The youngsters who sing in the Willett Elementary School Chorus got a treat Thursday morning, in the form of a very special guest. Baritone Malcolm MacKenzie, who is the father of Willett fifth-grader Megan MacKenzie, a member of the chorus, dropped by for the group’s early morning rehearsal.
MacKenzie is a Davis High graduate, and sang with Madrigals during his student days there; his elder daughter Madison was once a Willett student, and is now at Emerson Junior High. He is home in Davis for just a few days.
He just finished an engagement with the Arizona Opera, singing Alfio in Mascagni’s “Cavalleria rusticana” and Tonio in Leoncavallo’s “I Pagliacci,” and he’ll soon be off to Opera Santa Barbara, where he’ll be singing Marcello in “La bohème” in November.
But when Willett Chorus director Claudia Krich asked MacKenzie if he would come and talk with students about careers in singing, he quickly agreed.
After the chorus warmed up with the song “Beauty and the Beast” — including the lyric “Certain as the sun, rising in the east,” sung as the suns rays were peeking through the trees at 7:55 a.m. — Krich introduced MacKenzie to the youngsters, who were eager to ask questions.
“Do you sing in other languages?” one student asked.
“I sing a lot in Italian, German and French,” MacKenzie responded, “and sometimes I sing in other languages like Russian or Czech. I have to study all sorts of different languages.”
He added that unlike singers in musical theater, opera singers don’t use microphones. “We learn to project our voices,” he said.
Krich asked, “What did you sound like when you were their age?”
MacKenzie recalled that he started singing when he was in the fifth grade, the same age as many of the students in the Willett Chorus. And while younger kids sing high, “as you get older, your voice will get lower and lower — even the girls. Most people have about a 2 1/2-octave range” when singing as adults, he added.
MacKenzie recalled that his voice changed when he was a sixth-grader, and settled in the low baritone range; for many boys, that change occurs in the seventh or eighth grade.
MacKenzie told the youngsters that these days, he travels around the country, including an appearance in a production last year with the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, and periodically goes abroad.
“When I work, I’m usually wearing a fancy costume, and a wig,” he said. “My hair is fairly short, and men usually had long hair in the periods in which many operas are set. And sometimes a stage beard — I wore muttonchop sideburns for one of my recent roles.”
He also offered a few pointers on diction, showing the students how to stress the “st” sound at the end of the phrase when singing “Beauty and the Beast.”
He treated the youngsters to a brief aria, sung in Italian, from “Pagliacci.”
“My voice only works low at this time of the morning,” he quipped.
And he sang with the chorus as they rehearsed the old standard “Moonlight Bay,” sight-reading from music passed to him by Krich.
He also offered some sage advice: “Always look at the conductor. The conductor will remind you when it’s time for you to come in, and when it’s time to cut out.”
Krich said, “It was an inspiration for the students in our chorus to see a parent who has a career as a professional singer.”
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or (530) 747-8055.