Made in Our Hometown: Teenager's Gift for Opera
Updated: Monday, July 15 2013, 03:24 PM EDT
Rochester, N.Y. - One of the most talented young vocalists in the country is getting ready to begin a dual-major program at the University of Rochester and the Eastman School of Music. 18-year-old Aaron Bigeleisen will graduate from McQuaid and embark on a career that could take him to the great opera houses of the world.
Listen to his voice, that mature baritone that sounds years beyond his age, and you'll understand why.
"What we're projecting for Aaron is a career with an unlimited track," says Robert Swensen, the Eastman School Professor of Voice who has guided Aaron's development over the past two years. "We expect him to be able to sing anywhere -- if he chooses to be a professional opera singer, he will be singing at the great houses of the world."
Aaron Bigeleisen grew up in a musical family, but never knew he had that voice inside of him until he had to make a decision on what kind of performer he wanted to be. The night before his first voice lesson Aaron was doing what many kids do: he was watching The Simpsons. On that particular episode, Bart Simpson happened to make fun of Broadway show tunes.
"At the time, Bart Simpson had to be the coolest person on the planet, so I decided to take his advice," Aaron explains. "So for my lesson I walked in and said, 'No Rodgers and Hammerstein, no Rogers and Hart!' My teacher said, okay, fine, pulled out an Italian art song, and that's how I got started."
Over the last two years, this McQuaid senior has become a force on the national scene. He was one of only 12 students selected from roughly 10,000 contestants in the YoungArts competition. That led to a master class with the great tenor Placido Domingo -- "Amazing," Aaron says -- and a date to perform in June at the White House for President Obama.
He will choose his performance carefully; Aaron is a confident and articulate speaker, but he prefers to let the music speak. "I never feel like I can really fully communicate with somebody unless I'm singing," he says.
Opera is competitive, and one advantage for Aaron comes from his mother. She speaks five languages fluently, a number of others adequately, and teaches at McQuaid. When Aaron is learning a new piece, his mother Laurie Farber makes sure he understands the words. "I think it's been helpful in terms of his singing to give him a leg up on pronunciation, meaning, grammar," she says. "It's been special for us to work together. I'm proud, but I never want to push too much. There's an important line between pushing and simply wanting to guide someone. Aaron is making his own choices."
He could have gone anywhere to continue his education, but Aaron never considered leaving Eastman. This fall he begins a dual-major program at Eastman and the University of Rochester. He'll stay with Swensen, whom Aaron credits for much of his success. "I can't thank him enough," Aaron says, "and I can't imagine being anywhere else. I am so fortunate to grow up here and have this opportunity."
Aaron will finish high school with outstanding grades and a vision for his future -- no matter where it takes him.
"My opinion is that everybody should do their absolute best with their talents to help and shape the world around them," he says. "I've tried my hand at a lot of things here at McQuaid, and the thing that I do best -- the thing that I think helps the most people, or can help the most people -- is my singing."