Andrew Turner has been accomplishing great things since he graduated from our graduate program two years ago. Prior to COVID-19, Andrew’s season included Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Haydn’s Lord Nelson Mass with Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. He joined Opera Iowa in the spring of 2020 singing “Tamino” in The Magic Flute and “Ranger Dudley” in Little Red’s Most Unusual Day and will be returning to Des Moines Metro Opera next summer singing “Tchaplitsky” in Tchaikovsky’s Queen of Spades and covering the role of “Tobias Raggs” in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd for their 49th Season. Andrew has taken time during the COVID-19 pandemic to discover new ways of creating inspiring art. This week, we had the privilege of interviewing him about the experience and impact of the art he has been creating.
What first drew you to performing?
When I did my first show in high school, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” and I played Earnest, it was really cool to be onstage. What got me was understanding the character, and I fell in love with being on stage. What made me want to perform music was when I did Carousel, my first musical in college. It was such a tough process but then the sitzprobe came and the orchestra was on point. I thought “This is beautiful. This is what I want to do.”
Can you recall one of your first formative musical experiences?
I remember learning the spaces on the staff. It spells out the word FACE, how crazy is that?
Who is your biggest musical inspiration?
I would say Stevie Wonder is one, I think he’s incredible. Earth Wind and Fire, also incredible. I didn’t grow up with one person in mind. I grew up in the church listening to Gospel music. Once I decided I wanted to perform, I was inspired by musicians who were pursuing the work authentically, like Tori Kelly. I am always inspired by artists who take time and energy to develop their craft and make new things.
How did your time with Lyric Theatre prepare you for the industry today?
As a graduate music student, I learned how to live off of the stage rather than on the stage. I learned how to take care of myself, what to allow into my mental and emotional space, and that being on stage takes a lot. You have to eat the right foods, exercise, and understand that you need to take care of yourself #blackmentalhealthmatters.
What is your favorite LTI memory?
Having the opportunity to work with Nathan and Julie on their project, “An Evening On Broadway,” was incredible. I really enjoyed myself. I felt like a professional working with live musicians and watching my peers rock the house on stage. It was a really cool experience for me. Also, being able to sing “Lily's Eyes” with Nathan was insane.
Tell us about your project with Allen Rene Louis.
The project was a cabaret of Allen’s selected works. A lot of them came from his larger works but some he created as solo songs. He chose eight or nine Black singers for these works. I got connected through social media. I saw one of his songs through somebody else that I followed, and I saw this tenor that was just incredible. Then he gestured over to Allen and I was like, “Did he write this? So this whole thing was like a Black experience?” So then I posted it on my story and Allen followed me. After that one of his producers found me on Instagram and asked me to be a part of this show. It was crazy.
Talk about the repertoire and project conception.
I sang a duet and two ensemble pieces. The first was called “The Toast” and the last was called “One Day” which spoke to the hope of one day having the freedom to express our joy. I sang a duet with Ximone Rose called “Til the End of Time” which is about young romance. I think Allen was trying to set up the space for a Black fairytale. It is a beautiful piece.
Considering the current state of race relations in this country and in our industry, what was the impact, personal and otherwise, of this concert?
We as Black singers have our own story, it’s not just “Porgy and Bess” or “Ragtime”. The understanding of Black artistry was beautiful. For me, even the process was impactful. I thought, “Oh I can be a Musical Theatre singer who also sings Gospel, R&B, and Opera.” I didn’t have to conform. There was no correct or incorrect. You just sing beautifully. I remember my first take of the duet, and I had this very classical musical theatre/golden age sound. [Allen] said he loved it, but he wanted me to loosen it up. After listening to all of those singers, there were just so many different sounds that were presented as Musical Theatre sung by Black people. I am excited to stop limiting myself and own “Me” as an artist.
Tell us about your upcoming project “A Long Way From Home: A Virtual Music from Home Concert.”
It is a documentary that connects spirituals to social issues that go on in this world today. Dr. Ollie Watts Davis and Dr. Casey Robards will both be involved, giving their ideas about the works. I sing three pieces and then I talk about what these pieces mean to me and how they relate to social issues.
I face challenges in understanding how to connect this to recent events that have happened this year. We feel as though we have gotten nowhere or even been pushed back as Black artists. People are dying whether it’s from the virus or police brutality. There is a group of people that don’t care and won’t fight for people that could be their neighbors. One of my goals is to draw out empathy for Black experiences. I focus on Black mental health because we have been taught to function in a world that was never meant for us to succeed. We use survival tactics that have brought trauma, fear, and anxiety which have affected us as a people for generations. The challenge is to amplify Black people and give us a space to be what we want to be.
What did you discover during this creative process?
I discovered that there are incredible Black artists in Tacoma, Washington. I worked with a Black pianist and videographer. Most of the people I have collaborated with are Black scholars, women scholars, and Black women scholars. The pieces were recorded at a botanical garden that surrounds the work with nature and helps us understand who we are as Black people. The beauty that comes out of us is centered on the earth because we have a relationship with this earth. We need to take time to frolic in the trees and have spiritual moments connected to the earth.
Where can we watch "A Long Way From Home"?
We are still in process, but you can follow me on Facebook and it will be promoted on the Lakewold Gardens page. My Facebook is "Andrew Turner" and my Instagram is @__andrewturner__ (two underscores on each side).
If you could give one word of advice to our seniors and graduate students, what would it be?
It’s tough being a performer right now, it’s a lot. Find ways to create or be inspired every day. I am starting to read and write again and I am understanding that my mind is my space also. Make sure you understand what your body and mind are saying before trying to impress or reach certain goals for others. Do this for you, and you only, because people will come love you and want to support you, but ultimately you have to take care of yourself. It is so important, you matter.