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The Voice: Carl Alexander

EVANSTON - Carl Alexander of the Bienen School of Music opened Northwestern University’s 159th commencement ceremony Friday with such a full-throated, astonishingly powerful rendition of the national anthem that thousands of people attending the event in Ryan Field burst into applause for the performance.

Alexander received a Master of Music in voice and opera today, and at the age of 23, is the youngest person in his master's class to graduate.

“Northwestern has opened up a world of knowledge and resources I never knew existed…this is a chance to show the love I have for this school,” Alexander said.

According to Alexander’s teacher, W. Stephen Smith, Alexander may have been the first countertenor to sing the national anthem at a Northwestern Commencement. Given the University’s long history, this was a remarkable occasion.  

The male equivalent to a female contralto or mezzo-soprano, the countertenor voice was in wide use during the Renaissance and Baroque periods but waned during the Romantic period of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. There has been a recent resurgence in popularity of the countertenor voice by new music composers, thanks in part to English singer Alfred Deller, “the godfather of the countertenor” (1912-1979).

Alexander’s fluid and beautifully articulated performance ended with a dramatic one octave rise to a high B-flat, a full two octaves higher than his opening note. The crowd burst into sustained applause, after which President Morton Schapiro proclaimed, “Carl? You can sing.”

Carl Alexander will perform the national anthem at the Taste of Chicago on July 9 before he heads to Narni, Italy, to perform a series of concert works.

“After that, the sky’s the limit. I don’t know what’s coming, but I look forward to the opportunities I’ll have to do new music,” Alexander said. 

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