North Texas Daily

Music junior trades gospel start for opera success

Music junior trades gospel start for opera success

Music junior trades gospel start for opera success
December 03
13:30 2013

Brittany Villegas / Contributing Writer

Every time performance senior Martin Clark takes the stage before a show, he whispers Proverbs 18:16 to himself in an attempt to ease his nerves.

“Your gift will make a way,” the 21-year-old says to himself, immediately followed by “Martin, what in the world made you decide to do this for a living?”

Despite his doubt, Clark has achieved more success as an opera-focused vocal performance major in his two and a half years at UNT than most senior or graduate students have.

He was accepted into UNT’s A Cappella choir as a sophomore, when most people aren’t accepted until their junior or senior year. He received the UNT College of Music’s Cecelia Cunningham Box Music Scholarship, he won first place in the men’s division VI at the National Association of Teachers of Singing vocal competition and he participated as a lead tenor role in several UNT main productions, such as his role as Macheath in “The Threepenny Opera” by Kurt Weil.

“In my opinion, he’s one of the best singers at this entire school, but he’s very level-headed about his success,” said Susey Woodruff, who is also a vocal performance major and one of Martin’s best friends at UNT. “He doesn’t have an ego at all.”

Standing at six feet one inch, Clark has a build more fit for a college athlete than an accomplished opera singer. However, his size complements the grandness of the classical bel canto style of singing that his voice creates called “chiaroscuro,” which is an Italian term that means bright and dark.

“When you hear a good opera singer, there’s darkness and richness in the voice, and at the same time there’s a bright, ringing brilliance in the voice,” said professor Stephen F. Austin, Clark’s vocal teacher and College of Music Chair of Vocal Studies. “It’s always been a matter of balance, and Clark has found that. He’s functioning at a very high level for someone his age, but there’s always still work to do.”

Martin Luther King Clark, Jr. was born June 22, 1992. He grew up in a relatively small East Texas town of 24,000 called Marshall and graduated from Texas Early College High School.

“It was very boring,” he said without a hint of an East Texas accent. “But I made the very best of it with the friends that I had from Marshall High or church. It wasn’t altogether a stick in the mud.”

He was raised in a music-focused household. His mother sings with their church and around the house, while his father plays keyboard for a gospel group.

Both of his parents definitely sparked his interest in music, he said.

“Especially the singing,” he said. “I like to think that I got my mother’s singing voice and my dad’s keyboard skills.”

Initially, Clark sang choral and gospel music while living in Marshall and attending private school. He even started a three-person gospel group during his junior year of high school called United Worshippers.

He didn’t consider focusing on opera until he auditioned with Austin the summer before his freshman year at UNT.

“Growing up, I didn’t want to be an opera singer,” he said, laughing. “I actually made fun of them.”

During that summer, his major changed so many times in his mind, he said. He considered being a conductor, pianist, organist, opera singer and choir director.

“I thought about it all,” he said. “I even thought about flute.”

Eventually, he got into the voice performance program over the music education program that he anticipated getting accepted to. Immediately, he immersed himself in opera.

“I love what I do and I do what I love,” he said. “And I’m very happy with it.”

Though Clark’s love for and success with opera can’t be doubted, he still sometimes gets discouraged and holds himself back, Woodruff said.

“I’ve had to convince him to do some competitions, such as the UNT concerto competition earlier this year,” she said. “I told him he was just as good as the grad students competing. Eventually he did compete and he ended up being a finalist.”

As far as the future goes, Clark’s plans involve singing professionally for opera or musical theater and also travelling around the U.S. and Europe to perform, he said.

Austin believes that Clark has everything going for him that’s required in order to be successful in the operatic world, he said.

“He’s tall, he’s a tenor, he’s a good-looking young man, and he has a voice,” he said. “He’s got a full house in his hand. But even with that, you never know. He’s got as good of a chance as any student I’ve ever had.”

At the moment, Clark’s schedule is booked. When he’s not in class, voice lessons or rehearsals, he’s singing as the tenor section leader in Professor Austin’s church choir at First United Methodist in McKinney or volunteering as the only undergraduate from the SMU and UNT casts for Dallas ISD’s opera education program every Tuesday.

When he does have free time, he spends it shopping on the Square, going out to eat and watching movies with friends.

But he said his thoughts still revert back to opera when he tries to enjoy down time while crocheting scarves, beanies or even blankets.

“It kind of takes my mind off things,” he said. “I just really focus on that and I get to daydream in quiet. Some kind of way, though, I find myself rehearsing my music. But it’s relaxing.”

His advice for other opera students is to, like him, immerse themselves in opera.

“Listen to numerous different artists, especially those outside of your voice type,” he said. “And most importantly, never neglect your acting skills. You may have a nice voice, but there will always be another person with a nice voice who can also act.”

Clark isn’t set to perform until spring, when he’ll have the lead role in “Gianni Schicchi” by Giacomo Puccini. He’ll also perform in two other operas as well at his junior recital. The dates have yet to be determined.

To see a video of Clark rehearsing “Quanto E Bella” by Donizetti, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kN25vrm377A.

Feature photo: Performance senior Martin Clark, playing the role of Macheath, and performance doctoral student Meng-Jung Tsai, playing the role of Polly, star in UNT’s production of “The Threepenny Opera” in Aug. 2012. Photo courtesy of Gary Payne/UNT

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