Music hasn’t always come easy for Eric Mathis ’20. He experienced setbacks early in his Simpson College career. But he never gave up. He continued to practice and work to perfect his craft. Through self-determination and guidance from faculty, Eric landed multiple leading roles in Simpson productions. Eric will further his education and continue to hone his performing abilities at the historic Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University in Chicago.
Hometown: Kansas City, Missouri
Major: Vocal Performance
Graduate Program: Northwestern University Master of Music: Voice and Opera Performance
You've been accepted into the historic Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. How will you approach the next step of your life?
I will be pursuing a career as a professional music performer during and after grad school. I will move to Chicago — it has a large market for classical music — and audition for professional positions in the many touring companies that come through the area. That is how I plan to establish myself in my career. Once established, my goal is to find a regional house I can return to season after season, either in the states or abroad.
When did you become interested in becoming a music performer?
I chose to pursue this profession seriously in high school. Classical music and opera have been my life and passion since I discovered them, and I'm at a point in my life where I can focus on growing my career. Being in a career as competitive and as risky as music, I really don’t have much to lose. I came from a rocky start and have had to work, scrape, save and even bargain for everything I have. I know how to start from square one and that doesn’t scare me. Music can give you only as much as you give it, and I feel like I have everything to give.
How did your Simpson Experience further develop your passion for music performance?
There were several events that tested my mettle and convinced me I could be a performer. When I first started out at Simpson, I went through a really rough patch that the music faculty helped me get through. I accepted Simpson’s offer only two weeks before the start of the year and had no money, no books and no idea what I was doing. With some help from a few great individuals, I got a good footing.
I also went through a lot of personal growth during my time at Simpson. Unlike my time in high school, I was no longer the best. For the first time, I had to accept that. I struggled through my freshman and sophomore years until I clicked with a guest director and found my stride. It was at that point that the things my voice teacher had been saying all along started to make sense. It just had to be presented a slightly different way for me to get it.
Despite my newfound confidence, I didn’t get cast in the next opera. A botched audition after that ensured I wasn’t in any production that year for the first time since my freshman year of high school. I was profoundly disappointed in myself and didn’t know if I wanted to continue.
That’s when I got back in the practice room and started working again.
I worked as hard as I could to put on a stellar recital that year. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it was the first thing that I was truly proud of that year. After that, I got a role in the fall production and the leading role in the spring production.
The lows I endured at Simpson made the highs so much more satisfying. I know now that I can face setbacks and rejection. They make the music sound so much sweeter. I suppose that’s why I want to be a musician. Music makes you appreciate everything it gives you, and in turn makes you a better person.
What kind of support did you receive from the faculty at Simpson?
I would say that the people who supported me the most at Simpson College were the faculty. John Pauley (professor of philosophy), Bernard MacDonald (associate professor of music), Linda Benoit (music teaching artist), former professor Bruce Brown and all the other music faculty who have taught me and supported me through my whole college career. These people believed in what the arts could do, and they believed in me. On that note I would also like to thank my high school director for pointing me to Simpson College. I never would have even heard about the school had he not mentioned anything. He knew where I wanted to go and he sent me in the right direction.