Janesville native's rare voice sending him to London

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Marcia Nelesen
Wednesday, July 9, 2014

JANESVILLE—A Janesville native's rare countertenor voice has become his ticket to the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London.

But Patrick Terry's vast vocal range almost went undiscovered. For years, he had used his falsetto as a “parlor trick” while fooling around with friends.

Terry's friends and family have planned a benefit concert Saturday, July 19, to help him pay tuition at the Royal Academy, which is roughly $40,000 a year without living expenses.

Concert tickets cost $20, and Terry said it's worth it to hear the two talented musicians who will perform with him.

Terry is a 2009 Craig High School graduate. Now 23, he recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor's degree in musical vocal performance.

His countertenor voice was discovered almost accidentally his junior year.

“It was something I took for granted as a vocal mechanism, that every man could do,” Terry recalled recently.

He found out quickly that his capacity for “color and resonance and expressivity” was “much greater than the vast majority of my peers.”

Americans might not recognize a countertenor voice, although the range can be found in the singing of Justin Timberlake, the Beach Boys and Bee Gees. Countertenors are more recognized in Europe because of that continent's operatic roots.

Patrick Terry sings "The Refugee's Aria" (2:56)

About a year ago, Terry was training to sing as a tenor and having doubts about his future as a vocalist. His singing wasn't progressing the way he wanted.

“I felt I knew more about singing than I was able to execute,” Terry said.

Terry has always had a strong falsetto range, but he had used it mostly as a joke. Sometimes he would fool around with friends and sing girls' musical parts.

“I had never taken it seriously,” he said.

Late in his junior year, Terry grew frustrated enough to try out that voice on his vocal teacher. He said his goal was to “integrate that upper falsetto into my chest voice and expand my range that way.”

“I … sang up the scale to a pretty high note,” Terry recalled.

His voice professor, Adriana Zabala—herself a noted mezzo-soprano—asked him to do it again.

“When Adriana gave me a look, it was a little bit like the floodgate opening,” Terry said. “I had felt, for months and months, sort of blocked. All of the sudden, that was gone. It seemed the whole world opened up to me in terms of my own personal singing.

“By the end of that lesson, we had really decided it was time to look at some new repertoire,” he said.

Terry knew nothing about countertenors. Online, he found the website of Michael Chance, a British countertenor who teaches at the Royal Academy.

“If you've heard of countertenors—and you are at all interested in the operatic tenor voice—you've heard of Michael Chance,” Terry said.

He discovered that Chance had scheduled a baroque singing academy for a week on the Greek island of Ezia. Terry sent a tape and was accepted—the only American and one of about a dozen countertenors to attend from around the world.

“I had daily lessons with Chance, and I was probably halfway through the program,” Terry recalled. “I finished the song, and there was a moment of silence.

“And he said”—Terry mimicked a clipped English accent— “'Patrick, I want to talk to you about your future.' And he invited me to audition at the Royal Academy.”

Terry auditioned in person in December and was accepted into the vocal performance masters program.

He will study not only music and vocal training, but also grammar and diction to prepare for singing in French, German and Italian.

“I'm hoping to be singing professionally in a way that fulfills me as an artist and a person,” whether that's opera, baroque, community engagements, teaching or writing his own compositions, Terry said.

“I think my strategy right now is to capitalize on every opportunity that comes within arm's reach and in no way limit myself.

“England is kind of the place for countertenors,” Terry said. “In England, it's a common knowledge, a part of their national heritage.

“It's sort of the place to be.”

Friend and neighbor Becky Miller isn't surprised by Terry's career choice. As a child, Terry immersed himself in singing, piano and tap lessons.

“I could sure see talent,” Miller said. “I knew he was going to go into a musical field.”

Last updated: 12:15 pm Wednesday, July 9, 2014

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