The musical journey of Southeast Texas native David Adam Moore
From youth, people struggle to find their place in the world. They long to find their path, the road that leads them to the future. Students strive to decide what direction they want their lives to take. Once decided, obstacles in the path can cause people to choose to fork and leave completely the path they thought they wanted to follow, changing the course of their futures. Vidor native David Adam Moore faced obstacles and veered onto a path that would ultimately lead him to be a highly sought after operatic baritone.
The life of a performer, a life spent traveling, city to city, country to country, across continents, is a difficult yet rewarding one, according to Moore. He was raised in Vidor, born into a family with a musical background.
“I started making music from childhood because my family are all country and western musicians going back like five or six generations,” Moore said. “I think my grandfather, John Shirley Moore, actually had his own radio show as a teenager and started playing professionally locally in the nightclub scene from the time he was a teenager. My dad, John ‘Bubba’ Moore started working the nightclub scene in Southeast Texas when he was 13. Most of my aunts and uncles and my cousins play music…Most of them are nightclub musicians but some have played on the national level. My dad toured with Tracy Byrd for 15 years or so. So, I was around people making music.”
Moore said his interest was in electronic music, which had gained popularity at the time. He listened to bands like The Cure, The Smiths and Depeche Mode. He worked with synthesizers and learned about the technical side of music. He also started listening to classical music on KVLU while in high school. Moore said, at that time, he planned to go to college to study theology and possibly linguistics. A talent show at Vidor High School lead him to become a member of the choir, altering his course though he did not know it at the time.
“I was bouncing around the idea of (joining) choir my junior year in high school…I didn’t really think I was a strong enough singer,” Moore related. “My old friend Jason Lyles, Michelle Hinch and I had put together a little band for the talent show. Michelle wanted to sing a Debbie Gibson song. She knew that Jason and I both knew synthesizers quite well and we both had gear…Then, Michelle was not able to participate. On about three days notice, Jason and I decided to just go ahead and do a Depeche Mode song instead. Jason was going to sing it because he was the singer of the two of us…Then, Jason comes down with a cold the day before the talent show. So, I had to sing instead. I was nervous because I was horrified by the idea of singing in front of people…So, we auditioned with Jason singing. No one had heard me sing until the show. After the show, David Llewellyn, the choir director at Vidor High School at that time, came up to me and said, ‘I just want to know one thing: why aren’t you in my choir?’ I said, ‘Am I good enough to be in your choir? I’m not really a singer.’ From that point on, he was my mentor. He was extremely encouraging.”
Moore said Llewellyn gave him some solo repertoire to work on although he did not have solos for the high school choir. Moore was still considering theology, but financial hardship caused him to have to choose between several different directions after high school. Llewellyn told Moore he could get a scholarship to Lamar if he joined the university’s choir. That led him to complete his first two years at Lamar.
“At the time, my family did not have the money to send me to the kind of school I wanted to go to for theology…By the time I got to my senior year of high school, I did not have a many options as far as college was concerned. My choices boiled down to staying in Beaumont at Lamar University or enlisting in the Army and using the G.I. Bill.”
Moore said he tested well on the Army recruiting test and had the chance to go in as an Arabic linguist.
“That sounded really interesting. The other option was to go into the Navy as a chaplain. Because of my test scores, they wanted me to go to their nuclear submarine school…It’s really a top-flight school…I tested really well on these tests, but they had no idea I was terrible at math…So my options were to go into the military in some capacity, to go to a Southern Baptist college on a ministerial scholarship or to stay in Beaumont and go into Lamar. Lamar offered me a modest scholarship to major in voice.”
He majored in voice at Lamar, adding composition and music education because he did not view himself as a performer.
“At that point I had not really gotten in touch with that part myself that wants to get out on stage and express raw emotions to large amounts of people,” Moore said. “So, I ended up going to Lamar. I was very, very interested in vocal anatomy and physiology. When I got to Lamar, the music theory and the music history training was amazing. I was captivated as soon as I started learning…In every part of it, there was something about the musical developments in every area that was captivating to me.
