Charles Sy

2013 Grant Recipient

Classical Voice Winner
Charles Sy

Charles Sy is a 21-year-old Tenor from Mississauga, ON who will begin his Master’s at the University of Toronto this autumn. Charles received his Bachelor of Performance (Music) at the University of Toronto and has performed in numerous venues and participated in summer programs.

In submitting the nomination for The Hnatyshyn Foundation classical voice grant, Darryl Edwards, Associate Professor and Head of Voice Studies, University of Toronto said of Charles, “Charles singing was recently described by Collaborative Piano Professor Steven Philcox as ‘possessing vocal and musical excellence and maturity beyond his twenty-one years.’ I certainly echo that. Charles’ capacity for dramatic nuance, visceral sensibilities, and sublime communication with his instruments are commanding. He has both the glint of a silbertenor and the promise of a lyric tenor as he continues to thrive”

In adjudicating Charles’ performance submissions, the jury for classical voice praised his stunning voice… “Although very youong, this exceptional singer has it all: a beautiful tone supported by excellent technique and innate musicality. He has a rare ability to connect with the listener. His performances are riveting because his focus is not just to sing beautiful tomes but also to sing the text simply and insightfully. Overall, a wonderful musician.”

The jury included:
• Barb Montalbetti, Artistic Director, Saskatoon Opera
• Michael Meraw, Director, Undergraduate Opera Studio; Voice,
New England Conservatory
• Caroline Schiller, Assistant Professor of Voice and Director of Opera
at Memorial University

Artist’s Statement

The most important aspect of performance is intention. An artist should have something to say and it should be something worth listening to. My teacher likes to joke that no one wants to listen to your beautiful vowel parade, but in all truthfulness, I believe it is what separates the multitude of singers and the true artists.

It was not until I realized how much music had shaped and essentially saved me that I decided it was what I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to doing. At a very young age, my parents got divorced and my mother struggled to financially support my sister and I. Growing up as a child, my mother was constantly in the hospital and there were many times when I would not see her for several days. She was diagnosed with breast cancer and due to extensive chemotherapy, she became diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and still suffers from heart failure. I was a very unhappy child and spent much of my time at school crying and being unhappy with my life at home. Because of this, I did not have very many friends and was really lonely. Music was one of the only things that kept me from hating life. I started singing in the school choir and eventually started making friends through association. I started playing piano because it gave me something to work on and distracted me from my personal life. Schoolwork was mandatory, while music making was something I wanted to do. I became enthralled and listened to a variety of styles of music. It became my escape, whether it was a piece of music that I could personally relate to or if it was something so emotionally moving that I could not help but forget about my current situation. This was just the beginning of my journey into discovering the true purpose of music in my life.

In order to develop as a performer, I have spent the past couple of years changing my outlook on life in order to be a more well-rounded and whole person. By the end of high school, I had a decent voice and decided that I wanted to pursue singing in university. As an aspiring young singer, my original intentions involved practicing hard and becoming an international and famous opera star. Of course, all singers still have a little bit of this aspiration still left in them, but it was only a couple of years ago that I realized that there was so much more to it. Once I made the decision to pursue studies in classical voice, I became obsessed with striving to become a better performer. I spent hours on end educating myself about operas and pulling scores from the library to study and listen to. I was not very social and kept telling myself that if I wanted to be a musician I had to literally do nothing but music every single hour of every day. My performances were passable as I practiced often and constantly worked on developing my voice and language proficiency, but there was something missing. I could not connect to the music. I grew frustrated with my performing abilities, as the only thing that was able to go through my mind during performance was the position of my soft palette and the expansion of my ribcage. I was beginning to become frustrated with the one thing that used to make me happy. In the last couple of years, my mother was diagnosed with bone cancer. She had already been treated for breast cancer twice and my personal life at home was not looking good. Because of my mother’s health issues, she has not been able to work and our financial situation has been very difficult as I try to work as much as possible while being a full time student. There were times when we would live with no electricity, gas or water because we could not afford to pay for them. For months at a time, we would have to decide which utility was more important because we could not pay for all of them. I started to hate life again and making music was no longer making me happy. In 2010, the Metropolitan Opera was live broadcasting their production of Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier in movie theaters. I was frustrated and stressed with my personal life but went to watch it out of obligation as a singer. During the trio at the end of the opera, I could not help but sit there and just openly weep. It was not that I could personally relate to the situation of the Marschallin, but that the music was able to tap into some deep well of emotion inside of me. The scene was beautifully sung, but also emotionally rooted and powerful. It was so real. No fabrications and no technicalities. It was a true expression of pure and raw human emotion. It was then that I realized that it is not an artist’s job to create art; it is their job to be human. The music I was listening to became an outlet for my own compressed emotions. I realized that good performances didn’t relate to you because of their studious perfection, but it was through their expression of true and real emotions. Since then, I have changed my outlook on what it means to be an artist. I still dedicate much of my time to practicing, studying language proficiency and developing myself technically, but I also set aside time for myself to live and truly experience life. I try to pick up new hobbies and experience new things every couple of months. I read classic literature and about new scientific discoveries to broaden my understanding of the vast world that surrounds us. I try to be more social, attend public events and spend more time with friends and family. I recently got a scholarship to study Italian opera and language in Italy for a summer and I spent much of my time there learning about the culture and the people. I have expanded my horizons and have allowed myself to say yes to things that normally would be outside of my comfort zone.

I believe that as an artist I am supposed to take real emotions and life experiences, concentrate them into a beautiful piece of music, and express them to anyone willing to listen. However, if I only focus on developing myself as a technical artist, then I have no other life experiences to draw from. I have learned to love music again and I now strive to be that same emotional outlet for other people. Whether or not I do become a huge international success or not, if I am able to touch one person in the same way that performance at the Metropolitan Opera affected me then I will consider myself a success. I want to be able to have something to say when I am on stage and I want people to want to listen.