Alum Eric Alatorre is Chanticleer’s longest-tenured member. The singer in the Grammy-winning “orchestra of voices” performs all over the country and the world, giving him among the most distinguished basso profondo vocals and distinguishable mustaches known to humans. Alatorre and the rest of Chanticleer will perform admission-free on the Morrison Artists Series in McKenna Theatre on Feb. 19 at 3pm.
Why did you choose singing/choral music?
In some ways singing chose me. The first thing that happened was the exposure to my siblings’ music making. The next big thing was my voice “changing,” although it was more of a gradual slide than the usual cracking and breaking. When I was 14, I basically had the voice I have now.
I also had some great mentors early on that could see potential in me, and showed me the possibilities of making music a priority. The path seemed to open up for me early on, and it was an easy decision to continue doing something that I enjoyed. The final part came later, after years of study.
The usual path for voice majors in college is to pursue an operatic emphasis. With this come valuable lessons about technique, history, and theory of music that can be used in any professional musician’s career.
The point of departure for me was when I realized that I didn’t want, nor did I really fit, the operatic profile. The world doesn’t need an uninspired opera singer to take up space. I wanted to make music with people, and there were very few opportunities to make a career this way.
Why did you choose SF State? Were you a transfer student? What years did you attend?
I was a transfer student from Cal State Fullerton. I showed up in San Francisco in fall ’87 and stayed until spring ’90. I felt a need to reboot my life and my studies, and San Francisco is an amazing place in California that really values the arts. It was a good choice.
What activities did you participate in at SF State?
I managed to keep down two to three jobs at a time, plus singing with the (San Francisco) Symphony Chorus in the evenings. It was a very busy time for me, with 50-hour workweeks not out of the realm of possibility. However, I did manage to get through college without any student loans!
Do you have any specific memories, favorite professors, or favorite classes?
I think what I remember best about my time at State was the opportunity to perform in every ensemble that the Music Department had to offer a singer.
Of course there were key moments, such as hearing Black Angels performed by the string quartet-in-residence, the Alexander (String) Quartet. The music is very modern, and not usually the thing that I would listen to on my own, but being in an intimate setting with musicians who were able to make the musical ideas come through in an expressive and clear manner was enlightening for me. I think it was a bit of an epiphany for me to understand what chamber music could be, and helped me to find a vocal equivalent of making this kind of music.
Did you have any famous or notable classmates?
The most memorable and successful friend was my roommate for a short time. Lise Lindstrom has since made quite a name for herself in the opera world. She has already made her Met debut, and works in Europe quite frequently as well. Even now we will pass on notes to each other to see how the other is doing.
Did your handlebar mustache attend SF State with you? When did you start growing it? How often are you asked about it? Are you tired of being asked?
Yes, I get a lot of questions about my mustache. When I arrived in San Francisco, I came sporting a ubiquitous sort of mustache that I had grown a year earlier.
Shortly after that, I was visiting my family in Southern California and ended up having a sort of mind meld with my sister, who had been a makeup artist in Hollywood for a short time.
She still had her kit, and at some point of boredom we decided to see what it would look like if I had a handlebar mustache. She pulled out a tube of wax and proceeded to help me make some pathetic little twists, at which point we were doubled over with laughter. I said out loud, “Who would be crazy enough to actually wear one of these?”
At this point I realized that I was such a person, and would give it the old college try. I thought that it wouldn't last a year before someone would say, "Get rid of it already!" But alas, no one did.
After having invested so much time into this project, I couldn’t get rid of it. And now all these years later, I have a very understanding wife who appreciates how well it dresses up with white tie and tails.
Have you come back to campus since you graduated?
I actually left the University about one class short of graduating. It was a tricky decision, but I was offered the job that I was working toward having.
I still contemplate finishing the degree, but having a 2-year-old can make one put that off for a while. I have been back to the campus, and I actually was fortunate to meet Dean (Kurt) Daw awhile back and learn about the plans for a new Performing Arts Center on campus. It looks like a very exciting time to be there.
Do you have any advice or techniques regarding training or practice?
Giving advice can be dangerous, but here it goes.
First, pay attention. Do this with yourself, with others, and with how things work. This is general advice in life, but is especially important with music. No one can ever know your voice as well as you can.
Second, find someone who can give you guidance in a collaborative manner. Having an outside perspective is invaluable. You may think you sound glorious out in the hall, but someone in the hall has a better perspective of what things actually sound like. If you trust the advice you are given, you will be more likely to take it.
Third, learn to stand on your own. When it comes time, you will need to take all your education and experience and use it without anyone else pulling the strings. Have an informed opinion and take a stance. You might change it later, but if you have done your work, it will be improving things rather than changing your mind.
—Kristen Nicole Martz