Student to Pro in 24 Hours
For years, Robert Bolyard ’06’s experience singing classical solos has been limited to church services and small-scale community events.
So it came as more than a little surprise when Jorge Mester, conductor of the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra, asked him on just 24 hours notice to fill in for ailing baritone Ralph Wells at the symphony’s Dec. 10 performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.”
“My first reaction was fear,” the Occidental music major said. “I felt like I was going to throw up.” Bolyard originally was supposed to sing with Occidental’s combined choirs, which were to back Wells during the performance at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium. But Mester, who earlier in the week heard Bolyard singing “Fantasia” during rehearsals, decided to take a chance on the young musician.
“I called my voice teacher that Friday night and said I needed emergency lessons,” Bolyard said. It turned out the impromptu lesson, which helped with his breathing techniques, came just three hours before the concert, “That made me feel a lot better about my ability to sing well, although when I first walked on stage I was really nervous and my leg was shaking for the first bit of the solo,” Bolyard recalled. “Once the choir came in I felt a little less alone and forgot about my nerves.”
The performance turned out to be an auspicious professional debut before a crowd of more than 2,000 concertgoers. “Though he seemed a bit shy on stage, [Bolyard] managed with real strength and bravado, singing richly and in full balance with the choral forces gathered on stage in front of the audience,” said the Pasadena Star-News' review. "The 'Fantasia' was refreshing, delicate and shimmered with folk energy and orchestral delicacy." Added Bolyard: “I was trying as much as I could to tell the story of the piece. It’s about Christmas and in the end the audience wants to feel warm and cuddly inside.”
Bolyard, of Panorama City, attended the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and is now studying conducting at Occidental. He plans to pursue conducting studies in graduate school. A four-year member of the Occidental Glee Club, Bolyard has repeatedly made a musical mark on campus. As a sophomore he won the music department’s Warren Award for Student Composition for “Distitled,” a six-minute piece for flute, viola and harp. He’s also a five-time winner of the department’s Marcia Hannah Farmer Award, a cash award given to the most promising organist.
Of his symphony performance, Bolyard said, “I feel I performed to the best of my ability. It was a huge step, and very exciting.”