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Countertenor Jay Carter joins the Westminster faculty

01/15/2020

Growing up in a small rural county in southeastern Illinois, Jay Carter had little exposure to classical music.  His family favored bluegrass, country, Southern gospel and music from their Baptist church. 

“When I was 9, my parents scrounged up enough money to buy me a record player, and they solicited my other relatives to pass along albums that they didn’t want anymore,” he recalls. “In the mix with Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard were a number of classical works, including Brahms Symphony 2 and a E. Power Biggs’ all-Bach organ album.  Brahms and Bach got as much play as Cash and Haggard, and I became entranced by the themes overlapping, especially in the Bach.”

When he entered William Jewell College, Carter planned on being a church musician. Blessed with a “better-than-average” tenor voice, he was put on the alto parts when he sang with a small ensemble at William Jewell led by Mark Singleton, now the director of music at Emmanuel Church in Hartford and Voce, a professional choir in New England. 

“The rep was Howells, Tallis, Byrd, and Purcell, and I found that there were things I could do in that repertoire that made me feel like I’d found something special.  I continued my tenor work, but with the guidance of my teacher, Arnold Epley, and John Schaefer, the local cathedral canon, I began looking more and more solidly at this music.  My work as a countertenor really grew out of a tenor mindset, and the repertoire is so rich that I’ve never been bored.”

 “The piece that clarified that journey for me was Messiah, and the first time I sang ‘But who may abide…’ with the local cathedral and a baroque orchestra I was hooked,” he says.  “Other treasures from Bach and Vivaldi came later and supplemented my love for Anglican music and liturgical contexts.  At this point I’ve done the Bach major works multiple times, and many of the Handel oratorios, and I continue to find a richness in those arias that seems to pull on my love for the interplay of counterpoint and rhetoric.  There’s also the joy of singing with specialists in this field who play on period instruments; there’s a quality there that makes more room for interplay between all the collaborators.”

While he has a great love for the Baroque, Carter’s repertoire also includes works by more contemporary composers.

“I felt that just because I was becoming ‘specialized’ that I didn’t want to ignore the wonderful art songs my teacher had introduced me to.  I couldn’t imagine a life without Schubert or Brahms Lied, or melodie by Hahn and Faure.  I’ve been lucky to have recital collaborators who have indulged my interests in this area and have helped me make the case that the countertenor voice, though a decidedly ‘early’ fach (area of vocal specialization), is capable of as much expression and is equally valid in the recital format.”

Carter joined the Westminster voice faculty last fall, and he was also appointed conductor of Westminster Kantorei.  Reflecting on his first semester at Westminster he says, “Westminster Choir College has a well-earned reputation for musical excellence, and a part of my work on the road as a soloist has been with Westminster alumni. I think that I’d venture that I’ve never done a professional performance where there hasn’t been a WCC connection among the assembled musicians.  I worked closely with Tony Maglione ’01 for many years at William Jewell College, which helped me to understand more intimately how special and rigorous the Westminster experience is.  It has been clear to me from the first day that this is a remarkable place that is maintaining the standard.”

“I’m eager to get to know our alumni and their students as I settle in at this wonderful place.  Hearing about their experiences helps me acclimate! And that I’m always eager to coach, lead a masterclass, or teach lessons with prospective students and aspiring professionals when I’m on the road.”

Beginning on January 26, Carter will perform in Indianapolis; Georgetown, Texas; Saint Louis; Mission Valley and Cardiff, Calif.; Kansas City; and Portland, Maine.  A complete schedule is on his website: www.jaycartercountertenor.com.

Westminster alumni who would like to schedule a master class or lesson for a prospective student, should contact him at [email protected].