For the jack of all trades, there are times to laugh and dance and sing, and times to speak of more important things.
Last fall, as he began casting roles for Rossini's classic opera "The Barber of Seville," Whitman College choral director Robert Bode scanned the campus and found what he wanted, a young man of many hats, a student as talented with song as with study.
To play the aging and villainous Dr. Bartolo, one of the opera's leading roles, Bode chose sophomore Chris Garratt. Quite a challenge, or so it seems, for a 19-year-old who considers music his hobby and plans to major in the sciences. Garratt, in fact, has his career sights set on medicine, even though he is leaning toward geology as an academic major.
"I'm looking at geology because I really enjoy it and find it interesting, and because it's different from the mainstream pre-med program," he said. "From what I understand, medical schools are looking for something other than the classic bio-chemistry majors. What they want are well-rounded people, and that is something I've always strived to be."
Garratt, a graduate of Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash., and the son of a college professor and music teacher, is nothing if not well-rounded.
Soon after Whitman's production of "The Barber of Seville" completes its run (February 12-15) at Harper Joy Theatre, Garratt will trade his 18th century Italian costuming for a baseball glove and cleats. A 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-handed pitcher, he plays for Whitman's baseball team under coach Travis Feezell, a Rhodes Scholarship finalist who played collegiately at the University of Wyoming before earning a master's degree in medieval studies at the University of Wales in Cardiff, Great Britain.
Garratt, who spent last summer helping with clinical drug trials as an intern at Tacoma General Hospital, chose Whitman for a number of reasons, only two of which involve the sciences and music. "As my interest in the sciences began developing in high school, my father (Robert Garratt, an English professor at the University of Puget Sound) encouraged me to take as many classes as possible in English and the humanities. That was another reason I decided on Whitman."
Garrett has performed with the Whitman Chorale and the more select Madrigal Singers in each of his first three semesters. He continues with the Chorale this semester, although he temporarily shelved his spot with the Madrigals to devote more time to the opera. He also performs with the Testostertones, a group of 13 male students who sing a cappella.
"From the beginning of his time here, it was clear that Chris would be one of our strongest students in music," Bode said. "He has a wonderful voice. He could have a career as a professional singer. It just so happens he has a stronger interest in medicine."
Garrett doesn't entirely dismiss thoughts of a career in vocal performance. "I could see myself doing that because it's something I enjoy so much," he said. "The problem is, it's such a difficult business to make a living in. I don't know if I have the courage to try it."
Schooled at a young age by his mother Barbara, a former high school music teacher who now teaches the fifth grade, Garratt was showing signs of talent by his high school years. "As a senior, I won second place as a baritone in a state-wide competition. That convinced me that maybe I should continue with music in college."
At Bellarmine Prep, Garratt was an active participant in a music program directed by Andrea Klouse, singing with both the Concert Choir and smaller Vocal Ensemble. He performed in the school musical in each of his four years, and he had the lead role as a senior. "The fact that I was on stage, singing, in high school has made it easier, to some extent, to prepare for this opera," he said. "But classic opera, compared to the 1950s-style musicals we did in high school, is a whole different can of worms."
Garratt is one of three Whitman students chosen by Bode to fill key roles in the opera, which the music department is staging in cooperation with the theatre department.
Ken Treis, a Whitman junior and graduate of Walla Walla High School, plays the role of Basilio, a music teacher who conspires with Garrett's character (Dr. Bartolo) in his efforts to win the hand of Rosina, the female lead. Kate Moscato, a junior from Sunset High School in Beaverton, Ore., plays Berta, Dr. Bartolo's housekeeper.
"Each of these students has an outstanding voice and is really very gifted," Bode said. "All three are Campbell Music Scholars at Whitman. Even so, performing in this opera is definitely a stretch for any undergraduate college student. The two male roles in particular are as challenging as anything you can find in opera. I've been very impressed with the way all three have met the challenge. They are not intimidated at all. If anything, they are loving every minute of it."
From a vocal standpoint, the music is quite challenging, Treis admits. "When I'm singing my aria, there are long periods of time when I don't feel as if I have time to draw a breath," he noted. "But my aria also is a lot of fun. It's about the art of slander, how it grows from a murmur to a whisper to a roaring tempest, such that the slandered one slinks away in shame and wishes that he had never been born."
Another major challenge with opera, Treis added, is "timing your delivery, singing spoken words in a crisp, clear fashion, so that it comes across as realistic dialogue in song." Like Garratt, Treis has academic interests that stretch well beyond music. Treis is majoring in math and physics at Whitman, although he has given thought recently to adding a second major in vocal performance.
