Charles Robert Reid
Charles Reid, one of this generation’s leading lyric tenors, was appointed associate professor, Director of Vocal Studies, and Artist-in-Residence at Andrews University in 2012. He has enjoyed an extensive career in opera, performing with internationally known opera companies in world famous venues, in a number of festivals as a soloist, and with orchestras and choruses on the concert stage.
Charles was born in Harlingen, Texas, and raised in Austin and Houston, the older of two sons of Robert Addison and Carolyn Eugenia Reid. Both parents were musicians, his mother a high school choir director, pianist and organist, and his father a conductor, published composer, arranger, trumpeter, tenor, minister of music, and professor of church music and music education at Houston Baptist University, where he also conducted various ensembles, including choir and band at differing times.
Charles was raised in the Southern Baptist Church and began singing in a boys’ choir in Austin at about age eight. He also started piano around age five, and although he took lessons for ten years, does not claim to be a pianist. He joined the band in middle school, where he played the oboe, on which he started lessons in sixth grade, taught by an oboist from the Houston Symphony; he also played mallet instruments in the percussion section.
After his voice changed, he sang only occasionally with his church youth choir; however, he eventually became involved in choral groups, as he recently related:
In my junior year in high school my father suggested that I should audition for the Texas Baptist All-State Youth Choir. I auditioned and then went to choir camp. On the first day, we were all welcomed by a select choir named Living Song. To make it into this choir, it was necessary to become a member of the public school Texas All-State Youth Choir. Being a member of both meant you could join Living Song, and you got to go to choir camp for an additional week and to sing more challenging music. As I listened to them and sang with them at times during that week, I began to realize I could do what they were doing.
Following this experience, I returned for my senior year and joined the high school choir at Alief Hastings, while continuing to play oboe in the band. I tried out for All State Choir, classified as a baritone. Gaining admission to the All State Choir meant going through about five different rounds of competition as a singer.
Charles won at each level and was chosen as first place winner in the statewide competition for baritones. Even with this success in his senior year, he still was more interested in being a behind-the-scenes player, possibly working in a recording studio or providing audio support for traveling groups, and pursuing a degree in music engineering in Nashville, TN.
Instead, he was awarded a choral scholarship, and after graduating from high school in 1988, enrolled at Houston Baptist University, where he took music classes and had his first voice lessons. He enjoyed his study in music and got high marks in theory and other music classes.
After two years of study he began to think about music as a career, realizing that not only did he want to be a classical musician but that he should be one. By this time he had been a second place winner in a Tri-State National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) competition in 1989 and a soloist in Mozart’s Coronation Mass and Haydn’s Theresa Mass at Houston’s Jones Hall, as well as in an HBU opera workshop production of Die Fledermaus by Johann Strauss in 1990.
In the following year he was a soloist in performances of the Messiah by the Galveston Symphony Orchestra and Arvo Pärt’s Passio (St. John) with the Houston Oratorio Society, in addition to two more operas at HBU. In his senior year he played the leading role in an HBU presentation of Britten’s opera Albert Herring and then sang in the San Antonio Opera Guild Opera Gala with the Houston Grand Opera Studio and spent the summer at Brevard Music Center, where he played the role of Alfred in Die Fledermaus.
Following graduation from HBU with a B.Mus. in Vocal Performance in 1992, Reid began graduate studies in opera performance in 1993 at the University of Maryland in College Park. By the time six more years had passed, he had been a winner in five opera and vocal competitions, winning both the First Place and Audience Favorite awards at the Annapolis Opera Vocal Competition in 1997 and the Grand Prize in the Florida Grand Opera YPO (Young Patronesses of the Opera) vocal competition in the same year. He graduated from UM with an M.Mus. in Opera Performance in 1999, having studied with Metropolitan Opera baritone Dominique Cossa, an inspirational voice teacher and opera coach then and in later years.
During that same period he performed in over forty programs and productions of operas and oratorios with numerous groups and companies, including the Folger Consort at the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Paul Hill Chorale at the JFK Performing Arts Center, both on two different occasions; sang six new Handel oratorios with the Maryland Handel Festival; and made numerous appearances with the Washington Bach Consort; Princeton Pro Musica; Cathedral Choral Society; and the Columbia Pro Cantare, an important and supportive community group at the beginning of his career and in numerous concerts then and later. He also performed in the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, Spoleto Festival U.S.A., and most significantly, beginning in 1998, was added to the roster of New York’s Metropolitan Opera.
Reid had been involved with church music from his earliest years, and when he moved to Maryland to do graduate study, he sang in the choirs of two Episcopal churches, both offering services that differed sharply with each other and contrasted with earlier worship experiences he had had in Texas. He later talked about that time and how he was affected by worship at both of those churches:
When I was in the choir at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, located across from the White House, and known as the ‘Church of the Presidents’, I thoroughly enjoyed the excellence in music making but never quite connected on a spiritual level. I always suspected that the problem was being a member of an all-professional choir, where for many participants, it was simply a job.
I then began singing the service of Evensong at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on K Street, which had a very formal, yet immensely edifying service. The chant-like recitation of scriptures enhanced and clarified them, and the overall effect was awe inspiring and reverential. In this scenario, I was a ‘ringer’ in a choir primarily of lay members.
While performing at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1996, Charles met Julie Karpenko, who, with other students from Westminster Choir College, was singing as part of the chorus. They were attracted to each other through their shared interests in music and were impressed with each other’s interest in spiritual matters. This led to a discussion of their religious beliefs, his from the perspective of his Southern Baptist background and hers as a Seventh-day Adventist.
