Two Extraordinary Vocalists to Join the GRS for Brahms' German Requiem

This Friday and Saturday, the Grand Rapids Symphony performs Brahms' German Requiem. In addition to the Grand Rapids Symphony Chorus, soprano Jeanine De Bique and baritone Norman Garrett will bring this moving piece to life in DeVos Performance Hall. We talked to Jeanine and Norman about Brahms, their careers and what they are looking forward to at the performance this weekend. 

How did you decide to pursue a career in opera? Did you always envision yourself doing what you are now?   

Norman Garrett: With a choral background I started college with dreams of being an aerospace engineer. But with convincing from my professors I decided to go an entirely different route. Not necessarily in opera, but instead I chose a career in classical singing. I never envisioned myself in opera but it was the natural by-product of classical vocal training.   

Jeanine De Bique: I was originally a pianist and was involved in singing in the chorus at school and an adult chorus after school. My chorus teacher at school who studied voice at The Royal Academy of Music in London invited me for private vocal lessons. Both she and my piano teacher, who also studied voice and piano in Germany, encouraged me to pursue music as a career. I was at crossroads because I was unable to do study both piano and voice at the conservatory. I decided to study voice. I envisioned myself as either a lawyer or a psychologist.   

What is the most exciting part about getting to perform around the world?    

Jeanine: I've made the dearest friends in my adult life and I cherish them. I also cherish the opportunity to see different parts of the world, as opposed to only seeing them on television or in history books.     

What is something you would really love to do someday, either with music or apart from it?     

Norman: As far as the future I wouldn’t mind going back to college and completing a degree in engineering. I’ve always told myself that it is still a possible option due to my love for numbers.   

Jeanine: My dreams are to establish a professional opera company in Trinidad and Tobago and an orchestra called the Trinidad and Tobago Philharmonic, with seasons which include operas, works of classical masters and, over time, locally commissioned classical compositions, and where fine singers and fine musicians perform together. We have such experienced talent abroad and also at home to achieve this. It takes just one bold innovative step!  I am also heavily interested in communications as well as psychology.   

What are you most looking forward to about performing with the Grand Rapids Symphony?   

Norman: I love concert work, and I know several singers who have sung with Grand Rapids in the past. They all have said great things about the ensemble!   

Jeanine: I'm looking forward to making great music and sharing the great experience of this work the orchestra and the chorus. It’s an intense piece, deep and very emotional.       

Brahms’ German Requiem is a very well-known work. How do you bring your own style or interpretation to a work like that?   

Norman: You should know that Brahms is my favorite composer outside of the operatic genre. Every writing assignment from undergrad to grad school was on Brahms and his compositions, lieder, choral, and symphonic work. As far as bringing my own style that’s the easy part. A person’s voice is like a fingerprint. Everyone’s is different. That fact alone will make it easy for me to bring my own uniqueness to the work.   

Jeanine: Getting to perform the same piece in a different place with a different orchestra, with different people is always a new experience. Each performance is different, and it is the opportunity to bring new and fresh ideas, of course still staying true to what the composer intended, to the music. It is wonderful to have the opportunity to say something new with the piece each time I perform it and I am grateful to the Grand Rapids Symphony for the opportunity.    

How would you describe your experience as an African American in this field? What positive changes have you seen throughout your career regarding roles for people of color, and what changes still need to be made?   

Norman: My experience as a young black singer has been a journey. But I can’t say that the hardships I’ve encountered are any different from someone else’s struggle to be successful in the career. It’s 2015 and America is the most progressive and culturally diverse country on the planet. With constant social blending and integration of countless races, creeds, and faiths it’s really not hard to believe that opera is making the same progress. Due to this evolution I’m positive that my struggles aren’t the same as 20 years ago or even 10 years ago, but its very evident more and more singers of color are having success everyday. Cheers to forward motion!   

What is one thing most people would never guess about opera music?   

Norman: I would say the main thing people forget about opera is variety. People tend to consolidate it into one big genre, while in reality there are several different subdivisions of it. The more you dig into those tributaries the more complex it becomes, voice types, opera compositional periods, orchestrations, languages, libretti, stories, etc. Each one of those things I listed can be broken down into even more specificity.   

Singing opera is much more than just good vocal technique, correct? What else goes into performing?   

Norman: Well another thing happening in opera is that audiences want more from the singers. Now, yes voice should always come first but it’s not enough anymore, audiences want it all. With iPads, HDTV screens everywhere, and the internet, we have all become very visual as well. As a performer you must be ready for your “close up” and bring a natural and realistic characterization to your roles.         

If you could tell the Grand Rapids Symphony audience one thing about your performance, what would it be?   

Norman: I want it to be known that THIS work, Brahms' Ein Deutches Requiem, is the reason why I chose to be a classical singer. I had never seen or heard music on such a large scale. Late during my freshman year at Texas Tech I was fortunate enough to encounter this music at the annual Scholarship Concert. Five different choirs and nearly everyone who played an instrument was playing in the orchestra. During the second movement the “Death March” I felt something I had never felt before. I felt the true power that music can have. I’m not sure if it was the amount of decibels that over 300 people can create, or the powerful text “denn alles Fliesch es ist wie gras” but in that moment I realized that I had to pursue music.   

Jeanine: I'm honored to be performing this piece again, as the last time I performed this was with the late Lorin Maazel in Munich. I am dedicating this performance to him. I am ever so grateful to the Grand Rapids Symphony for this opportunity.

Posted by Sam Napolitan at 6:00 AM
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