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Monday, December 28, 2009

Brian Walker, “Singing With A Message” In New York; Jackson County Boy Is Building Entertainment Career

By Bo McMullian

If you want to sing effectively, and perhaps professionally, you must learn to communicate the message of the song to your listeners, the message the songwriter intended.

That’s some prime advice from one of the ancillary stars of off-Broadway and Branson, Mo., Jackson County’s own Brian Walker, who visited the TIMES offices on Monday. He is currently home for the holidays from his mid-town Manhattan apartment in New York City.

“There are tons of talented singers, especially in New York, Walker said, “but in an audition, if you can tell the story of the song and convey the message, those are the ones booked for the shows.”

Brian, 30, a baritone or “bari-tenor,” is the son of James and Jane Walker of Marianna. He conveyed the message of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and “O Holy Night” to all at his house of worship since childhood, Eastside Baptist Church, last Sunday and is singing there again tonight, on Christmas Eve.

Brian sang as a pre-teen in the youth choir at Eastside (TIMES Publisher Linda Hatcher can testify to that; she taught him in Sunday school back when), he sang with the show choir and glee club in Marianna High School under instructor Angie White until he graduated in 1997, he sang at Chipola College under instructor Joan Stadsklev and from there it was on to Florida State University and beyond. He majored in the Humanities at FSU but took voice and acting classes, graduating in December 2001. The fallen towers of “9-11” didn’t stop him from heading to New York, N.Y., where his FSU teachers had pointed him.

Those teachers must have known something, even Mrs. Hatcher “knew he was something special” back in Sunday school, because within six months of leaving the FSU campus Brian was singing in a Broadway tour production of “Saturday Night Fever.” This was a year and one-half gig, and he was only 21 at the time.

Brian said the dust had barely settled from the terrorist attacks when he arrived in the “Big Apple.” “You couldn’t go to lower Manhattan without feeling sick,” he explained. “However, I began auditioning and a few months later, I got lucky.”

After completion of this engagement, he went on a U.S. tour again with “Les Miserables” in 2006-2007, after turning down an offer to be part of the off-Broadway production of “Blue Man Group.”

Walker especially enjoys touring on “sit-downs,” when the production stays for weeks in a given city. “It’s like a paid vacation,” he said. “I think it’s the greatest job in the world. The people are fantastic, the work is good, and in the end, you’re only working three to four hours a day. You just have to stay healthy.” To help with that, he works out at gyms five times a week.

Brian just finished a really big “sit-down” in Branson, the city of special musical theaters for the likes of Dolly Parton and Andy Williams. He was featured in “12 Irish Tenors,” which ran from February to December. Brian is not Irish. He is not a tenor, but he was one of the 12. He’s flexible. “If they write it, I can sing it,” he said. Spirit Productions did the Branson show, working with Brian through his agency, the Achilles group.

Asked what put him over the edge in deciding to be a professional singer, he said, “I knew all along I wanted to be an entertainer, but the voice classes and acting lessons at FSU really nailed it down for me. They showed me what I wanted and where I wanted to go.” His favorite singers include Billy Joel and Willie Nelson. Notice that they are two storytellers and remember the prime advice. Nelson may be a better storyteller than singer.

For 2010? “Who knows?” Brian said, “It’s back to the auditions, back to casting and back to the apartment on 46th Street.” But for now he’s going to enjoy Christmas. “It’s a time for refocusing,” he said. “I think in everyday life, people get distracted and confused. Christmas is a time you can get back to the true meaning of life. To the true meaning of happiness.”

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