"I've always found it very difficult to narrow my interests to one single area," Treis said. "Math and physics represent my more practical side, while music is my opportunity to express myself in ways that do not come across in formulas and equations."
What some people don't realize, Treis adds, is that math and physics have a creative, artistic side. "It isn't possible to reduce some of the fundamental concepts of physics to simple mathematical equations. Even when physicists can do that, they will talk about the art and the beauty of certain mathematical equations."
Treis, the son of Anita and Roger Treis of Walla Walla, has worked part-time the past 18 months in software engineering and computer programming at Walla Walla's Key Technology, a world-wide leader in design and manufacture of automated inspection systems for the food processing industry.
"When new technology is concerned, the best of schools always lag behind industry," Treis said. "The only way to be on the cutting edge of technology is to be involved in industry. Working at Key has given me a chance to put my practical side to work. Working there gives me a sense of accomplishment that I really don't get by studying, writing a paper or doing well on a test."
Treis began taking piano lessons when he was six years old, and he remembers taking an immediate liking to choir in the first grade of a small Catholic school in Great Falls, Montana. "I remember the nun who directed the choir was incredibly pleased with me because I was just about the only little boy who really wanted to sing."
His family later moved to Oregon, first to Bend and then to Corvallis in 1991. He spent his freshman and sophomore years at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis, where he enjoyed working with student groups led by choral director David Pool. By the time his junior year began, his family had moved again and he was singing at Walla Walla High School, under the direction of Paul Dennis, and appearing in that year's school musical, "The Music Man." As a high school senior, he spent most of his time in the Running Start program at Walla Walla Community College.
At Whitman, Treis takes piano lessons from associate professor Lee Thompson and sings in both the Chorale and Madrigal Singers.
From a practical standpoint, Treis plans a career in one of the engineering fields. "Music has always been my hobby, and it's not something I will ever let go. Of course, if music ever became my profession, then engineering would be my hobby."
Unlike Garratt and Treis, Moscato is majoring in music and points her future in that direction. "After Whitman, I want to study at a conservatory for my master's degree and doctorate," she said. "What I want to do is sing professionally, or maybe teach."
Moscato, who has a double major in English, began playing the piano when she was six years old. Her mother (Carol) also played the piano while her father (Frank), now an attorney in Portland, played the clarinet as a young man, leaving a group named "The Kingsmen" shortly before they recorded "Louie, Louie," which became a rock-and-roll classic. "I grew up in a family of music lovers," she said.
At Sunset High School in Beaverton, Moscato was active in music ensembles directed by Robert Hawthorne (now retired), and appeared in school musicals and other theater productions. Her dual interest in music and the theater has continued at Whitman, where sings with the Chorale and Madrigal Singers. She also has appeared in a handful of productions at Harper Joy Theatre, including "The Little Sweep" opera during her freshman year and last spring's musical, "The City of Angels."
"I remember being on stage for my first opera at Whitman, thinking that I would love to do this for rest of my life," she said. "Singing is my first love, and I can't think of anything better than incorporating singing into acting."
In this month's opera, Moscato plays an older, stodgy, salt-of-the-earth servant who is driven to distraction by the romantic intrigue that swirls about her. She has one aria in the last act that begins with her railing against such nonsense and ends with her wishing that she, too, could find a lover.
"The music I sing is challenging, mostly because of the character I play," Moscato said. "She is supposed to be very stiff and move very slowly. It is difficult at times to stay relaxed enough within that character to sing properly."
While easing their way into the world of classic opera in recent weeks, Garratt, Treis and Moscato have watched and learned from three professionals Bode enlisted to fill the other major roles in Whitman's production:
* David Adams, who plays young Count Almaviva, completed his graduate work at the Kansas City Conservatory, served as an artist apprentice at the Santa Fe Opera, and currently lives and works in New York City.
* Noelle Woods, a visiting voice instructor last year at Whitman, returns to campus to play Rosina. She currently teaches and performs at East Tennessee State University.
* Dennis Jesse, who plays Figaro, completed his master of music performance degree at Bowling Green State University and served on the voice faculty at Albion College. Also from New York, his recent engagements include the Arizona Opera and Carnegie Hall.
"It's been great having them here," Garratt said. "Working with them has been an opportunity that doesn't come along too often at this level."
"They add a lot of energy to the group," Treis said. "It's fun to see how quickly they can bring a character to life. Plus, they have outstanding voices."
No one appreciates them more than Moscato, the student most determined to follow in their footsteps. "It helps tremendously to look at them and see yourself in a few years. Your own goals don't seem quite so daunting."
Dave Holden, Whitman Office of Communications, (509) 527-5902
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