Local tenor Brett Crawford sings every day — while he’s driving, or vacuuming, or hanging out at home. He sings in preparation for roles on Juneau stages, and just because he feels like it.
“There’s always something running though my head, some tune pops up or something I’m working on,” he said. “The times that I’ve lost the ability to sing, through illness or whatever, it’s been very, very frustrating.”
As a 6-year-old kid, he liked to take his voice into the most acoustically interesting place he knew — a tiled bathroom in the San Juan County Courthouse near his house in Colorado, which rang pleasingly in response to his a cappella renditions of “Hava Nagila” and songs from his Sunday school class. He didn’t know at the time that these were his first public performances: the courthouse pipes and heating ducts carried his voice to the occupants of the building, which included his uncle, the county treasurer.
For Crawford, singing has always been a part of life.
“I think it was always important,” he said. “It’s just always been there.”
Crawford, a very familiar face in Juneau’s art scene, will present his first-ever solo recital this Sunday, March 11, at Northern Light United Church, featuring some of his favorite pieces of music.
“It’s an interesting balance of music,” he said. “There’s oratorio, there’s opera, there’s some Broadway.”
Some of the works also trace Crawford’s former roles; for example, he’ll be reprising Puccini’s “O Mimi, tu più non torni” from “La Bohème” with Derrick Grimes, a piece he and Grimes recently performed on stage for Juneau Lyric Opera’s production of the opera, and he’ll sing “Comfort ye, my people” from Handel’s “Messiah,” a work he is currently rehearsing with Bruce Simonson’s chorus twice a week in preparation for an April performance. Other selections represent personal favorites, such as “Nessun dorma” from “Turandot” and “L’invitation au Voyage” by French composer Henri Duparc. He will also sing three duets with his wife, Cheryl Crawford: two pieces from the musical “Jane Eyre,” and one from “Lucky Stiff.” Also on the program is a duet with Dan Wayne, a piece by Schumann, an aria from “L’elisir d’amore,” and a traditional spiritual, among other things.
He’ll be accompanied throughout by pianist Janis Capelle, and, on one piece, by flutist Sandy Fortier.
After many years and many stage roles, Crawford decided to do the solo recital after being encouraged by two of his teachers over the years, Joyce Parry Moore and Dr. Byron McGilvray of Athens, Texas, who makes regular trips to Juneau to lead vocal workshops, often with Capelle. Crawford said he wanted to wait until he had the right selection of music — and the confidence — to make it happen.
“I said, ‘how am I going to come up with that much music?’ — because it’s more music than I’ve ever sung at any one time, even doing projects, even doing operas. And (McGilvray) said, ‘Do what you like. Do what you’d like to do.”
In selecting the music, Crawford also had input from Capelle, a mentor as well as his accompanist, from Juneau’s Scarlett Adam, and from his wife.
“Without Cheryl, Scarlett and Janis, I wouldn’t have been able to do this,” he said.
Crawford first performed the recital last month in Texas, where McGilvrary and Capelle both live, and said he was pleased with the way it went. He continues to learn about the pieces as he goes.
“I don’t know if you do any project and feel like it’s perfect,” he said. “You never know exactly how it’s going to go, even if you’ve done it 10 times, 50 times. Even now, in rehearsal, I’m realizing things in the music and realizing the relationship of the characters to the music and of the music to me -- even now.”
“Every piece that I’m doing is a story unto itself.”
Among the difficulties of learning the program was the fact that it covers four languages: English, Italian, German and French. The first three were no problem, Crawford said, but the French piece, Duparc’s art-song, “L’invitation au Voyage,” took him at least six months to learn.
“That was a real challenge,” he said.
He stuck with it because of his appreciation for Duparc, a little-known composer from the 1800s who suffered from a mental illness that prompted him to wipe out nearly his entire oeuvre.
“He destroyed all his music except for one book of art songs that he wrote for his wife,” Crawford said. “It’s incredible music, just incredible.”
Crawford moved to Juneau more than 30 years ago from Spokane, Wash., while looking for work. Like many life-time residents, he thought it was going to be a short stay.
“I came up just thinking I would work for a while and decided after about two months — actually about two weeks — that I would like to stay. I felt very good about it.”
“I grew up in a little tiny mining town in Colorado in the mountains, so I’ve always been drawn to the mountains, and I like the water. Still a land-lubber but I like living close to it.”
He’d studied music in college, but didn’t have any real plans to make it his living.
“When I was in college, I honestly never thought of doing music as a career, just because it is difficult for most people. The people that make it are a very low percentage.”
After determining that he didn’t want to teach, he decided to continue to pursue music simply as a source of enjoyment.
Once in Juneau, he started up his own business, Alaska Custodial Services, which he still runs, juggling the demands of a sole proprietorship with the many musical events he is involved with throughout the year. Most recently, he was shuttling between work and rehearsals for “Sweeney Todd” and “La Bohème,” all in one day.
He met his wife, Cheryl, while singing in the choir at the Douglas Island Bible Church. Cheryl, also an active singer on Juneau stages, was also in “Sweeney Todd.”
“Sometimes that’s the only way we’d see each other,” Crawford said with a laugh.
Crawford’s previous roles have included Shaunard in “La Bohème” the first time Juneau Lyric Opera produced the opera in Juneau in 2000, and Marcello the second time they did it in 2011. He also performed in the first production of “King Island Christmas” at Perseverance Theatre in 1997. Other roles have included Ferrando in “Cosi fan Tutte,” Don Ottavio in “Don Giovanni,” Luigi in “Il Tabarro,” and Don Curzio in “Le Nozze di Figaro,” and, most recently, Signor Pirelli in “Sweeney Todd.”
“I can’t say that I’ve ever been in a group that I didn’t enjoy,” he said of his Juneau experiences.
Though not an actor, many of his roles have involved aspects of acting — Marcello is one example — and Crawford said figuring out characters and their relationships is often central to his understanding of a piece. Sunday’s recital includes a duet between the famous literary couple Jane Eyre and Rochester, for example, and another is an exchange between best friends.
For Crawford, exploring those connections helps him deepen his understanding of -- and enjoyment in -- the music he is singing.
“Doing this recital, I’ve come to the realization that it’s all about relationships. That’s very simplistic -- but it really is.”
Know and go
What: ‘Some of My Favorites,’ a recital by Brett Crawford, tenor
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, March 11
Where: Northern Light United Church
Details: Tickets $15, available at Hearthside Books, Rainy Retreat Books, JACC, and juneauopera.org