December/January 2008/2009 Bonus Bytes

December 1, 2008

Reprinted from the February/March 2003 American Music Teacher. Copyright 2003 Music Teachers National Association.

Neal Boyd
By Ann Milliman Gipson, NCTM

While many musicians dream of a Carnegie Hall recital, at the tender age of 27, one young singer enjoys reliving the experience. Although Neal Boyd, lyric tenor, still marvels at how a young man from Sikeston, Missouri, could find his way to Carnegie Hall, his March 24, 2001, appearance in that famed venue will most likely be the first of many recital appearances awaiting this emerging artist.

As a youth growing up in Sikeston, Neal had a wide variety of interests in addition to music. He was an avid sports enthusiast playing football and baseball, and was selected as an all-star baseball player during his junior high and senior high school years. Writing poetry and short stories was and remains a passion Neal enjoys. He also has an interest in politics and public service, serving as president of his high school and later being on the student senate of the first college he attended. He contributes his interest in music and politics to the fact that he feels comfortable on stage in front of an audience. His lack of stage fright is combined with an equal desire to inspire audiences, either through a motivating speech or a stirring song.

Musical influences came from a variety of sources. Although he grew up in a single-parent home with his mother, both parents were singers. She would play records by the Beatles and John Lennon, and Neal also listened to Lionel Richey, James Taylor and Motown groups. Growing up in the boot hill of Missouri, country music was a part of his musical influence. Even today, although he spends considerable time singing operatic arias and musical theater numbers, one might just as easily catch him singing an Alan Jackson song. He admits that while you can take the boy out of the country, you can’t take the country out of the boy—he loves listening to and singing country music.

In junior high school, his choir teacher suggested Neal join the choir as a way to nurture his singing ability and hopefully draw his interest away from football. A friend in his school choir owned a recording of the Three Tenors Greatest Hits. Driving around town after school, Neal and his friends would listen and attempt to emulate the great singers. As a result, Neal’s perception of great music and singing was kindled and became a strong influence leading him toward classical music and the desire to sing these tenor arias. Early successes in junior and senior high district contests served as motivators to continue studying music in college. His mother was a big inspiration as well, encouraging him to set no limitations on himself while pursuing his vocal studies.

After high school, Neal entered Southeast Missouri State University to pursue a music degree and studied voice with Christopher Goeke. Neal’s interest in politics and public service created doubts about music study, and he decided to change his major to speech and communications. While he hadn’t lost his love for music, Neal’s decision to change majors was due to his overwhelming desire to do something in politics.

To nurture that political passion, he became an intern at the State Capitol in Jefferson City, Missouri, serving as a legal aid to Representative Paula Carter. While writing a policy speech, he heard a visiting high school choir sing “Shenandoah,”a song he remembered singing in the junior high choir. He was so moved by the singing, Neal decided he had to pursue the music degree after all.

Inspired by the progress of a friend who was studying voice with Ann Harrell at the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU), Neal began a music degree at MU also studying with Harrell. During this time, he not only saw his range increase, but saw great progress in her other students as well. The environment was encouraging and motivating.

About a year later, Harrell encouraged Neal to enter the MTNA Collegiate Artist Voice Competition. Since he sometimes worked about thirty hours a week delivering pizzas to pay the bills, financial concerns almost kept him from entering the competition. But he did enter, and to his surprise won the state and division level competitions. In March 2000, he won the MTNA Collegiate Artist Voice Competition at the national conference in Minneapolis.

As a way to showcase Neal’s success and highlight the vocal talent at his school, MU sponsored a recital at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall featuring Neal. He acknowledges that while those four days in New York were the most stressful he had ever experienced in his life, he knew it was also the “beginning of something great.” He thoroughly enjoyed the performance, singing a flawless recital, and he was thrilled to have the opportunity to make both his mother and the school proud of his accomplishments.

In May 2001, Neal graduated from MU with a bachelor of arts in music and simultaneously graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a bachelor of arts in speech communications and a minor in both political science and music. After graduation, Neal moved back home to Sikeston. Although he had been accepted into the graduate programs at Eastman and Yale, Neal believed he needed to take some time to reflect on his future and earn some money. After applying for a music teaching position in the Sikeston Public School system, Neal became the assistant choir director at the high school and taught music appreciation at the middle school. To supplement his income, he taught private voice lessons in his home and sang in a church choir.

As a result of this year of teaching, Neal gained a new appreciation for his teachers. He acknowledges that teachers’ efforts usually are not rewarded. He credits his choir director for getting him into music in the first place, but deeply appreciates all the teachers who helped nurture his love for music, keeping him focused in spite of his other interests and fostering his dreams of becoming a great singer.

After a year away from his own musical studies, he was ready to return to school. In August 2002, Neal moved to Boston to enter the New England Conservatory of Music (NEC) and currently studies voice with Mark Saint-Laurent, a member of the NEC voice faculty. In these graduate studies, Neal enjoys the diversity of new ideas and the freedom and time to think and reflect about music, a commodity not always available in any undergraduate program. Since NEC has enjoyed the notoriety of several famous graduates, including Leonard Bernstein, Neal says it is exciting to be a part of that caliber of talent. He and his friends wonder who will be the next great musician to come from the school.

With plans to graduate in May 2005, Neal intends to pursue a music theater or opera career. As for his political aspirations, Neal says he hasn’t lost his political drive, but he just has an escape from it. In fact, his goal still is to be the governor of Missouri one day. While he says he is lucky to have won one national contest, he knows how difficult it is to have a music career and is leaving his musical options open. Singing first became something he could call his own, but he now realizes that singing is a gift he can give back to people. He readily admits he is a student of all music, including those pop and country influences he grew up with in Sikeston, and wants to sing as “long as he can do the music justice.