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.
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