“I started taking voice lessons for the first time. I did not take any prior lessons before going to Lamar. I was really enjoying that. I was learning how to sing. It was all very exciting. I got my first taste of opera there. It’s where I really learned what opera was.”
Moore performed in his first musical production at Lamar University and his first operatic solo, a scene from La Boheme. He said professors at Lamar encouraged him and helped him in his musical development.
“Betty Shine was a big mentor to me there,” Moore said. “She is the one who taught us acting and stage movement and stagecraft. Of the people there, she was the one most interested in opera from a performance standpoint. She was the one who made me realize it’s possible to take your emotions and life experience and channel it into your voice and into the music and into the character you create. She was the first person to make me realize that was possible. She was the first person to take me to see an opera. She took us to see some productions at the Houston Grand Opera.”
Moore said that even now, he believes the performance was one of the best he has seen.
“Among the singers who I have admired the most and tried to emulate the most are people like Hildegard Behrens, a German soprano who died a few years ago. I saw her perform in Houston, and that was the performance that really set me along the course I have been following since and has had probably the most impact on me of any performance I have seen, and she was playing Elektra in the opera by Richard Strauss. At the time, I think she was in her fifties or sixties, and instead of standing out in the middle of the stage and sort of emoting very nobly with her chest in the air like a sort of diva would, she was actually flinging herself with wild abandon all over the stage. She literally looked like a thirteen-year-old girl who was in hysterical agony over the death of her father who she loved so much, and while she was throwing herself about the stage like this, she was singing perfectly. I mean her voice was absolutely pristine. There’s noting else like that…There are other performing arts that have elements of this, but here she was acting at the highest level you can act and making music at the highest level you can make music, just 100 percent pure expression. It was raw. There was something completely animal and primal about it. Her performance was completely visceral. This is what opera can be, and this is what drew me to it. It was that particular production that gave me the desire to perform opera, even though I was not sure then that I had the pipes for it.”
Moore said that while he enjoyed going to school at Lamar, he could not pass on the chance he got to study voice with the man who literally wrote the book on it, Richard Miller.
“I got this amazing opportunity to study with one of the great teachers in history, a legendary voice teacher, who was actually the author of the textbooks on vocal technique and using vocal pedagogy that we were reading at Lamar,” Moore remembered. “He was at Oberlin Conservatory. He was Richard Miller. He died in 2009. I was in one of his last groups, last generations, of students.Once I started reading Richard Miller’s books, I became much more interested in becoming a voice teacher. That was really the route I was envisioning when I transferred over to Oberlin.”
Moore said without the help of a scholarship from Temple Emanuel in Beaumont, where he acted as substitute cantor, he would no have been able to afford the tuition at the prestigious school. He received encouragement support for his transfer from Lamar to Oberlin from the rabbi there.
Moore said, regardless of the money, he was not entirely sure he would get into the school when he applied.
“I barely, barely got into Oberlin,” he asserted. “My score for my audition there was on the low side for admittance. I was there on a need-based scholarship, not a merit scholarship. But, once I got to Oberlin and started working with Mr. Miller, I started learning how to support my voice properly. What is my natural instrument started to emerge. When that happened, it became evident that I had the potential to become a professional singer. It was about my junior year in college. I started performing in opera there. I started doing some competitions. By the time my final year there came around, I placed quite highly in the Metropolitan Opera competition and was offered some very good scholarships to grad schools. It became clear that was the direction I should pursue. It was very encouraging.”
Moore said he participated in an accelerated Master’s program at Oberlin, and took graduate courses along with his undergraduate courses.
“It was very cost effective, but looking back I think that shaved a year or two off my life,” Moore said of the experience. “It was so intense. I had to write two Master’s theses…learn all these languages. Oberlin was a very academically vigorous school…I speak German, Italian, French and Russian conversationally. I’ve sung in a few other languages with the help of coaches. As with any professional singer, we always know exactly what we are saying when we perform. We always know every word we sing, what it means, whether it is an adjective or an article or a verb. Those are things you have to know.”
