TURK LEWIS

1.0 – How important was music to you growing up?

Really important. Home life was a bit solitary so I was always listening to the radio and seeking permission to go to the living room unaccompanied to put LP’s on the “Hi-Fi” as my father referred to it. Got a clock radio with a cassette deck, then a receiver/turntable from my drum teacher and after what seemed like years of reviewing sound components, prevailed on my parents to buy me a real system.  I was among the first kids I knew with a CD player.

2.0 – When did you realize you could sing?

Not really sure.  I have 5 siblings from my dad’s first marriage and they are all really musical.  I think I first realized that I actually had rhythm before I recognized that I had pitch.  My mom was always chiding me for drumming on the dashboard or the table—couldn’t help it.  My 9 year-old daughter is like that now and it’s wild to see the chord of music extended in the family.  To your question, I did a lot of acting at school and in 10th grade we did a musical.  They put me with three other guys and we did a couple of barbershop numbers in the show that just hit.  It was random, but we fit perfectly into a TTBB scheme and we ended up recording an album, Shades of Blue as The Ceruleans our senior year that I’m still proud of and I still enjoy.

3.0 – What stuff did like to sing along with as a kid?

Jacques Brel, Billy Joel, Carly Simon.

4.0 – What was the first time you sang on a stage and what do you remember about it?

Alice in Wonderland as the Mock Turtle singing “Beautiful Soup”, age 8.  People said I had a high voice—they were right.  The first ‘concert’ was in high school at Homecoming.  I remember singing “What I Like About You” and watching my voice teacher cringe as I closed my throat and screamed.

5.0 Did you know about the Colgate 13 before you went attended the school, was it part of your decision to go there or just a bonus?
I’m not sure if I knew who they were or not, but it was not a factor in my deciding to go.  And it was an afterthought to be sure.  I had had some correspondence with the hockey coach but was not recruited (for good reason) and was still battling my dejection at not being a collegiate athlete.  I walked into auditions and there was a line down three flights of stairs.  I cavalierly gave some freshmen my cassette (in ’87 not every freshman had his own tape with a cover and recording right and everything!) and walked out. I later learned that some of the guys from the group were so outraged at my insolence that they wanted to blackball me, but eventually I got a call to audition.
6.0 – Most rock & roll singers have never had the sort of formal training that A capella entails, how did it help you as a singer?

The a capella stuff was helpful for developing my ear: pitch and harmony.  But I was visited by an angel who taught me everything.  Jane McKee was a voice major at the University of Iowa (I think) and she came to my school interested in putting an a capella quartet together.  She was tireless and incredibly dedicated.  And she then went on to train me in classical voice—donating tons of her time to teach me how to breathe and then how to sing.  I owe her so much for opening up a new world to me.

7.0 – It must be exciting to have music as a part of a well-rounded curriculum at Portledge School, how rare is that today?

Great question. Almost all schools, public and independent are struggling to remain financially viable without cutting essential programs.  We have shown a real commitment to music at Portledge and it shows.  When you attend an All-County band or orchestra performance, it is really amazing how many of our students are selected.  Many districts are simultaneously cutting their program and budgets or losing elements of the programs altogether.

8.0 – How do you think it impacts the students’ experience?

A student of music is learning so much more than how to read or play or hear or articulate—my point is the value to the music student involves much more than the music itself.  There are educational study after study that continue to illuminate the ways in which the study of music helps to open neural pathways that lead to stronger retention, that have applications to science and math and language. And, they learn about beauty and empathy and teamwork.  I am so proud of our music department and our leadership for making the commitment in time and resources to the program.

9.0 – Is it part of your pitch to prospectives and their parents?

When it’s genuinely relevant, yes. Either because I just read or experienced an illustration of the strength of that program, or because the prospective student is a musician himself.

10.0 – What advice do you give students with special talent or who want to pursue a career in music?

To Porltedge students, I tell them about Claude Zdanow ’06 (StadiumRedNY) and his incredible road to success in the music industry and that he’d be happy to talk with you. I actually have hooked up students with alumni in music and other artistic fields and helped them enrich their work collectively.  That’s very exciting. But more generally, if you really know yourself enough that you can be honest with yourself.  And you feel you have the talent and the determination, and are willing to pick yourself up each time you told you’re not good enough.  Search yourself to see if you are willing to give up some of the creature comforts you currently enjoy, and if you are, immerse yourself completely in your work.  Nothing great was ever created without significant sacrifice.

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