5 Questions with...Jim Cornelison

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5 Questions with...Jim Cornelison

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guesthes been called the voice of Chicago sports, whose stirring renditions of our national anthem continue to send United Center Blackhawks crowds into a frenzy each and every time outhis brilliant tenor voice has earned him numerous accolades in the opera field over the years and his popularity among Chicago sports fans just grows and grows(everyone now) Ooh Say Can You Seeeee!...that its 5 Questions withJIM CORNELISON!

BIO: Jim Cornelison is in his fourth season as the Blackhawks full-time national anthem singer, having made regular appearances singing the anthem at the United Center since 1996. In addition to his countless standout anthem performances for the Blackhawks, Cornelison also sang prior to a Bulls playoff game last season and Bears playoff games in 201011. He also sang at the Bears 2011 season opener on Sept. 11, the ten-year anniversary of 911.

An undergrad from Seattle Pacific Universitymasters student from Indiana University, Cornelison, a native of Vienna, Va., sang with numerous opera companies before coming to Chicago in 1995 to take part in the Lyric Operas Apprenticeship Program where he one of six accepted apprentices among more than 800 applicants. He has performed nationally and internationally with some of the biggest names in opera, such as Plcido Domingo and Zubin Mehta. Known as a heroic tenor for the dark color of his voice but ability to sing in a tenor range, he has sung with opera companies in Bordeaux, London, Brussels and San Francisco, among many other places.

A 1992 graduate of Indiana Universitys Masters of Music program, Cornelison has received numerous accolades for his singing, including the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation Award and the George London Foundation Encouragement Grant, as well as first place in the American Opera Society of Chicagos 1997 Vocal Competition.

1) CSNChicago.com: Jim, its a pretty impressive feat to be a have such a solid fan base as someone who is not a pro athlete or a top sports exec in town, but youve managed to pull that off nicely. Congrats. Lets get right to itat what age did you know you had a little something extra in your voice that separated you from the pack and was music something you knew you wanted to pursue at that time?

Cornelison: When I went to college, I started with music playing the piano and singing in choir. At the end of my freshman year, one of the professors sat me down and asked if I was serious about music. I really didn't know if it was what I wanted to do, but knew I liked it. He said I should consider studying voice because I was not a good piano player! I was such a country bumpkin I really didn't know why people studied voice. From there, the ceiling kept going up and I never did run into anyone that discouraged me.

I sang with Seattle Opera Chorus when I was 20 and realized my voice was as powerful as many of the 40-year-olds. Then, in graduate school at Indiana is where I became one of the leading baritones. I didn't switch to tenor until I was 29. When I came to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1995, I was a tenor and people really paid attention to my voice. I had an options contract with Columbia Artists Management at the time and when I left the Lyric, I signed with them. My first job was in Bordeaux. I travelled a lot during those early years of singing, working in Bordeaux, London, Brussels, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Hawaii, at the Lyric in Chicago, Seattle, and many others.

2) CSNChicago.com: Your stirring renditions of our National Anthem have become famous around the world thanks in part to the digital age we live in. On any given night at the United Centerwhen the organ begins the first few bars of the Star Spangled Bannerin your mind, do you shut out the thousands of screaming fans during the anthem to help you focus or does the love from the Blackhawks crowd play a role in your performance?

Cornelison: I love the noise of the crowd! I have to pull into myself if I get too excited. There are very noticeable differences in the volume level on different nights. On some nights, the enthusiasm really fires me up. I'll sometimes find myself on the edge of overdoing it and then I have to settle down.

3) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of the National Anthem -- as many celebs and even pros have done countless times before -- it has to be asked, have you ever screwed up the words while you were singing it?

Cornelison: No! Ha! I wish people would quit asking me that....it makes me nervous!

4) CSNChicago.com: Its probably safe to say that many fans in the Chicago sports community are unaware of your standout opera backgroundand its also pretty safe to say many of them have never even been to the opera (present interviewer included). In your opinion, do you think the opera community works hard enough to bring in new and younger fans to see and hear the performances of some of the greatest voices in the world?

Cornelison: No I don't. Some companies do better than others, but the new operas being written seem to be written to impress academics. I have a fantasy of seeing new opera that is irreverent comedy, something like "Animal House: the Opera!!! Comic opera has almost disappeared in new works. If you created interest with younger people with something like that, then it is a small jump to classic comic opera or the most popular works like La Boheme, or I Pagliacci. I am amazed at the number of native Chicagoans I meet who have never been to the opera. Conversely, I'm amazed at the number of people I've met at hockey games who also are opera fans.

5) CSNChicago.com: If you walked into a karaoke bar and decided to give it a go, name some non-opera song or songs would we most likely hear you belt out.

