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Ted Pickell ’14 in January will compete in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Western Region event in Los Angeles with sights on the national semifinals and national grand finals in April 2018 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

Ted Pickell ’14 in January will compete in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions Western Region event in Los Angeles with sights on the national semifinals and national grand finals in April 2018 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

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Arts and Culture

Sweet song of success plays on for bass-baritone Ted Pickell ’14

Dec 13, 2017

Losing 180 pounds and having Pacific's Conservatory of Music professors tell him that he didn't have the work ethic needed for a professional singing career may be all part of what puts Ted Pickell '14 in just the right place for success now.

"This may sound funny now, but my junior year I wasn't even advanced to be an upper division vocalist," said Pickell, a bass-baritone opera singer. "The entire vocal faculty told me at the time that I was not ready and that my work ethic would not sustain a successful singing career. And they were right."

He redoubled his efforts the following academic year and impressed faculty with the results.

"Here I am less than five years after graduating and I have already sung on stage with some of my operatic idols, like Greer Grimsley, at an international opera house," he said. "I can assure you that had I not experienced that failure with a dose of reality from my teachers at Pacific, I would not have learned to succeed."

This year Pickell is in great position to again succeed in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions competition, one of the oldest, most prestigious contests to nurture the next generation of opera stars. He won the district competition in October - his third district-level win since graduating from the conservatory - and twice has won third place at the regional level.

"Ted's growth - the awards, his acceptance into a superb graduate school, and his progress in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for three years running - is a testament to his musicianship and determination," said Peter Witte, dean of the conservatory. "It also speaks volumes about the quality of Pacific's voice and opera faculty. Our faculty are the reason so many Pacific alumni have gone on to craft operatic careers of national and international distinction."

The importance of the upcoming competition does not escape Pickell.

"Anytime you are presenting yourself in front of people, no matter what each singer's current level of consistency is, you should be attempting to sing like you are singing mainstage at an A-level opera house," Pickell said. "In this career, you never know which audition will end up advancing your career. So, I do think the MONC auditions are a big deal."

In October, he also received the Audience Choice Award in the district competition. He will compete next on Jan. 14 in the MONC Western Region event in Los Angeles with sights on the national semifinals and national grand finals in April 2018 at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

"I think that my hunger and drive to succeed have grown and this time I want it more than any other time before," Pickrell said. "I feel ready to take the next step."

Pickrell's path to the MONC auditions went through the conservatory.

"I think the main reason to go to Pacific, especially the conservatory, is the opportunity to grow in an environment that cultivates and stimulates your mind and your soul," Pickell said. "So many other schools are just factories where people end up becoming jaded and disenchanted."

He said an advantage to being at Pacific is that undergraduates here get the opportunity to hone skills and receive roles in performances. At other programs at larger universities, those roles would go to graduate students.

Singing opera wasn't Pickell's first choice. "As many people know, I actually used to be extremely overweight, which was quite a hindrance to being a musical theater singer," he said. "That is actually what I wanted to sing even when I started my time at Pacific, but I knew I could never get through a dance call, so instead I went to school for vocal performance."

He worked on improving his acting and singing, and along the way lost the weight and fell in love with opera.

"I also found that my voice was just more suited to classical music in general and most modern musical theater isn't being written for my type of voice," Pickell said. "I ended up losing 180 pounds in the time I was at Pacific, which made a drastic impact on my health and on my singing, and I think also helped perpetuate my successes."

At Pacific he learned all that was expected of a young singer - music theory, diction, developing a technique and more. The most valuable aspect of his time at Pacific was than conservatory faculty was willing to be hard on him in order for him to succeed.

Pickell was also the recipient of an Encouragement Award at the 2015 MONC Central Regional finals and was the winner of the 2016 MONC Western Region San Diego district. He also was a 2014 Ryan Opera Center finalist, the winner of the Anne Ferraro Stone Memorial Award from the Bel Canto Foundation, and the recipient of scholarships for excellence in vocal performance at Pacific and Northwestern University, where he recently graduated with a master's degree in vocal performance.

Pacific Opera Theatre patrons may remember Pickell from its 2013 production of "The Merry Wives of Windsor," which took first place in the National Opera Association's 2013 Opera Production Competition. Pickell was part of the "fantastic four" Pacific alumni who did well in the 2015-16 MONC Auditions. Pickell, Yelena Dyachek '13, Hannah Ludwig '14 and Andrew Dwan '14 were all in the "The Merry Wives of Windsor" and competed in MONC, with Dyacheck reaching the finals and being named one of the winners.

Visit Pickell's website for more information on his current roles. 

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