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June 17, 2005

Boy soprano Mikhael Rawls

Fort Worth Star Telegram(TX):

(This article was published June 11 prior to the TCME negative decision)

Mikhael Rawls swayed slightly as he sang Schubert's aria in his living room, his eyes darting around as if surveying an audience. His 17-year-old voice climbed and climbed, to soprano-like heights. "Not a usual male voice," Rawls conceded. "But it's the most comfortable and natural sound I produce."

The L.D. Bell High School senior's uncommon voice has garnered him attention and awards. But he may not be able to display it fully in one of the largest and most important high school choral competitions in the state. Rawls has petitioned the Texas Music Educators Association, which organizes the annual all-state band and choir competitions, to change a rule mandating that boys audition only for "male" parts -- basses and tenors.

There is no place for Rawls' voice, sometimes called a countertenor, in the competition -- one he said is frequently visited by college recruiters and talent scouts. "My goal is that anyone can sing any part that their voice is, whoever does it best," said Rawls, whose speaking voice sounds typically male. "Isn't that what the competition is for?"

Mike Ware, immediate past president of the association's board, said that he and other board members have received Rawls' petition. If most board members agree, Rawls' request could reverse a policy that the board instituted two years ago, Ware said, for the safety of the students. "We have had girls that auditioned for tenor parts," said Ware, a Georgetown choral instructor. "We did extensive research, and that can be vocally damaging."

Ware, an instructor for 30 years, said he has never come across a singer like Rawls, whose voice spans four octaves. Rawls is not being barred from the competition, Ware said. He can audition for male parts, just like every other male singer. More than 23,000 teachers, students and parents attended the 2005 all-state convention in February, Ware said. About 15,000 students auditioned for 504 positions in the all-state choir.

The board will review the petition during its annual meeting in Austin, scheduled Sunday through Thursday. "We will spend a lot of time on this, as we will on all the audition policies," Ware said. "We're not going to put any student in a position to damage his voice."

That's unlikely to happen to Rawls, said J. David Brock, associate professor of voice at Texas Christian University and Rawls' vocal coach for three years. "My first impression three years ago was that it was a very beautiful voice," Brock said of his student. "We tried working both as a soprano and as a baritone. His most beautiful voice, and the one that was the most consistent, is his soprano."

The male countertenor was a popular vocal range in baroque opera arias and used by composers such as George Frideric Handel. Countertenor parts were often performed by men who had been castrated to preserve a higher singing voice because women were not allowed to perform.

A recent resurgence of countertenor roles has been led by American opera star David Daniels. Rawls, who has decided to train and develop his rare talent, is normally met with support. He sang with the Texas Boys Choir international touring group for four years during junior high, and is the only male in L.D. Bell's a cappella girls' choir.

Although he has a pleasant baritone voice, too, Rawls chooses to sing soprano in the high school's co-ed and girls' choirs. He has won vocal performance awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing and the Texas University Interscholastic League.

Besides participating in music, Rawls works at a Quiznos sandwich shop in Bedford, is an Eagle Scout and takes Advanced Placement classes. After high school, Rawls hopes to study music, perhaps at the New England Conservatory in Boston. His goal is to perform baroque opera in Europe. He may eventually teach music history. "I've been singing all my life. Everything music is just coming out of me," said Rawls, who began playing piano in second grade and plays French horn in the school band. The music educators' policy has been bothering him, he said.

"If I don't do something about it, there could be other singers that are oppressed vocally." Rawls' mother, Michelle Rawls, said she is proud of her son for taking a stand. She sat on her living room sofa, smiling slightly as she listened to him practice. "I love these concerts," she said softly. "I'm lucky. I get to hear him every day. He's my Handel hero."

Posted by acapnews at June 17, 2005 10:04 PM