A year earlier he had had a brief contact with Adventists as a last minute replacement for an ailing tenor in Haydn’s Creation at the Sligo SDA Church in Takoma Park, Maryland. He recently talked about the circumstance of that performance, his first impressions, the relationship that developed with Julie, and how he came to join the Adventist church:
Although I am a committed Christian and have been active in church music throughout my life, I had never heard of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I was approached by Marianne Scriven, choir director at Sligo SDA Church, who came backstage during the intermission at a concert I was singing with hopes that I could save her concert. “We have a rehearsal tomorrow morning and a concert the next day. Is it possible that you can sing it?” I accepted, never having sung the part before, and somehow pulled it together for the concert.
I did not realize I was the only non-Adventist in the concert, but I recall feeling like the other soloists were somewhat cautious in telling me about themselves. Seeing a bunch of flyers about healthy lifestyle in the lobby of the church, I drew the funny conclusion that perhaps SDA’s were part of the ‘new-age’ movement. The concert took place on a late Saturday afternoon, and I was never aware a worship service had occurred in the morning, or that this concert was actually a vespers service. I’m certain my ignorance of Adventists added to my confusion; nonetheless, after this experience, I came away with a markedly skewed concept of SDA’s.
A year later I met Julie at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. The chorus for the festival was filled by the Westminster Choir, and Julie was a member. By the end of the festival we had become friends, sung a duet in the oldest Baptist church in the U.S., and were thinking we should pursue the friendship further. A few days later when she was back home in Pennsylvania and I called her, she asked, “Why don’t you come here and go to camp meeting with my family and me?”
This was my first clear contact with Adventists and changed the skewed view I had from my first encounter a year earlier. I felt really comfortable in that setting. The people were sincere and friendly, the sermons were interesting, and the hymnody was very close to what I had known years earlier in the SBC. There were a lot of similarities between Baptist and Adventist beliefs and I felt quite confident that I would be able to sway Julie to my way of thinking. But beyond beliefs and hymns, these Adventists had the group personality I had always felt in Southern Baptist Churches in Texas, and I felt at home.
Julie encouraged me to attend an evangelistic series, Net ’96, at the Takoma Park SDA Church. Doing so opened many theological questions that did not fit so easily with my SBC understanding. Questions tended to lead to more questions. Pastor Trevor Delafield, in particular, took me under his wing and patiently studied with me for months. Rather than swaying Julie, I ended up swaying myself, and joined the Adventist church in early 1997. Soon after, I proposed to Julie, and we were married in August of that year. Joining the Karpenko family also came with a certain comfort factor. As with my family, music played an integral part in their lifestyle, and family concerts were the norm.
The first decade of the new century led to an avalanche of professional achievements for Reid with several appearances as a soloist at the San Francisco Opera, nine seasons at the Metropolitan Opera, and six seasons at the Nationaltheater Mannheim in Germany, where as a full-time resident soloist he sang in over fifty opera productions. During this time he also sang in a number of festivals, including ones at Bayreuth and Salzburg in Europe; and Glimmerglass, the Berkshire Choral, and other festivals in the U.S.
He performed on the concert stage, singing with the Handel and Haydn Society in Boston, with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, the Nashville Symphony, and numerous other orchestras and oratorio societies in venues such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully & Avery Fischer Halls, and the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
Early in the decade Charles was a winner in the Connecticut Opera Guild and Marjorie Lawrence International vocal competitions, winning first prize in the latter. He accepted a full-time singing position with the Nationaltheater Mannheim, in 2004, and the Reid family moved to Germany with their newly born son. They resided in Germany for six years, adding two more children to their family. In 2005 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Houston Baptist University.
During Charles’ time in Europe, Opernwelt (Opera World) praised Reid for his “marvelous timbre, consistent throughout, well-focused, excellently agile voice.” Noted German music critic Gabor Halasz wrote about his performance as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata, that “Charles Reid gave a vocal and musical performance of Alfredo without any limitations or boundaries, with a shimmering tenor voice, flawless technique, extraordinary feeling for style, and very clear intonation.”
While his career during those years was an unqualified success, both Charles and Julie missed having close contact with their families in the U.S. After the death of his father in 2010, they returned to the U.S., where he continued engagements at the Metropolitan Opera and numerous performances with companies in Europe.
When the Reids and their three children returned to the U.S., they resided in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, near Blue Mountain Academy, where her family had lived for over forty years. In 2012 Charles was contacted by Andrews University in Michigan about a teaching position there. Following the interview process he accepted the offer of associate professor serving as Director of Vocal studies and Artist-in-Residence. Charles views this as a career expansion, offering a more stable home life with his family, the exciting new responsibility of teaching and guiding his students, and the continued artistic fulfillment of using his God-given talents in performances around the world.
In addition to his life as a performer and professor, Charles is the host and producer of an education podcast, This Opera Life Podcast. In this podcast, Charles interviews colleagues from his performance life, less about the art they create, and more about how their careers have developed. The podcast is available via iTunes or Reid’s website: http://thisoperalife.charles-reid.com. In particular, if you are an aspiring singer, Charles highly recommends spending time listening to these episodes to learn more about real life in theater and music.
Beginning in January 2013, after an interview process, the music faculty also invited Julie to serve as an adjunct teacher of voice at Andrews University. Charles is especially happy to be working alongside her in this endeavor.
Source: Interview with Charles Reid, January 2013 and additional information, February 2013; Charles Reid, “For His Honor,” SDA Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide, 1999, 63; Obituary for Robert Addison Reid, hawthornfuneralhome.com; Online biographies and other sources.