I am proud to present a collection of some of my live concert recordings. If one were to ask me what was the biggest highlight in my life the answer is simple. What you will hear on this album. Fronting of a world-class orchestra to an appreciative and musically intelligent audience: Nothing compares.
Christopher Hopkins in Concert (Live)
Experience the Performances
I thought it may help you be more engaged with the music if I share with you what was going on in my head with each song in hopes you’ll immerse yourself, as if you were there.
The album begins with my debut with the Hanover Radio Philharmonic Orchestra, a German radio orchestra, affiliated with NDR. Like America’s MPR, it is a public radio station based Hanover, the capital of Lower Saxony. The album ends with my debut with the Erie Philharmonic Orchestra in Erie, Pennsylvania. With digital remastering, I think we have been able to capture the sparkle, the sizzle and the emotion often lacking in a studio recording.
Knowing these concerts were also broadcast live made the experience even more daunting, yet unequivocally thrilling.
— Christopher Hopkins
"A Grand Night For Singing"
It was five minutes to curtain when Eiji Oue, the director of the Hannover Radio Philharmonic entered the venue. I heard sudden applause so I peaked out from behind the curtain, stage left, and there he was front and center. I didn't know he was in town. Eiji has a flair for drama, and loves to surprise. Though he knows I don’t like surprises, it has never stopped him from appearing out of nowhere when I least suspect it.
I had already located in the audience my mother, our good friend, and my piano teacher Carolyn Laufenburger and Robert, who has been my sole source of support throughout our life together.
The host of the concert introduced the evening. He spoke in German, so I didn’t know when I was supposed to enter, but managed to walk out with an illusion of self-confidence. I smiled, nodded to the conductor and the music began.
The conductor was Nobuyoshi Yasada, a protege’ of Eiji. Eiji got us both the gig. We were just a couple of kids doing our best to create something special. The manager of the orchestra pulled me aside more than once to tell me how important this concert was to help increase subscriptions and financial support for the orchestra. That did not help my nerves.
The orchestra began. Now, I must mention that in my experience, orchestral musicians dislike hearing a monitor. The monitor, or speaker placed in front of the singer, is needed so the singer can hear himself and then balance his voice. In other words, without it, it is like singing into a room of cotton where all you can hear is an orchestra, but not yourself. There is no way to know what the audience is hearing.
I started to sing, and the balance was off, at least from what I could hear. Nobu and the orchestra were sailing along and I felt I couldn’t be heard so over sang a bit. I tried to keep all the dynamics I had spent countless hours imagining in my little living room, and, of course, we had rehearsed (once, quickly that morning). As a result I “over sang” it a bit. Something you do not want to do when you have a full concert ahead with the most difficult songs yet to come.
"Some Enchanted Evening"
Talk about floating on the wonderful support of a beautiful orchestra! This cut is from the rehearsal earlier that day. When the conductor asked if I needed to go through it again, I caught the eye of one of the musicians who shook his head. I said, “No, I think it’s fine.” I was a bit intimidated, of course. And I didn’t speak German.
When interpreting a song, it can be difficult if the original was made famous by a rich, sonorous Italian baritone. I had to think how I wanted to approach the song and not to act the song, written for an older man than was I at the time. As I do in all of my songs I imagine to whom I am singing. Fortunately, I actually had experienced that enchanted evening, so it was easy to interpret. But that last phrase, sung in one breath up through the passagio, (the passage from chest voice into head voice) then carried by the orchestra which sends it into the mist, to me is literally the definition of breathtaking.
Ah. To be able to do that just one more time.
"The Impossible Dream"
My father, Mike Hopkins, loved this song. It is telling of the deep thoughts he could not express verbally. He was able to hear me perform in concert on a few occasions, but not this one. He died less than a year earlier. This may explain the passion I felt while singing.
I really wanted to explain that to the audience. So, I decided to come out with a little camera and filmed the audience from my perspective. The audience fell silent, expecting me to say something, and I was suddenly speechless. I didn’t speak German, and I didn’t want to insult them by speaking English. So, while still smiling, though a bit uncomfortably, I put the camera in the pocket of my tuxedo, nodded to the conductor to start.
The audience all had little hand held lights. When I began singing, they started floating side to side their arms up and side to side. At first I didn’t know what was happening, and just slowly nodded to them, as if I did. Soon, I realized, they were supporting me, as if, although unspoken, they knew.
Once again. Magic.
"Everybody Say’s Don’t"
I guess we could accurately count this as “my theme song.” It started a little faster than I had planned, but the intensity of it drove the momentum. It was that ride that inspired the unexpected growl when I sang “LAUGH at the kings or they’ll make you cry.” I meant it. A dramatic effect that I have used since.
It seemed that everybody told me “don’t” do things that I wanted to do, which only made do it more. It probably stems from being raised in a conservative baptist church, where my very nature was something that I should not “do.”
But I did. And here I am. And lightening didn’t strike!
"If I Loved You"
One of my very favorites but not easy to sing. I had developed my interpretation of the song with the idea of starting out gently and vulnerably. To accomplish that I need the orchestra to move forward so I can sustain my notes quietly. But the orchestra started out more slowly than we had rehearsed, and I had to change my phrasing, taking breaths where I had not planned, and therefore carrying other notes differently than I had prepared.
I tried to gesture to the conductor with subtle looks and head bobs, but he was immersed the orchestra. I learned at that moment the difference between conductors who are sensitive to the soloist and those aware of themselves. During the bridge, I was thinking how I could lift this song to where it needs to go.
