Tenor Nick Phan ’97 Sings Greenhills’ Praises
In an all-school assembly Dec. 1, internationally renowned tenor Nick Phan ’97, in town to sing Handel’s Messiah at Hill Auditorium, told students that music didn’t always resonate with him.
“My parents gave me a violin when I was 4,” he told the audience and then quipped: “I was mad because I wanted toys.”
For Phan, music in the early years meant begrudingly giving up lunch recess on Fridays for lessons and following his parents’ dictum of practicing 30 minutes every day.
“I hated music for a long time,” he said.
Until, that is, he came to Greenhills in sixth grade and joined the orchestra, where he discovered the joy of making “real” music as a group. His tune toward music changed dramatically; he became obsessed with the violin and by 8th grade wanted to be a concert violinist.
But a year later he heard a different calling when as a freshman he tried out for the spring musical The Music Man.
“Our jaws all dropped at the absolutely amazing sound that came out of his mouth,” recalls friend and current theatre director Emily Wilson-Tobin ’96. “The looks on (then theatre director) Jim Posante’s and (then choir director) Wendy Bloom’s faces were ones of complete and utter disbelief. From then on Nick pretty much starred in every musical he tried out for at Greenhills.”
Though Phan says that first audition was a “horrifying” experience (complete with shaking knees), he credits that audition as the moment he “found his voice.” From Greenhills he went on to earn a B.A. in music at U-M and then studied at the Manhattan School of Music, where he was “discovered” by the Houston Grand Opera Studio.
Now 31, Phan has performed in more than 30 operas and travels extensively across the U.S. and Europe. In 2008 he made his Carnegie Hall debut, where he has returned three times since, including last month for his recital debut in the “Great Singers III: Evenings of Song” series. Other events in his current season include performances with the San Francisco Symphony and a spring European tour of a Handel opera.
If his allegro-paced life has one refrain, it’s that Greenhills is where it all began.
“This is where I found my passion,” said Phan, who, since his visit last week was nominated for a Grammy for a performance of Stravinsky’s Pulcinella with the Chicago Symphony. “I feel so lucky to have had teachers who saw that in me and fostered it. I have a very fulfilling life today and I owe a lot of that to Greenhills.”