13 Aug Forging My Own Path – by: Lucas De Jesus
ArtSmart mentor Lucas De Jesus has forged his own path as a musician, pursuing work in the field of vocal ensembles. His education, experience and unique journey are incredibly inspiring. He is a shining example of what it is to be a working musician who not only has succeeded in the traditional arena, but has also created his own unique opportunities.
When being introduced to new people, I often get introduced as an opera singer. “Hey, this is my friend Lucas- he’s an opera singer!”… I find this astounding and quite hilarious. While I do sing some opera, I do not by any means consider myself an opera singer.
Rewind back to highschool. I remember having a chat with my choir teacher, conductor, and music director: Bob Goltz. (You want to talk about the importance of a mentor- I wouldn’t be an active musician today if not for this man.) So I ask Mr. Goltz half jokingly, half seriously, if he thought I’d ever end up pursuing a career in musical theatre. To my surprise, he chuckled and responded, “Definitely not.” In retrospect, I think he was onto something.
Now I’m going to fast-forward a bit to college. I attended Westminster Choir College in pursuit of a BM in Voice Performance. Whenever I look back at my time there, I see myself as the black sheep of my voice performance class. While my peers were all working on their arias and taking opera workshop classes, I was singing my artsongs, early music, and performing in seven different ensembles. I never auditioned for roles in the operas, nor for roles in the musicals at that point. I really just loved singing in choirs, so much that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in it.
I’ll be honest- I graduated with a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Many of my music ed friends joked that I would be the best waiter in Philadelphia because of my degree choice and my resistance to singing opera. Many of my voice peers continued on to grad school to pursue careers as opera soloists. And there I stood with a clean slate and no security blanket. I was determined to prove everyone wrong, to show them that I could create an unconventional career for myself that consists of only doing what I love.
Ironically, the first professional ensemble I made it into was the Opera Philadelphia chorus. To this day, I hold this group near and dear to my heart. I’ve grown a love and appreciation of opera through this company that I never had before. I was then accepted as a core member of The Philadelphia Singers, who I would perform my first concert with in a chamber setting at the UN General Assembly. After the Philadelphia Singers sadly disbanded due to a decade of financial hardship, I jumped ship over to The Mendelssohn Club Chorus. I feel I fit right here with a community of singers from so many different music backgrounds. During this time period I also got my foot in the door of the catholic church music scene, singing as both section leader in choirs and as cantor for regular masses, funerals, and weddings.Through these ensembles (and countless other choral adventures) I’ve met mentors, built relationships, and made friends that will last a lifetime.
In the midst of joining already existing choirs, I was and am in the process of creating ensembles. I am a founding member of The Same Stream, Glassbrook Vocal Ensemble, and Craftworks- three very different ensembles with different personalities and specialties. The Same Stream was born out of a group of Westminster Williamson Voices alumni who wanted to continue singing together beyond college. We’ve now completed four recording projects (2 CDs yet to be released) and will begin small tours this year. The Glassbrook Vocal Ensemble started out as a dream of my good friend and college roommate, Chaequan Anderson, to start a professional ensemble of our own. Through the development of this group, I’ve learned many of the ins and outs of creating and managing a non-profit organization. More importantly, I get to make music with some of my closest friends and share it with communities that don’t have easy access to live choral music. Craftworks started out as a group of freelance musicians who wanted to sing together for the sake of singing without the limitations and constraints of a rehearsal process and single conductor’s vision. Starting with the question, “How can we be unique?” it quickly grew into a new idea: a podcast ensemble. We’ve experimented with a couple episodes from pre-recorded material, have done a live-audience session, and will be doing episodes on WRTI radio in the future.
I realized a couple years after college, once I decided to settle down in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future, that I had let go of my day jobs without replacing them and had suddenly entered the world of freelancing by accident. I recall a very distinct moment in time in the winter of 2016 when I took pause, laughed, and uttered to myself, “I think I’m doing it.” Then suddenly in 2017, I get an email from Michael Fabiano with the scoop on this new ArtSmart thing, and here we are.
I think back to when Bob Goltz said he didn’t see my future on the Broadway stage. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I think he knew 1) that I loved making choral music above everything, and 2) that I didn’t have tunnel vision and didn’t want to be locked in a single, linear career path.
I never thought that I’d be teaching and mentoring students that are in the same position I was in 10 years ago. And honestly, I love that I’m not a teacher, just how I love that I’m not an opera singer. There’s no one way to do it. If I could pass down one piece of advice to my students, I would say, “Where there are seemingly no opportunities to be found, create them!”