I held the microphone closer, to keep it soft, and for the audience to hear the emotion in the lyrics and phrasing. But when it came to “Never, never, at which point I had no intention to take a breath, something came from inside me and I just took it full throttle. It could have gone wrong. It was almost anger. I needed it to CLIMAX, and that it did. That little ring throughout the hall gave both the audience and me chills. There’s something to be said for tension and release.
"The Music Of The Night"
To express a song, for me, I need to see someone in particular to whom I am singing. I found the person in my mind, and took it from there. The rest is trying to figure out how to place notes in my voice and carry it with all the other things that go into performing a difficult piece.
“Poor Robert,” was around for countless hours of practice as my voice cracked, and warbled trying to place it gently in my range. It is settles in the very edge of my passagio. To float a high A flat and also power it out in full voice is best left to the tenors. But what I could that tenors could not was bang out those low notes “Help me make the music of the night” in one breath.
I can no longer sing this song. Mainly, I suppose, because I have not the time I had then to devote to vocal production. And probably just because I’m old. But still. Here it is!
"It Must Be So"
The door opened for my entrance and I did my best to appear confident and relaxed. Trying to maneuver through the musicians was a bit of an obstacle course so I had to side step a bit. I looked to the audience. A packed full house. But they really gave me a warm welcome, which did help.
Eiji handed me the mic, then seeing how nervous I was, took it back to ease the tension a bit with an off handed bit of humor. That definitely helped. When he finished he basically says in one gesture… “do it.” The things people don’t notice from the audience.
There is very little support from the orchestra, as it is basically a harp and soft strings. I am hoping to remember the lyrics, read the music, and actually hit the notes. To me I can see that struggle in my face. Casually looking down, petrified if I’m in the right place.
My vocal break is between E and F. Though I had been working on strengthening my falsetto, it was still, at that point, very fragile, iffy, and unreliable. The throat, neck, and jaw need to be completely relaxed, and this was not a relaxing situation.
Singing the vowel “ee” to “eh”, “ee” “er” , and “ee” “uh” are particularly difficult sing in one’s vocal break, so the words “sweetness,” “master” and “be so” do not make it any easier.
I was not pleased with it, but happy to have made it through. But then Eiji held that silence at the end it was as if the audience was holding their breath with me. And, if you listen closely, you can hear someone in the audience say “wow.” I still hold my breath when I listen.
At the applause Eiji reaches to shake my hand, then holds my hand, he was shaking too. He acknowledges the harpist, and I, feeling a little uncomfortable that we’re holding hands, do a gentle gesture to release. I wish I hadn’t.
I try to casually float out, then say to one of the musicians… “I’m glad THAT’s over!”
"New York, New York"
Still nervous for this one, the lyrics are a bear, and I had only one day to try to say them.
The music I had also included the stage lines, which were crossed out with arrows pointing when to come in. I realized I had forgotten to count when the orchestra began, and glance to see if I can pick it up, while try to pretend I am just enjoying the intro. I am not. I had lost the entrance in my head. I again look to Eiji to see if he can help, but he is too far back.Then, I look again directly at him but he’s trying to manage the complex rhythms with the orchestra. Then, caught off guard, I hear it. With barely a catch breath I somehow managed to hit it the high F sharp. Barely.
Then it’s all about the lyrics. Trying to act three different people with three different parts, and get those words out, while throwing in some unrehearsed gestures. All I am thinking is watch the music, but look like you’re not. I was not comfortable on this roller coaster ride. Now try this once: Try singing along, with the lyrics such as, “New York, New York, A visitor’s place, where no one lives on account of the pace, but seven million are screaming for space.” “Manhattan women are dressed in silk and satin, there’s just one thing that’s important in Manhattan.”
Well, I managed, and apparently it was a hit.
"The Balcony Scene" (From West Side Story)
Trying to come down from "New York, New York," and while paging through my music I heard Eiji say, “Next one.” And I was lost, so I just started talking, thanked, Eiji, and my mind was going a million miles an hour. When I said, “That stuff I know,” I threw in the word “better” but I really meant, I didn’t know the music I had already sung. It was very off the cuff when I came up with, “I’m going to be Sybil, and do a duet as a solo.” I’m happy most understood the reference to the movie where Sally Field played the role of Sybil, a woman with multiple personalities.
Once the music started I tried to ease my brain into the song. Once I made it past the first high F, I went into the zone. The audience was completely with me, I had the support of a full orchestra conducted by Eiji who knew my every breath for support. I made sure to make eye contact with every face in the room. And every face was right with me.
If you could have seen the expressions on the audience’s faces. It was magic. When I sing “Tonight, tonight, it all began tonight, I caught a woman’s face, and she was beaming with tears, I felt it and nodded to her.”
The next line, “I saw you and the world went away,” is my favorite of the song. I usually sing that in one breath but I saw Robert’s face, though he was not in the audience, you can see and feel what I was feeling.
The look of relief on my face once I hit the final high A is obvious to me. Then that applause. Eiji motioned for me to give another bow. It was truly magical. He, of course, made fun of me for throwing a kiss to them later.
When Eiji introduces “Somewhere,” and says “It’s my favorite piece,” I knew what he was saying. Less than one year earlier The U.S. Government had signed into law “The Defense of Marriage Act,” denying us more than 1,100 federal rights we would have if we were not gay. It’s subtle, but you can see it in my face, and his.
When Eiji says, “Christopher, never overshadow the host,” it was a both a compliment, and a reminder to keep my place.