The final concert of the 2018 Basically Beethoven Festival is a look at “Art Song,” intimate pieces by French and American composers performed for us by operatic bass Jared Schwartz and pianist Mary Dibbern. We interviewed Mr. Schwartz so our audience can get to know the local musician before hearing him at Moody Performance Hall on Sunday. Read on to learn why he stopped being a pre-med student to focus on voice, and when he “decided to give singing a chance.”
What piece on the program are you most looking forward to sharing with our audience? “Jeanne d’arc au bûcher” (Joan of Arc at the Stake) is a French song by Franz Liszt. Joan is preparing to walk to the pyre to be burned alive at the stake. You get to experience all the emotions of her fears and her faith as she ascends the platform, and then passes into heaven to find her eternal reward. Every time I sing this piece, I have to stop for a moment afterwards and thank God for such incredible music.
How old were you when you started studying voice? Why did you decide to, and did you learn any other instruments? I started piano at age 3 and originally thought that would be my path. I was actually a piano major in college, and I grew up studying violin and French horn. Additionally, I sang in (and accompanied) choirs and musicals, but never actually studied singing until halfway through my sophomore year of college at Bethel College, thanks to my voice teacher, Vicky Garrett. A year and a half later I auditioned for graduate school at the Eastman School of Music for voice and, after I got in, decided to give singing a chance. After graduate school, I have flown every six or so weeks to NYC to study with my voice teacher of the past 11 years, David Jones. Singing is definitely my favorite of all my instruments, but they all influence my singing.
When did you decide to pursue a career as a musician? I began college as a Chemistry/Pre-Med/French Horn/Piano major (yes, all four). It was absolutely insane. I had a blast learning so many different things but I was sick every two weeks from lack of rest! After one semester of that, I decided to hone in on music and use medical school as my Plan B. At this point, I think music is where I’ll stay.
What type of music did you listen to growing up, and what do you listen to now? I grew up making a lot of music in church, whether contemporary Christian or classical. I also did lots of musicals, so show tunes are practically in my DNA. I grew up in a small town in Indiana of about 3,000 people, that just happens to have an oratorio society, so I grew up singing in Messiah and other oratorios, as well. For growing up somewhat in the middle of nowhere, I was very fortunate to have a multitude of musical experiences.
Who’s your favorite composer to listen to? To sing? My favorite composer to listen to, as of late, is Mieczysław Weinberg. His orchestral music, particularly his cello concerto, are sublime. My favorite composer to sing is Verdi, particularly his Requiem. He knew exactly how to write for the bass voice. He elevated basses from silly buffo roles to real, emotional, powerful lyrical singing. I also like to sing songs I’ve written. Then the only person I can blame for writing something difficult is myself!
What advice would you give 14-year-old Jared? Your love for music will carry you much further than you can ever imagine. Just keep making music, keep pushing yourself, keep learning, and keep enjoying every note and every step you take along the way. Also, practice SLOWLY!
What advice would you give a high schooler who wants to pursue music in college? Study as many instruments as possible! The more well-rounded a musician you are, the greater your palette of expression will be on your (eventual) chosen instrument. It is very easy for me to think orchestrally because I have studied nearly all the instruments in the orchestra. Also, read the book, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I’ve read it three times and my artistic confidence expands every time.
What’s your favorite sound (musical or non-musical), and your least favorite sound? My favorite musical sound is the cello, or anything in D-flat major. Non-musically, I love the sound of water, whether the ocean or a great thunderstorm. My least favorite sound is music sung without any meaning behind it…or snoring (I’m a light sleeper).
When you leave this world and reach the pearly gates, what celestial concert do you hope to hear? I’d probably have all the great Wagnerian singers of the past (Birgit Nillson, Hans Hotter, Jon Vickers, etc.) bust out some giant gospel music number with a huge orchestra and choir, and probably some dancers, too, to keep things really exciting! It would be rockin’!