Cornelison: Believe it or not, I have only done karaoke one time and it was an abysmal failure according to all reports from my supposed friends who were present. I sang "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" by Billy Joel, not my usual cup of tea. If I do it again, I will do one of my party tunes which could be My Way, Besame Mucho, O Sole Mio, or I might try my hand at Don't Fall in Love with Me by John Legend.

Karaoke is a great way to pretend you are a singer other than what you are! Weddings are fun that way, too. I don't do them often, but I've performed songs that were requested by the bride and groom, as long as I thought I could pull it off: Sinatra, show tunes, occasionally pop and even some country!

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything youd like to promote Jim? Tell usCSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it!

Cornelison: I like to put a plug in for the USO that does so much work to support our troops. They and the Blackhawks provide a great opportunity for our military people to come out on the ice with me when I sing and it has elevated the meaning behind the Anthem tradition at the games. It is great fun to see them in the third period on the big screen when all the fans are cheering for them. Great stuff! I'm friends with Tom Tuohy at Dreams For Kids as well. They do incredible work with kids that are disabled, come from poverty or maybe, along with the Illinois Patriot Education Fund, help kids who have lost a parent in the wars. The Blackhawks support them, too. I try to help either group out whenever they ask me.

Cornelison LINKS

Chicago Blackhawks official website

Jim Cornelison on Facebook

Jim Cornelison on Twitter

Big Ten preview: After six-win season, can Huskers find normalcy under Mike Riley?

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Big Ten preview: After six-win season, can Huskers find normalcy under Mike Riley?

The change in direction at Nebraska would have been a little easier to stomach had the Huskers won more than six games last season.

Six-win seasons are hardly the norm in Lincoln and an even starker contrast to all the winning that preceded last season, when Bo Pelini led the team to seven straight nine-win campaigns. But athletics director Shawn Eichhorst was no longer comfortable with Pelini at the helm — with talk of him not winning the “right” games — firing him in favor of Mike Riley.

There are still plenty of questions surrounding Riley’s credentials for such a big-time job, but here he is heading into his second season at Nebraska. And it would seem he needs to start winning some games fast to make sure that mediocre finishes don’t become the new normal in Lincoln.

Riley’s first season wasn’t exactly a normal one, with the Huskers dealt a handful of brutal last-second losses. Hail Marys and overtimes and walk-off field goals and last-second drives accumulated with astonishing fashion, and Nebraska was at one point 3-6 with the six losses coming by a total of 23 points (and one was by 10, making the other five by a combined 13 points). That’s unusual, though Nebraska’s defense was certainly to blame in some cases. It’ll have to be better this year to avoid a repeat of some of those stunning losses.

“If you look at the numbers and what you’ll expect to need to win games, we did OK, offensively big plays. But we were bad defensively. We gave up way too many big plays,” Riley said during the team's media day earlier this month. “And oftentimes some of those times, right at the first game, was a really big play at the end of the game. I think being sounder, being able to prevent long passes and long runs. I think maybe the two main factors in winning and losing games are turnovers and big plays. Explosive plays. And it goes both ways. Not turning the ball over offensively and getting explosive plays and defensively getting some turnovers and not giving up big plays. I think those are main factors there.”

This offseason, too, has been anything but normal, featuring the tragic death of punter Sam Foltz in a car accident late last month. The team still has games to play, but much of the attention of the season will be placed on honoring Foltz. The Huskers will wear decals and play for their teammate. The athletics department set up a scholarship in Foltz’s name.

Dealing with Foltz’s death will be a challenge enough, but then there’s the far less important task of winning football games in an always loaded Big Ten. It makes for quite the job for Riley & Co. in a season where normally great improvement in the win column would have been the main focus.

Nebraska has plenty of reason to be excited on the offensive side of the ball, though, with Tommy Armstrong in his fourth season starting at quarterback. And Armstrong will be throwing to an experienced and potent pair of receivers in Jordan Westerkamp and Brandon Reilly. Terrell Newby is a quality running back. But will that be enough to turn things around in such drastic fashion? After all, all those guys were there a season ago.

There were signs of what the Huskers could do at the end of last season. Nebraska shredded Michigan State’s defense in a stunning upset victory toward season’s end, and the Huskers triumphed over UCLA in the bowl game. Those positive steps could be all the Huskers need to head into 2016 with confidence and a chance to be better.

And while Riley gets deserved questioning for never presiding over a consistent stretch of winning as a head coach, he also deserves some slack for the way many of those games ended last season. A couple seconds here, a couple seconds there, and the Huskers could have been a 10-win team.

But hey, that’s college football.

So what’s the team hungry to do, coach?

