Home ♃ Recent Stories ☄ Distinguished Tenor Roderick George, Alabama Native, Featured in Opera’s ‘Greatest Hits’

Distinguished Tenor Roderick George, Alabama Native, Featured in Opera’s ‘Greatest Hits’

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Roderick George, a highly regarded voice teacher with more than two decades of collegiate instructional experience, is a full-time professor and head of the voice program at the University of Montevallo. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

By Sym Posey | The Birmingham Times

For distinguished tenor Roderick George, Ph.D., who has traveled the world, there’s no place like home.

George has performed a wide-ranging concert and operatic repertoire throughout the United States and abroad, and now he will be featured in “Opera Unveiled: A Concert of Greatest Hits.”

The show, which will include the Opera Birmingham Chorus, the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and several other artists, will be held at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s nice to sing at home,” said George. “I don’t get to sing at home a lot. Much of the singing I do is in other places.”

Speaking of home, that’s where George got his musical start—unsurprisingly, in the Black church.

As a member of Mount Calvary Primitive Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, George grew up in church, singing in the choir and playing piano.

“I had a church job throughout high school, as well. My parents were heavily involved in the church. I was raised in church. We were always at church. My dad was a deacon, and he was also superintendent of the Sunday school. We would be there before anybody else would be,” said George, the second to youngest of five siblings.

“My mother sings well. She still sings well,” he said.

Asked what she thinks of her “world-famous” son, George said, “My mom would never think of me as being ‘world famous.’ However, she is always quite amused whenever she reads my performance bios and realizes how much stuff I’ve done and how busy I am at times. My mom is always just so encouraging, even when she might not fully understand what I’m doing, and she’ll always say, ‘I’ll be praying that you get there and back safely.’”

George attended Mobile’s John Shaw High School, where he was a member of the choir and took piano lessons. George had an interest in playing the piano since he was a young boy.

“It was always something that was part of our lives,” he said. “Most of my siblings sing, and my older sister took piano lessons. Then I started tinkering around on the piano because it was there. Initially, I started playing by ear, but eventually I was convinced to take piano lessons. I didn’t take any voice lessons until college.”

Roderick George, a highly regarded voice teacher with more than two decades of collegiate instructional experience, is a full-time professor and head of the voice program at the University of Montevallo. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

“Mastery of Technique”

George attended Stillman College, a historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he graduated with two degrees: one in English and the other in music.

“Like most HBCUs, Stillman College has a long tradition of touring concert choirs,” he said. “When I was a senior in high school, I auditioned for the director of the choir at that time, James Arthur Williams, and he offered me a full scholarship to sing in the choir and to be a student accompanist, [someone who provides musical accompaniment to another musician or to a singer]. Years later, as I was finishing my doctorate at Florida State University, I was invited to interview for the voice professor faculty position.”

“I could always sing, but I hadn’t explored classical or operatic singing until college. I was fascinated by operatic singing and the mastery of technique that it requires to do it really well. Plus, I love a challenge.”

Originally, George had planned to major in elementary education at Stillman.

“That lasted for maybe a week,” he said. ”Music was really the thing. … I hadn’t quite convinced myself that it would be a career, but I eventually switched over to music and double majored in music and English.”

George recalled wanting to be a choir director because “I sort of thought that was what a person in music did,” he said. “That’s the only thing I’d seen. Seeing my high school director, I said, ‘OK, I’ll be a choir director.’”

Today, George is a full-time professor and head of the voice program at the University of Montevallo, in Montevallo, Alabama. He is a highly regarded voice teacher with more than two decades of collegiate instructional experience. Some of his proudest moments come from his students.

“When they come back and talk about the experiences they’ve had or [when] they come back and say something that I don’t remember saying, those are the kind of things that are most meaningful,” he said.

As an international performing artist, Roderick George has traveled throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, South America, Canada, and Russia and appeared on stages in the Birmingham metro area. (Opera Birmingham)

Recognizable Tunes

As an international performing artist, George has traveled throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, South America, Canada, and Russia. Locally, he’s been heard at the Red Mountain Theatre’s Human Rights New Works Festival in the role of Peter Fagan in a workshop reading of Carla Lucero’s “Touch,” an opera based on the life of Helen Keller and commissioned by Opera Birmingham.

Next week’s “Opera Unveiled” performance will likely contain some recognizable tunes, said the tenor.

“One of the arias I’m performing, ‘La Donna è Mobile,’ has been used in television commercials for Doritos [tortilla chips] and Axe body spray, although the actual Italian words have nothing to do with those products,” he said. “The audience will also get a chance to hear operatic voices projecting over a full orchestra.”

George prepares for performances based on “the type of musical work I’m doing, whether it’s something I’ve performed in the past or the level of difficulty,” he said.

“Preparing a full operatic role typically requires work with a vocal coach and can take several months,” he added. “Some other things I usually prepare with no assistance, just a lot of personal practice.”

Still, it all takes a lot of discipline, said George: “I usually try to have a relaxed nothing-out-of-the-ordinary day on the day of a performance. I might start with some light cardio in the gym. … Then, during the day, I’ll have a good meal or two and warm up or check in with my voice periodically to make sure the high notes are working. Otherwise, I don’t have any actual weird rituals.”

Open Minds

Roderick George, attended Stillman College, a Historically Black College and University in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he graduated with two degrees: one in English and the other in music. (Amarr Croskey, For The Birmingham Times)

George’s role as an African American in opera is not uncommon.

“The key word is exposure,” he said. “There are many opportunities in the area to hear classical operatic singing. For example, Opera Birmingham has many pop-ups or outreach performances each season, some free, and most of the universities in the area have performances that are open to the public. It just requires some open-mindedness and not being afraid to do something that seems different.”

Speaking of different, when it comes to music, George enjoys listening “to a lot of different stuff like the jazz singer Samara Joy.”

His favorite singer right now is R&B and jazz artist Ledisi, and he’s very much into “Cowboy Carter,” the eighth studio album by megastar Beyoncé.

“Beyoncé is so creative,” he said. “What she has done with this project is really inspiring. What other artist is causing this much conversation? I think art should cause conversation, whether you agree or disagree with it, like it or dislike it.”

When he is not teaching and singing, George enjoys baking and traveling.

“I mostly bake layer cakes or some occasional smaller treats like my version of the Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies,” he said. “I would have to say that my red velvet cake or lemon blueberry cake are my specialties since I get requests to bake those most often. There are many others that I make under the name ‘The Tenor Bakes.’

“Baking is my primary hobby at this point or just watching Academy Award–type films. I’m also a bit of a foodie and love trying new locally owned restaurants. I’m not much of sports fan, but I do enjoy watching tennis.”

When it comes to travel, George said, “I love to travel and feel like a tourist, especially when I’m not traveling for work. Paris, [France], and Vienna, [Austria], are two places I’ve really enjoyed. There’s just so much to see.

“Russia would have to be among the most fascinating places that my career has taken me. Seeing Red Square and the Kremlin in person and singing at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, or even just the unique beauty of St. Petersburg are things I will never forget.”

Asked his age, George responded, “Funny that you ask that. Let’s just say I’ve been doing this for quite a while.”

“Opera Unveiled: A Concert of Greatest Hits” will take place at the Dorothy Jemison Day Theater at the Alabama School of Fine Arts on Friday, April 26, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, April 28, at 2:30 p.m. To find out more or buy tickets, visit https://www.operabirmingham.org/opera-unveiled