James Patrick McGill, 21, is a senior at Slippery Rock University studying Music Education. He was born on May 10th, 1992 in Washington, PA to James and Nancy McGill, and has one sibling, Megan McGill. What makes him stand out from most music students, is that he auditioned and received a contract to sing with the Pittsburgh Opera.McGills’s singing career began early in life, and it in part because his mom, Nancy, is a music teacher and pushed him to sing at a young age. He would sing at church events, and his first musical, Annie, was in 5th grade. That following summer he began performing with his local community theater. While in school he attended a number of Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA) events, where he met a number of professionals in the field.
In the August of 2010 shortly after graduating from Washington High School, McGill auditioned to be in the music program at Slippery Rock University. This is when he first met his voice professor Dr. Colleen Gray. When asked in an email interview about McGill’s voice development since he began attending SRU, Dr. Gray responded “A bass voice takes a long time to mature, reaching its peak when the singer is nearly forty. As an 18 year old, Pat already had an unusually resonant, beautiful instrument, but he needed time for his interment to grow as he developed his singing technique. Now, his voice is fully resonant and expressive throughout his range. Pat loves his big voice, but sometimes he pushes the instrument a little too hard. Pat’s strength, beyond the fact that he has a wonderful instrument, is that he is very musical and expressive.” His first paid singing position came on his first day of college after his first meeting with Dr. Gray.
Students in the music department are required to take lessons to help improve their singing/playing ability throughout the course of their time at SRU. They are also required to attend events and participate in ensembles as well. While attending SRU, McGill has been involved with numerous ensembles, including SRU’s Marching Pride, and performed in a number of settings, both educational and professional. Fellow student and friend Eric Garber, a senior music performance major at SRU who has known McGill since high school, commented on his dedication to his fellow classmates. Garber also discussed the music program and the amount of work required for an education major. By the end of a music education major’s four years at SRU, they will have taken a total of 84 classes.In May of 2013 McGill, Garber and two female SRU students were given the opportunity to try out to sing with the Pittsburgh Opera.
The auditions were held in Pittsburgh, and they were done with Mike Trawka, the chorus master with the opera. Dr. Gray has performed with the opera before, and scheduled the auditions for her students. She had the following comments when asked why she chose McGill as one of the students to attend, “I have sent a number of students to audition for Pittsburgh Opera over the years. Since I sang with the opera, I am friends with Mark Trawka and I know what voices they are looking for and what kind of preparation the students need. I sent Pat and a few others to audution when I felt the voices were sufficiently developed and their technique was strong enough that they would not hurt themselves singing such demanding, big music. They also needed to have a sufficient study in the Italian, French and German language diction to independently learn the opera parts. Pat had all of those qualities. I knew that Trawka would love his full bass notes.”
Both McGill and Garber were contacted shortly after the auditions, and informed they had a spot on the roster. That means that they could get a show contract for future Pittsburgh Opera shows. According to Garber, they do not contract out for a whole season, they only contract out individual shows. Garber and McGill both got positions for Aida, and McGill got a second position in The Magic Flute.
For some people, being a full time student on top of singing professionally could be an overwhelming amount of work. McGill on the other hand, said he enjoyed the experience and he was able to handle it because he likes to be busy. He said that they had rehearsals two to three nights a week, and he would typically leave Slippery Rock around 5:30, and some rehearsals would go from 10:00 to 11:00 at night, which meant he wouldn’t get home until around 11:00 pm or 12:00 am. “Most people would find it very challenging to keep up with,” he said. “But for me, I tend to thrive more when I’m busy. I like to be involved in a bunch of things at the same time because it keeps me from getting bored. I really like doing a lot of things at once, but believe me, it is nice to relax once its all over!”
On top of his opera preparations and classwork, McGill decided that he wanted to do a senior recital, which is not a requirement for music education majors. He also decided to add a twist to the line up, by performing some of his favorite movie tunes for the second half of the evening, on top of the classical performance he did at the start. This is something that is not commonly done in a senior recital. Typically, a student performs a handful of songs that they have done successfully over the course of their four years at the university. Dr. Gray commented “I typically do not allow students to devote so much for their senior recital to more popular music, but this project was so close to Pat’s heart. He sang the film music quite well.”
In his time at SRU, McGill has been a very dedicated and hardworking individual, and on top of all this has spent time giving back to the community as well. He works at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Butler, PA singing with the chorus there. “Pat always looks to take on new things. He’s active with the church choir and he is also an active member in Mu Phi Epsilon, and is always looking for more performance opportunities,” Garber added.
So what comes next for McGill? As of right now, he will student teach for his final semester at SRU. He is expecting to graduate May 10, 2014, and then move onto the next stage of his life…. Whatever that may be.