The Three Tenors were absolutely the perfect choice to celebrate over 40 consecutive years of music programming in the Memorial Student Center Opera and Performing Arts Society (MSC OPAS) at Texas A&M. The evening of Sept. 26, 2014, marked the start for Season 42, whose programming theme is titled, “Good Times.” When John Hagen, Marcus Collins and JC Fisher entered to open the Ann Wiatt Main Stage Series, following a lovely off-stage vocal blend for the national anthem, the audience was already on their feet. But the talented trio earned several ovations throughout the evening, from a diverse and appreciative gathering of arts patrons.
From “America’s Got Talent” to College Station has been a tremendous journey of joy for these singers who call Texas their home base. The trio has traveled the world on cruise ships, played Branson’s Starlite Theatre for five years, and they have their own PBS special, “You Should Dream,” which is earning them even greater national acclaim. What’s more they came to the Brazos Valley to open “Good Times.” The evening’s performance was sponsored by Aggieland Credit Union.
It must be said that trying to pick the shows for any season of music, stage, orchestra, and entertainment presentation to please “everyone” is next to impossible. But that’s never bothered OPAS Executive Director Anne T. Black, as she and her OPAS Board of Directors travel to New York, and they bring home a group of shows that are available to travel to College Station in between their national tour appearances in cities that are, still, ten times larger than Bryan-College Station. To bring The Texas Tenors to an opening Friday night was as much of a coup as simply booking them.
These handsome, charming, and ultra-talented tenors were superbly accompanied by a four piece band known as “The 3 Bottle Band,” who travels with them. The Texas Tenors performs at least five weeks each year in Branson, Missouri. The talented backing musicians also had a home base in Branson, as key players behind Bill and McKenna Medley’s show as well as the late, great Andy Williams. The Three Tenors may have first knocked the socks off of Sharon Osborne, Piers Morgan, and David Hasselhoff (the Hoff!) in 2009 during the “America’s Got Talent” competition, but in the past five years, the trio’s popularity has grown exponentially.
As soon as John, Marcus and JC hit the stage, they owned it instantly, kicking off their show with their version of Alabama’s “Mountain Music.” It’s no secret that Aggies love good country-western music and they needed no encouragement to begin clapping along. In black cowboy hats and country-cut tailoring, they burst into “Thank God I’m a Country Boy” and “Take Me Home Country Roads.” The trio invited the audience to sing along, but the crowd had already started before being asked.
In between the songs, the conversation and personality that each tenor shared gave the audience a good opportunity to get that “I’ve known you forever” feeling that carries over beyond the span of the concert. Each of the three best friends came together as they were guys with day jobs that were going nowhere quickly; in fact, one had lost his job. Undergirded with a shared faith in God, gospel music is one of their strongest genres, as they sang convincingly as well as beautifully. Each of course had spent a substantial amount of time singing in church settings for most all of their respective lives.
There was a definite spiritual feel to their rendition of “Danny Boy” and “Amazing Grace,” incorporating Dottie Rambo’s beautiful lyrics. In the beautiful backlighting across the stage, as they were singing their songs, I couldn’t help but be emotionally moved, to tears in fact, to think of all of the patrons, and patrons-now-saints, who have worked for over four decades to bring this series to what it is today.
Looking upward into the gentle lighting, the names and faces came to mind of Wayne Stark, Thyra Plass, Pat Peters, now gone, and so many others in the community today, to whom substantive thanks are due. Their gifts of time and finances made this a viable programming series for the Brazos Valley to experience things that previously had only been possible when you loaded up the station wagon and headed for Houston, back in the day.
As The Three Tenors began singing the lyrics to “It’s the Climb” the music swelled along perfectly but then it was time to re-involve the audience. Aggieland’s Mark and Laura Johnson were the tenors’ first audience members to visit. They ultimately whisked Laura onstage and all three of them sang to her and even posed nicely for photos, asking audience members to share them on their Facebook page.
An exceptionally poignant highlight was the tenors singing “God Bless the USA,” and the singers asked all veterans to stand and be recognized, followed by those who had spouses and children who served. This recognition of veterans may occur at every concert, but the crowd in Rudder was truly able to see just how many veterans call Brazos Valley and Texas A&M home.