In addition to the languages he knows conversationally, he has sung in Czech, Spanish, an Argentine dialect, Hebrew and more.
After graduating from Oberlin, Moore said he still needed more training and development.
“It was an unusual situation. I was 22 with a Master’s degree but still had this 22-year-old baritone voice that was not professionally ready yet. I had gotten a good start on my vocal technique but I needed a more training and a lot more mileage. So, I ended up doing a post-graduate degree at Cincinnati Conservatory. It’s one of the top opera programs in the nation. At the time, I think they were doing six or eight fully staged opera productions every year. They had the budget and the production resources of a regional opera company…They had a top-flight faculty and really great acting training. That was great.”
Moore received a performance-oriented artist’s diploma from Cincinnati Conservatory. He said the experience prepared him for the reality of life as a performer. He received voice training and training in method acting while there. He took courses in stage combat, dance and yoga among others. Moore said due to the demanding physical nature of stage performance, students at the conservatory were required to take courses in some form of physical discipline each semester.
“I was lucky. I started doing some professional work while I was still in school. I did one large role with a small company and some small roles with a larger company. I got to do some very interesting concert work while I was in school. That was really cool, to kind of get out and get into some professional situations and make a little money as a grad student. It was a fairly even transition, a steady transition. When I left the artist’s program at Cincinnati, I was still only 24, a bit too young to be taken seriously as a professional operatic baritone. So, after that, I went into the Seattle young artists program.”
He said he was in the program for two years. During his time there, the company did a production of the Benjamin Britten opera “Billy Budd,” one of Moore’s “favorite operas of all time.”
“Billy Budd was my dream role and while I was there during my final year in Seattle, the Seattle Opera did a production of it. I got to cover the role of Billy,” Moore said. “I was the understudy, and playing a smaller part in it.”
Moore said the production familiarized him with the role, another stepping stone leading him to a major step in his career.
“Shortly after that, the Israeli Opera was doing the same production Billy Budd,” according to Moore. “They lost their Billy…about a month before the production started, and I heard through the grapevine they had a choice between me and this really famous baritone. The famous guy was only able to come in for the last two weeks of the production and cost a lot of money, whereas I could be there the whole time and they did not have to pay me so much. They hired me for it even though I had done very little professional work at that point, and they are a major international opera house. It was a huge, huge role. I did that, and it went really well. For some reason that role just clicked with me. It was through that that I got an agent and some professional credibility that I could be cast in bigger roles and not be such a risk.”
Moore said that was his big break. Since then, he has performed in productions such as “Angels in America,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Soldier Songs,” and many more with various opera companies around the world. He has visited Milan, Kobe, London, Ireland and many other places.
Moore said being on the road is often challenging and not for everyone. During one production, the company with whom he was working placed him in a five-star hotel, but he could not afford the room service. There was no cooking allowed in the room. He had to boil eggs in a coffee pot. Eventually, he snuck a toaster oven into his room so he could cook and hid it in his suitcase when he was out of the room. He said while in Japan, he had to dry his socks on the heated toilet seat in his hotel room. He said that while life on the road is not perfect, it is part of the package. “It’s been fun. It’s definitely not the route I had planned on.”
Moore will reprise his role as Prior Walter in "Angels in America" with L.A. Philharmonic on Jan. 15. He will be playing the role of Stanley Kowalski in the upcoming operatic version of "A Streetcar Named Desire" with Lyric Opera of Chicago and Virginia Opera. In May, he will sing the part of Jud Fry in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s production of “Oklahoma!”
Moore lives in New York, NY, his home base. He is a composer as well as a singer. He works with video production and gives private voice lessons. He said he also has to take voice lessons to care for his voice. He said some years are leaner than others, but he is successful and very happy. He said if given the choice, he would definitely not change course. Moore said ultimately, the reward is worth the long and often bumpy journey.