“Win. And whatever winning means — winning the games, winning championships — I think they invested a lot,” Riley said. “My hope is, and it’s an educated hope, is that they have the last part of the season with a couple really good wins in there. It kind of made them confident in what we do and also anxious to prove we can do that consistently, which we did not last year. I think with veteran leadership we have coming back, with the fact that I think there was some confidence coming out of that and some excitement about what might be, it’s allowed me to say I think this is a hungry team.”

Huskers transfer Andrew White III picks Syracuse

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Huskers transfer Andrew White III picks Syracuse

One of the leading scorers in the Big Ten is taking his talents to the ACC.

Andrew White III, who opted to transfer away from Nebraska after going through the NBA Draft process, will play for Syracuse during the 2016-17 season. As a graduate transfer, he is immediately eligible.

White informed ESPN of his decision Sunday before tweeting his own picture of him in Orange gear.

White started his college career at Kansas before transferring to Nebraska, where he averaged 16.6 points per game last season, the second-best scorer on the team and the sixth-best scoring average in the Big Ten. White was also the Huskers' leading rebounder last season, averaging 5.9 rebounds a game and ranking in the top 15 in the conference.

Like many others with eligibility remaining, White took advantage of new rules allowing him to go through the NBA Draft process without hiring an agent, giving him the option to return to college with his eligibility intact. After doing so, he decided to leave Nebraska, a decision that upset his coach.

White visited Michigan State after deciding to transfer, setting up the possibility of his transferring within the conference, but he'll go out of conference with his move to Syracuse, a team that reached the Final Four last season.

Big Ten preview: Can Mike Weber follow in Ezekiel Elliott's footsteps?

Big Ten preview: Can Mike Weber follow in Ezekiel Elliott's footsteps?

Two years ago, we all wondered if Ezekiel Elliott would be able to fill the void left by the departure of Carlos Hyde.

We probably all feel a little silly about that question now, huh?

It’s the nature of college football, of course, but despite high recruiting rankings, Elliott was a question mark a season after Hyde was the Big Ten’s best running back for Ohio State. Elliott then went on to break out in the postseason for the national champs, and last year he was one of college football’s best running backs, rushing for 1,821 yards and earning a top-five spot in the NFL Draft.

So it’s on to the next question mark at Ohio State: Mike Weber.

Weber potentially has even higher expectations than Elliott did. The No. 7 running back recruit in the Class of 2015 and the best player in the state of Michigan, Weber famously decommitted from Michigan during a loss to Maryland in Brady Hoke’s final season. Weber then committed to Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes, and thanks to those high recruiting rankings, people have been wondering about when he would star for Ohio State for a couple years now.

The time has come, maybe a little earlier than it was supposed to. Elliott, after all, left following his junior season, and the dismissal of Bri’onte Dunn earlier this offseason left Weber as really the only option in the backfield for the Buckeyes. Meyer all but declared Weber the starter during Big Ten Media Days.

“I like where he's at. I don't like, I love where he's at as far as what kind of physical condition he's in,” Meyer said. “And I anticipate he'll be the starting tailback, but that's why we have training camp.”

Like many of the rest of the guys who will be stepping into starting roles for Ohio State this fall, Weber has no collegiate experience. He redshirted last season. It means, like many of his teammates, he’ll have to get ready and he’ll have to prove that he can turn those high recruiting rankings into gameday success.

And who else is getting Weber ready but quarterback J.T. Barrett.

Barrett knows a thing or two about being an inexperienced player in a starting role. That’s what he was as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago when Braxton Miller was injured right before the season started. Barrett proved he was ready, leading the Buckeyes to an 11-1 regular season before suffering his own injury ahead of Ohio State’s postseason run.

“Mike Weber, he’s an explosive back that we have,” Barrett said. “He cares a lot about his teammates, I feel like. We’re going to just keep on pushing him. I try to push him every day, I work out with him quite a bit and just try to make sure he understands that the work that happens in the offseason is where you win the game. You don’t win the game Sept. 17 when we’re at Oklahoma or when we’re down the road playing at a place like Wisconsin. That’s not where you win the game at. You win the game in the offseason and in the moments that really define you and who you are.

"So I’m just pushing him to strive to get better. I push him, he probably at times hates me. I know he could give so much for this team, and I just want to make sure he performs at his best.”

It’s a team-wide theme, getting these young guys ready for game action. As Barrett mentioned, there’s a huge early season test coming at Oklahoma, and that’ll be quite the baptism by fire for the young Weber.

But as much as lack of experience is a theme for these Buckeyes, so too is big expectations. Weber was part of a highly rated Ohio State recruiting class, and at Ohio State those guys are expected to deliver.

Elliott did in taking over for Hyde. Maybe we’ll all feel silly about questioning Weber, too.