Although there are three tenors, they’re distinct in their own way. Marcus is considered the “Contemporary Tenor,” JC is considered the “Romantic Tenor,” and John says he’s “The Tenor.” John made his Lincoln Center debut in Mascagni’s “Guglielmo Ratcliff” and he is a veteran and lover of all things opera. The Three Tenors did a pleasant version of “Nessun Dorma” from Puccini’s Turandot, and that scene from “Moonstruck” just kept popping up in my mind as they sang it. Luciano Pavarotti was acknowledged and remembered fondly in a special tribute during the evening.
In a special salute to their first trip to Aggieland, they showed an all-Aggie montage of campus and traditions as the trio sang “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and the audience was ready to clap along without being invited.
Refusing to be boxed in to typecasting, they then surprised the audience in appealing to some of the younger patrons by performing Coldplay’s “If I Ruled the World,” which was extremely well received. Then two tenors left the stage under a cute ruse and left Marcus to come down and greet audience members on the stage left side. There, Marcus spotted a lady named Kat, wearing a neck brace, and he was so amazed to learn that she’d suffered a broken neck but managed to come to see their concert. Noting her far-right audience seat, he asked the “folks down front in the middle” to find Kat an open seat, so she would not have to strain her neck the rest of the show, and the audience happily obliged. Then he sang one of his favorite songs, “God Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts to Kat, asking the audience to make certain they helped her out of the row at the end of the show.
The 3 Bottle Band then entertained the audience with a bluegrass tune while the tenors changed again. The Texas Tenors returned to the stage to offer two powerful crowd pleasers, “Music of the Night” and “Somewhere” from “Phantom of the Opera.”
A highlight of the evening was the performance of Dana Lamb’s song, “You Should Dream.” Lamb is a music educator at Cleveland Elementary in Fayetteville, Georgia. The Three Tenors were especially touched because each of them has parent educators, and teaching children to dream is important to all concerned. They shared that Lamb was so inspired to write the song, which just flowed into her mind; she grabbed the first writing instrument she could reach, a purple marker, and began writing. When she stopped, it was the song that would become the title of The Three Tenors’ latest album and PBS Special.
During the evening, patrons learned about the trio’s alliance with the nonprofit Child Fund International, and they had brochures on the merchandise for patrons to see. They chose an appropriate song to close out the evening as they’d each interacted with the audience and shared the highlight video of their career path from rehearsal and arrangements to the showcase of “America’s Got Talent.” Even if all you knew before the concert was the 30-second television commercial and their powerful harmony, thanks to their extensive abilities to engage with the audience, honed from years in Branson and by evening’s end you felt like they were three friends you’d known for years.
There are so many people to thank for the season, each of the sponsors, names you have known forever, and those who are newer to you. It takes almost an hour to read and think of the generosity of each name in all giving areas where OPAS and the community benefits, but it’s well worth your time. Every name, every donor in the OPAS program is key, vital in fact, as it who it takes to bring productions to campus for all to enjoy. No, it’s not always an affordable ticket price, but compared to taking the family to an Aggie football game in Jerry World, it’s a sheer bargain. Reasonable student ticket prices are made available for those who love the arts, sometimes even in a 2-for-1 option.
What was additionally impressive was the number of Aggie students who lined the rows of all three sections of Rudder Theatre, working hard to greet and seat patrons. Every year this core group of students accomplishes tremendous work before, during and after the performances to make the season a success.
Next up is an OPAS Movie Night, set for Friday, Oct. 3, at sunset in Sale Park in downtown Bryan. The event is a free screening for “Guys and Dolls,” and the public is invited to bring their lawn chairs, blankets and picnic suppers, as the gentle fall weather should hold nicely for the evening.
On Wednesday, Oct. 8, American Idol winner Phillip Phillips will perform at Rudder Auditorium for an OPAS special event. Tickets go on sale to the general public Sept. 30, as the students of Texas A&M and TEAM Blinn have had one week’s advance opportunity to get their tickets.
To learn more about OPAS and the rest of Season 42, visit them on the web at www.opas.tamu.edu. Get in on those good times today!
Originally published on AXS.com on September 28, 2014. Photo credit: The Texas Tenors, used with permission.