Return Of The Voice – Patrick Denniston, ’83

Accomplished tenor vocalist and OCC alumnus Patrick Denniston returned to campus to help the College’s current music students and wound up helping himself as well. His appearance was part of the Arts Across Campus series. Denniston gave a recital and vocal masterclass in Storer Auditorium February 13  with Professor Kevin Moore at the piano. He was also joined by Professor David Rudari in a duet.

Denniston (middle) with former OCC Professor of Voice Dick McCullough (left) and current Professor of Voice Jean Loftus (right).
Denniston (middle) with former OCC Professor of Voice Dick McCullough (left) and current Professor of Voice Jean Loftus (right).

In the early 1980s Denniston decided to come to OCC on the advice of two of his music instructors at Palmyra-Macedon Central School, Bill Decker and Lloyd Geise, who were both OCC alumni. “It turned out to be a great decision for me. Like so many people just out of high school, I had a general idea about my interests but needed to find some direction. After two years at OCC I knew I was on the right track studying voice.”

He remembers the professors who were especially influential. “My ability and confidence really took in Richard McCullough’s studio. ‘Mac’ encouraged me to join the Syracuse Opera chorus where I got my first professional stage experience. Dr. Donald Miller was also very inspiring as my music history professor, choir director and even guitar instructor for a semester.”

Denniston received an associate degree from OCC in 1983 and transferred to Syracuse University (SU) where he completed his bachelor’s degree.

While at SU the Chautaqua Opera hired him to sing in their “young artists” program the summer before his senior year where he met his wife-to-be soprano Joan Castrodale. They were married a year later just before returning to sing in the next summer season, much to the amusement of the company director who liked to take credit for bringing them together.

The Denniston’s went together to sing with the Opera Memphis’ educational outreach program, taking live opera to hundreds of school children across Tennessee. “We did everything from driving the van, loading the sets and costumes, performing, tearing it down and moving on to the next school. We did one or two shows a day for an entire school year. The outreach was to children but the education was ours! It was a great time.”

Denniston’s ascent continued when he was chosen to join the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Opera Center for American Artists where he would remain for three years. He sang supporting roles in over 60 performances while working with repertoire and language coaches almost daily. Fresh out of the program he was invited back to sing leading roles including Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and Dimitri in Boris Godunov.

“Once word got out that there was a new tenor on the scene life got very busy.  Joan made a decision at this point that she would pour her energy and talent into our one career which enabled us to travel together. Her understanding of my voice and her theatrical sense made her invaluable to the process. Singers need feedback from someone they can trust and I relied heavily on her eyes and ears from the theater.”

Denniston made a connection with a publicist/manager named Edgar Vincent who was the publicity engine behind a veritable “who’s who” of artists including Beverly Sills, Jussi Bjoerling, Ezio Pinza, Leonard Warren, Birgit Nillson, Cecilia Bartoli, Placido Domingo, dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and conductors Erich Leinsdorf,  Leopold Stokowsky and Sir Georg Solti.

“Joan and I met with Edgar and business partner Patrick Farrell at their New York office directly across from Carnegie Hall. After going next door to a recital hall to sing a couple arias, we went back to the office to talk. I mention the artists above so you can appreciate how floored I was when Edgar said he’d like to represent me and also handle publicity later on when it was needed.”

The Denniston’s moved to New York to be closer to auditions and work he’d be doing at New York City Opera. “We were home for a total of only three weeks in 1994 going from one venue directly to another. In retrospect it does seem a little crazy, but you go when and where the work is. I found myself singing leading roles internationally including a debut at La Scala in Milan.”

Denniston’s singing career was cut short over a decade ago when a severe case of shingles, the same virus that produces chickenpox, caused nerve damage to one of his vocal cords. His voice was significantly weakened and he was forced to retire. Vocal rehabilitation helped, but only to a point, so he packed up his music and found other work.

A few years later a friend asked for help for his son who was preparing an audition for college admission. During a lesson Patrick noticed a difference in his own voice that was encouraging enough to cause him to start working at it again. “I worked steadily and slowly over the next two years with voice instructor Dan Marek in New York, and was also helped very much by Dr Robert Sataloff and Peggy Baroody at the Philadelphia Voice Center. It really feels like a miracle has taken place in the reinnervation of my vocal cord, and the rebuilding process from square one gave me an opportunity to reapply the basics of singing to my own voice. I can’t say I’m glad about losing my voice, but the experience has certainly made me a better teacher.”

Denniston’s return to OCC and the opportunity to spend time with students reenergized him. “The experience was surreal. It feels like the same place I remember as a student, only on a bigger scale with this amazing new facility. I saw some of my former professors and felt like getting back to work!”

Denniston offered music students advice based on his career path:

  • When opportunities come up, don’t waste your energy worrying about the things you can’t control like the outcome of auditions, your perceived competition, etc. Pay attention to what you can control, like being prepared as best you can.
  • Later on you’ll be able to be more discerning about what advice or criticism you should listen to, but while you’re at a place like OCC take advantage of the fact that your teachers really do care about your success. Embrace criticism and learn from it.

The Denniston’s live downstate in Rockland County where he is voice teaching privately and occasionally performing.

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