94948_000_024They’re active, average deacons who like basketball and baseball, skiing and Scouting. They are also professional opera singers. Meet (l–r) Jeffrey, Andrew, and Steven.
Don’t look now, but there are three boys flying through the air on a magic bench. They’re wearing wild clothes, hats, and boots, and they’re singing beautiful music. The people on the ground below are also dressed in colorful costumes—one of them looks like a bird—and they’re singing a plea for help. The words to the boys’ song in response seem enchanted. All problems are resolved.
Does this sound like some bizarre dream caused by a hot fudge, french fry sundae right before bedtime? It’s not. It’s all in a day’s work for professional opera singers Steven Wilkin, Andrew Grose, and Jeffrey Perry, the deacons who recently starred as the “genies” in the Utah Opera Company’s version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
At 13, the three boys have been singing professionally for several years. Their performances have taken them all over the country and even to different parts of the world. They’re making friends and developing talents at a remarkable rate. As far as after-school jobs go, “it beats a paper route,” says Jeff.
When you hear the three boy sopranos sing, whether they’re harmonizing together, performing in front of huge crowds in Japan as Steven and Andrew have done, or crooning country-western tunes as Jeff does in a restaurant on Thursday nights, you think you’ve been transported to heaven and are listening to the angels themselves. Their voices are high and clear, and although they work hard and practice incessantly, it’s obvious that a certain degree of their talent is a divine gift.
Steven discovered he had a gift when he was about three, singing and talking in Primary. Andrew’s talent was discovered by his third-grade teacher when she cast him in the class production of Hansel and Gretel. Jeff discovered he was talented only a few years ago, when his friends heard him sing along perfectly with Whitney Houston’s recording of “The Star Spangled Banner.” Voice lessons would be a good thing here, decided the boys and their parents. Training helps, but without the “something extra” they were born with, they would never be where they are today.
Each was also blessed with the ability to sing on stage in front of thousands of people without being nervous or afraid. These boys have always been amazingly poised, getting leads in major productions like Oliver and Amahl and the Night Visitors almost the first time they tried out. “Prayer helps a lot,” says Andrew. “And Dad’s blessings that I’ll perform to the best of my abilities help too,” adds Steven.
Now before you get jealous and start wondering why God didn’t bless you with a talent like that, consider the fact that there are some drawbacks to being a gifted boy soprano. All the blessings in the world won’t make these three boys comfortable singing in front of their own wards.
“The older boys and the deacons quorum tease you about singing high,” says Steven. “I like to collect fast offerings and to pass the sacrament with them, but when it comes to singing, it’s easier to be on stage in front of thousands of people you’ll never see again than to have to sing in front of a room full of people who really know you.”
Because of his high, clear voice, Andrew couldn’t even get a part in his own school musical. “They were doing Guys and Dolls, and the drama teacher said the only part they had for my voice would have been the female lead, which I obviously couldn’t play. Some of the kids at school went around saying, ‘I got a singing part without even taking a lesson, and Andrew, who has had all this training, doesn’t even get to be on stage.’ It worked out okay though. I got to be stage manager, and it was fun to watch everyone else perform without any pressure on me.”
The pressure. That’s something else these boys are forced to deal with, and at a very young age they’re learning some amazing things. Steven was ecstatic about landing the lead role in a professional production of Amahl and the Night Visitors, until he heard his understudy sing. His voice was like silver. “Oh Mom!” Steven said, with tears in his eyes, “He’s so much better than I am! He should have my part.” It was then explained to Steven that the boy who was singing had grown too big for the lead, and Steven’s part was secure.
Steven decided right then and there that he would be very nice to his understudy and treat him without jealousy or malice. Steven knew how that felt, because he’d been treated poorly as an understudy before. This decision turned out to be better than Steven ever expected. His understudy in Amahl was Andrew, and now they’re the closest of friends.
It’s a good thing these boys have learned how to make friends at all times and in all places. When they’re involved in a production, there isn’t a lot of “hang time.” While most guys their ages are playing Nintendo and hanging out with their friends, Jeff, Andrew, and Steven are busy learning Italian, Latin, German, Japanese, taking dance and voice lessons, and attending rehearsals. Those activities, plus Scouting and deacons quorum duties, and a few sports like baseball, skiing, and basketball, take up almost all their time. That doesn’t leave many minutes for just being with friends.
“Sometimes I wish I had more time for that,” says Steven, wistfully. “But I’ve become good friends with the other guys in the productions, and we hang out at the rehearsals. We’ll rollerblade when we’re not on stage, and stuff like that. It’s pretty fun.”
That’s all fine for now, you might say, but what happens as they start growing up? “The Dreaded Voice Change,” as Andrew calls it, has been looming darkly on the horizon ever since these boys discovered they could sing soprano.
How will they deal with it? Their beautiful voices have been earning them money and attention, and all that could easily change in a week. They each handle it in their own way. Steven’s voice has already changed, but because he was rehearsing so hard for The Magic Flute while it was happening, he can still reach the high notes and sound as good as ever. Andrew is hoping to develop his new, deeper voice as well as he developed his boy soprano voice. Jeff can’t wait for his voice to go lower. He’d rather be a professional baseball player or a doctor in the long run anyway.
In the meantime, these boys do what they can to turn around and bless others with the talents they’ve been given. You’ll often find Andrew entertaining large groups at nursing homes. “I love singing for older people,” he says. Steven has performed in a number of charity concerts to raise money for the homeless and terminally ill children, and Jeff has used his voice to help his grandparents do missionary work. All three boys sing often at missionary farewells, funerals, and in other Church programs.
While all three boys love the feeling they get when they sing before an audience, their lives don’t necessarily revolve around their singing careers. If you catch them after a Saturday night performance when the audience is roaring and they’ve just taken three curtain calls, you might ask them, “Now that you’ve won the hearts of thousands and your voices are critically acclaimed, what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to pass the sacrament!” these three deacons would tell you. What else would they do on a Sunday?