By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
One thing that stands out about Cardinal Newman High School sophomore Jake Brown is the degree of consideration he’s given his vocal chords.
A subject not even close to most teens’ Top 10 List of Trending Topics, they are key to Brown’s future.
A budding classical singer, Brown, 16, already has built his life around the training and care he hopes will one day help him launch a satisfying, successful career in opera.
Judging from the reception so far, he’s on the right path.
“He’s obviously an extraordinary talent,” said Robert Hazelrigg, conductor of the California Redwood Chorale, with whom Brown will be traveling to Italy in April after soloing in three of the group’s local concerts.
Brown’s youthful appearance belies a powerful baritone voice that consistently takes new fans by surprise, supporters say.
Graham Rutherford, principal at Cardinal Newman, where Brown is sometimes called upon to perform, describes the typical reaction this way: “Oh, my gosh! How can that voice come out of that body?”
“They gasp at the first sound,” California Redwood Chorale founder Gerry Schultz said. “They’re just completely in shock. I don’t mean to exaggerate. My singers say the same thing.”
Brown, who lives with his grandparents in Santa Rosa, seems older than his 16 years even in conversation, reflecting a maturity perhaps born from the seriousness of his pursuit.
He says he took piano lessons at a young age and was raised in a home with an appreciation of classical music. A one-time Merryhill School student who later attended Rincon Valley Middle School, he started voice lessons at 13 with Sebastopol mezzo-soprano Bonnie Brooks, a soloist and singing instructor on the adjunct faculty at Sonoma State University.
“His voice wasn’t quite that big and developed when he came,” Brooks said, “but it was still, obviously, something that was very individual and unique for a 13-year-old.”
She says her main job now is to keep him reined in, allowing his talent and ability to mature before he tackles a piece that could harm his voice.
“He’s so passionate about opera and classical music, and there are certain things that are not right for him at this age,” Brooks said. “. . . He’s got this big sound and he wants that, and he’s got that, but he can’t indulge in that too much, and that’s how I’m trying to guide him.”
But Brooks has him singing at every opportunity, connecting him with performing opportunities, such as the California Redwood Chorale. Brown also has attended and won several competitions and will be competing nationally in Chicago in May.
He attends Cardinal Newman three days a week to make time for a music theory course at College of Marin, as well as one or two lessons a week with Brooks and a weekly meeting with Cotati vocal coach Robert Young.
He practices at home, as well, and said he’s lucky to have a high-quality sound system and numerous operas on Blu-ray disc that permit him to hear and view some of his favorites regularly, when he can’t attend live performances.
Although he’s studied French in school, he’s trying to teach himself elementary German in advance of a German class he plans to take next fall. Of course, he will have to learn Italian, as well.
Brown says he realized about two years ago that singing “might be an interesting career pathway” and has his sights set on attending a conservatory, or Juilliard, or both.
He’s met with officials at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and has even been recruited for a summer voice program at the University of Notre Dame, thanks to a flight attendant aunt who happened to have a recording on hand when the passenger list included the university’s director of vocal music instruction.
“The ability to have those opportunities and to get that kind of feedback definitely builds your confidence level. And it’s just nice to hear,” Brown said.
And he’s had “nothing but support” from his peers, he said.
“Jacob Brown,” said Schultz, “in my opinion, is going to be famous.”
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
School: Cardinal Newman
Lives: In Santa Rosa, with grandparents.
Favorite classes: History, English Literature.
Hobbies: Music, opera, golf.
Favorite composers: Wagner, Mozart
Favorite reading material: “Molto Agitato,” a non-fiction, behind-the-scenes look at the interpersonal dynamics at The Metropolitan Opera in New York; any history books, especially those about the Napoleanic wars or Russia’s Romanov dynasty.
Vocal chord don’t’s: Tomato sauce and other acidic foods, dairy, pushing or tension when singing.
Vocal chord do’s: Warm water, tea, 20-minute warm-ups, breathing, appropriate posture.
Downside of being a baritone: The tenor usually gets the girl.
Dream Come True: Bachelor’s degree at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London; master’s in music from The Juilliard School, Manhattan; doctorate from Harvard University.