Why? Do I live my life vicariously through their successes? Not at all. Frankly, I only really care that my students are happy and living a life that has some connection with music or theatre. I certainly don't think less of a former student if they end up raising a family, or teaching, or enjoying the local arts community -- isn't that what we all want: a life?!
However, I do want success for my students. I work REALLY hard at it, not only writing letters of recommendation, but actively seeking employment for as many of them as I can.
Many of you may not know, but I'm rather proud that there are former students of mine now in positions of being able to hire me: Mr Chugg, for one. "Hello, is this Virginia Opera? I'd like to speak to Mr. Chugg. Yes, please, tell him it's Patrick. Um, Patrick HANSEN. [wait] Yes, Andy, uh, Mr. Chugg? Yes, this is Patrick Hansen. Um, Patrick HANSEN, you know, your old professor from Ithaca..."
Okay, so that conversation has never happened, but I must admit to thinking that at some point it might with one of my very many students out there in the world: Megan at Opera America, Beth now at Penn State, Brian who replaced me at Ithaca (probably even making more... irksome!), Brian and Jon - both earning the big bucks on Broadway, Alan (OK, so he's not a former student, but he's a former young artist!) who will be running the operatic world any day now. The list is rather long.
The list is extremely long when it comes time to mention the recent successes of many Ithaca and McGill former students as well. Today, Lara C was announced as Musetta in the Montreal Opera production of "La Bohème" next winter and Aidan F was announced to sing the role of the Secretary (a role that I consider one of my best!) in Menotti's "The Consul" in 2011. Caitlin M sang the secretary in the Ithaca College production and last summer she appeared as Despina in the Merola Opera production of "Cosi fan tutte" (she had sung her first Dorabella at Ithaca, which I think might have been her first role ever!). Who was the Fiordiligi in that Merola production? Lara - who was an amazing Fiordiligi here at McGill during my first year teaching. Who was the Adler pianist that summer? Allan P, who was the rehearsal pianist for that Ithaca College "Consul". I think Merola should call me...
Then there are the students who've gone onto big fame and fortune. I'll mention them by their full name because they're out there in the world as celebrities with hundreds of thousands of hits on youtube: Aaron Tveit and Zach James. Both appeared today in separate listings on playbill.com. Aaron, after his recent run on Broadway in "Next to Normal" and guest spots on "Ugly Betty" and "Gossip Girl", is set to open a show on Broadway next spring "Catch Me If You Can" (after the Leonardo movie of the same name - Aaron plays the Leonardo character.) Zach is opening "Addams Family Musical" tonight on Broadway - he plays Lurch. You can't miss him in any of the publicity because next to Nathan Lane, he looks 8 feet tall! I also had the pleasure of seeing Zach on Letterman a few nights ago - on the eve of McGill's "Dido and Aeneas". The last time I worked on Dido - at Ithaca - Zach was singing a role in it. He was also in "The Consul" at Ithaca, as well as a number of musicals.
Both Aaron and Zach were students in the B.F.A. program at Ithaca College. Both have REALLY exceptional voices - Aaron, a tenor and Zach, a bass. I'll never forget the day that my wife Elizabeth came into my studio after an initial lesson with Aaron. It went something like "I've just heard the next big star". Both Aaron and Zach had some difficulties to surmount with the theatre faculty. Because both of them sang so well, they were dismissed by a few of the acting teachers as "just singers". Because both of them were EXCEPTIONAL, and not the norm, many teachers had a difficult time assessing their talent. It seems odd, but many times I've found that some of my colleagues (academic and professional) are more comfortable with voices and talent that are what I would call mediocre: nothing wrong with them, but nothing special about them. Zach and Aaron were both special. I've kept in a bit of contact with both of them, and I must say each are extremely humble about their successes. Although, being introduced to the guy who plays Simba in "Lion King" as "one of my old professors from Ithaca" backstage at "Next to Normal", was a piece of humble pie for me!
Do I think I had something to do with their recent successes? No. Do I think I had something to do with their success? Yes. Do I wish that all of my students were as open-minded and hard-working as Aaron, Zach, Andy, Lara, Beth, the Brians, etc.? Absolutely.
Keep an open mind when you're learning, studying, teaching.
Success is something many want, but few get. Those that do, earn it!