Class Is All About That Bass
Pawel Izdebski came to the University of Lowell to play tennis.
When he graduated with a bachelor’s in voice performance in 1986, he had left the tennis courts behind and headed to the New England Conservatory in Boston for a master’s in voice performance. He then launched a career in opera that has landed him on some of the best known stages around the world.
The singer returned to campus recently to serve up perspective, leading two days of master classes for music performance students. He put about two dozen students from lecturer Joshua Millard’s performance class in tune with the life of a working musician.
“We are the instruments,” he said of professional singers. “We always carry our voice with us.”
He talked about the ins and outs of opera as a profession. “It’s nice if you can make a lot of money at it, if that happens,” he told the students. “But that’s not what it’s about.”
From the Tennis Court to the Opera House
Izdebski moved from his native Poland to the United States with his family when he was 15. He graduated from Framingham High School and while he could serve and volley with the best of his peers, he also loved music.
At age 6 he took piano. Voice lessons followed. He was good at singing. Very good.
After finishing his music education and launching his career, his deep bass carried him to venues around the world and to performances with some of the leading names in the music business: Zubin Mehta, Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo.
Returning to Durgin Hall, he talked to students for about 75 minutes, covering proper posture, practice, and partying (“know your limits”). He spoke of singing in the shower (“very good for you, the steam keeps the vocal chords moist”), mastering a role, attire for an audition (“inappropriate dress is distracting”) and knowing one’s limits as a singer.
And work, always work.
“I came here on a tennis scholarship,” he said. “Four hours a day, practice. Rain or shine. It is the same thing with the performing arts.”
A Desire to Give Back
Izdebski volunteered to come back to campus and work with students, says Julie Nash, associate dean of undergraduate programs for the College of Fine Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences (FAHSS). He contacted the alumni relations office last spring to express his interest.
“He’s one of those wonderful alumni who says, 'I’ve had this incredible career and it all started for me at UMass Lowell. So is there anything I can do to give back?' ”
He is working with FAHSS to put together a summer program that takes students abroad to study and perform in Germany, where he now lives with his wife and two children. He also hopes to
work with the Music and Sound Recording Technology departments to present a concert and make a new recording here.
Insight and Inspiration
Students sat rapt during Izdebski’s presentation. Finally, a student asked him to sing. Izdebski launched into a deep, resonant version of Cole Porter’s chestnut, “Begin the Beguine.” The students loved it.
“That was pretty neat,” said Sarah Perrin, a second-year performance major who plays French horn. “I like seeing alumni who have become successful come back, especially someone who has sung all over the world.”
“I liked that a lot,” said Meghan Kelley. “It was refreshing. Most of the performance material is geared toward jazz here, but it was great to hear opera and from someone who knows the world outside.” In addition to the insight into the world of professional opera, Izdebski offered encouragement.
“Remember that all singers go through moments of doubt,” he said. “But remember that you are blessed with the gift of singing, so go for it and give it your best.”