important struggle, I found I was struggling over the wrong issue. The real issue is that, for me, art is about exploring the truth about what it is to be human and all the good, bad, and ugly that goes along with it. It isn’t always pretty and nice – usually not.
However, God is in the business of love and of truth, of overcoming evil with good, and of reconciliation. Those are things that I can get behind and I’ve found that most operas have something in them goes along with that line of thinking, regardless of whether I play a good guy or a bad guy.
The continuing challenge lies is bringing that line of thinking out of my workplace and into real life, just as it is for everyone.
LT:Have you studied extensively the languages in which you sing to better understand the text? Is that necessary in order to convey the emotion of the opera’s story, or do you get that through the music itself?
CL: The answer to all these is yes. I speak French and have studied German and Italian and can get by in those languages. These, along with English are the first languages of classical music studies. However, singers will also have to tackle Czech and Russian for opera before too long, not to mention Latin, Spanish…so many lovely languages, so little time.
Opera is, after all, all about telling a story. If you don’t know what you’re singing, you really can’t communicate the story.
LT: It seems that bass-baritones get a lot of the fun character roles. In addition to singing the role, it must be fun finding ways to get that character across to the audience through your performance — often, I suspect, you’re as much an actor as a singer. Do you have any tricks or techniques for giving your character a well-rounded presence on stage? Did you study acting at all?
CL: Yes. Many character roles and they’re a ton of fun. I recently performed Don Magnifico in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, or Cinderella. He’s a nasty, foolish buffoon of a character and just a blast to play. There are a lot of things one does to communicate to an audience.
Everyone has a catalogue of things hidden up their sleeves, so to speak, but too many of those can really make a character static. Suddenly, one character looks like another and nobody wants that. The main trick is to know what each word means, to know the story like it was your own life, and to know music so that you could sing perfectly while falling out of bed during an earthquake in the middle of the night being half-asleep, as one of my coaches once put it.
Once all that’s settled, the goal is to be in each moment. The text, music, and stage direction set the boundaries of the playground. A singer’s job is to play and to let the creativity flow.
I study acting all the time. A mall — especially around Christmas — is an academy of acting. I love to watch people react to different situations. Sometimes — rarely — I create the situations myself. (picture impish grin here) I took drama in high school and studied it during summer programs I attended as a student and so on. Watching my colleagues on stage and in rehearsal has been an education too.
LT: Favourite role you’ve been able to play thus far? Why?
CL: My favourite role so far is probably Figaro in The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart. The music is amazingly diverse. The story is really funny, filled with practical jokes, awkward moments, and buffoonery and at the same time, deals with really serious issues that are still issues today. It’s very relatable. As a character, Figaro is a mastermind with a great sense of humour and just cause. He’s a fun person to become for a time. He also has some amazing music to sing.
LT: You live and are raising a family in Ontario, but I believe you’re often on the road, performing across Canada (and the US?). How are you finding the duality of being a husband/father, but also having to travel extensively and be away from home to earn a living?
CL: Being away from home is a big part of being a professional singer. I make certain choices because I have a family. Sometimes I say no to a contract. Sometimes my family comes with me – not as often as I’d like. There is a duality but it’s the reality of the career. My amazing wife Anita is what makes this work. She’s truly a marvel. I couldn’t do it without her. Though Skype and Facetime are a huge help nowadays, she’s the glue that holds our family together when I’m on the road.
LT: Talk a bit about the upcoming recital at TWU — Songs of Love, Loss and Laughter — and the performance you will give. Is it much different for you, as a singer, to perform at a recital rather than in a full scale opera, with respect to the amount of preparation you must do, for example, and in the presentation itself?
CL: The upcoming recital is for TWU’s Faculty and Friends Recital Series. It’s wonderful to be able to be involved with my alma mater this way. I chose the music for this concert with the first-time recital goer in mind. Each set in the concert has a story apart from the actual lyrics. It’s the story that gets me excited and I’ll share them in the concert – and no spoilers here! You’ll have to come to the concert to hear them.
The recital has a little of everything with a good dose of funny thrown in. There’s stuff you would have heard Pavarotti sing. There is some great French music about the indomitable Don Quixote, full of Spanish colour. There are three settings of a German poem called Du bist wie eine Blume – “You’re Like A Flower” by three different composers which, as it turns out, isn’t about a flower at all. There are three feel-good spirituals and a set of songs by the Canadian composer Jeff Smallman. It’s the West Coast premier of these songs, as far as I know.
Singing recitals, or solo concerts, is actually my favourite kind of performing. It’s very intimate and I love that. I’ll be collaborating with Betty Suderman — a wonderful pianist. She’s just a fantastic person to do a concert with. This will be the fourth concert we’ve done together. Most of all, though, I love connecting with the audience. It’s a kind of heady magic!
For more, visit chadlouwerse.com.