When Roosevelt University voice professor Mark Crayton takes the stage for the annual VIVID showcase at 7:30 p.m. March 30 at the Auditorium Theatre, he will be singing his internationally known signature solo one last time for his late father.
It will be a goodbye to a role of a lifetime for the 58-year-old Evanston countertenor, who has been singing the second movement of Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms since he was nine years of age, once with Bernstein’s personal coaching and many times with his father in the audience.
“Mark wanted to do the piece one last time with an orchestra, and all of us at Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) thought it would be a wonderful way to engage our students, faculty, staff and the entire Chicago arts community,” said Cheryl Frazes Hill, director of Choral Activities at Roosevelt University.
Frazes Hill will be conducting the CCPA Symphony Orchestra and more than 100 singers from CCPA’s Conservatory Choirs and the Jones College Preparatory High School Choir for Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which is sung in Hebrew and features the well-known second-movement solo by Crayton.
“We’ve been preparing for this concert for almost a year. It will be a momentous showcase that will feature most of our students at CCPA, many who are in the orchestra and many who are in the choir, on stage together,” said Emanuele Andrizzi, conductor of the CCPA Orchestra, which will also be performing Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35.
“This is a very demanding and difficult piece with an unusual orchestration,” said Andrizzi of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, which has multiple solos that show the talent of CCPA’s student instrumentalists. Based on the 1,001 Nights sage, the orchestra work features Asian colors and melodies as well as a major solo by the CCPA Orchestra’s student concertmaster Emily Boone. The piece is also a favorite of classical music lovers.
It undoubtedly will be an emotional night for Crayton, who is saying farewell this spring to the solo that is based on the Bible’s Psalm 23, a piece he has sung with church choirs all over the country, including the St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Evanston where he is choir director.
Over nearly 50 years, Crayton has performed the piece 178 times, including 46 times in Europe alone, including once before the queen of Netherlands in Amsterdam, as well as in 1976 at Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis with Bernstein in the audience.
“I was still in high school singing soprano when I met him,” recalled Crayton, who met Bernstein while he was a resident at Indiana University working on “A Quiet Place.” Crayton still possesses Bernstein’s original score of the Chichester Psalms.
“I remember him telling me not just to sing the piece for the audience. He wanted me to bring the people to me when I sing,” said Crayton.
For much of his life, Crayton has been able to do just that, singing the piece frequently to rave reviews four or five times every year.
“It’s getting harder to sing the piece now that I’m older,” he acknowledges. It is but one of the reasons he has decided to stop performing the piece. “I’m much more focused now on training the next generation of countertenors,” said Crayton, who teaches the piece to Roosevelt voice students who are countertenors. “I want to be able to spend my time passing along what I know,” he said.
After March 30, Crayton will perform the second movement of Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms only two more times with the CCPA Choirs in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 20 in Roosevelt’s Ganz Hall and on April 23 at the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Both shows will be for much smaller audiences.
That is what makes the Auditorium Theatre performance particularly moving for Crayton, for he will be remembering all those times in his life when he sang the piece at large venues with his father, who died in 2014, and last was in the audience to support and cheer him on in 2012.
“I’ve been known for this piece, and every time I sang it in a big place, my father was there. He heard me sing it more than 30 times,” said Crayton, whose mother will be in the Auditorium Theatre audience. “I’ll be singing to him to give thanks for all of the support and opportunities he gave me growing up to become a singer.”