After reluctantly joining his elementary-school chorus, senior Adam Strube discovered a talent that has led him to the White House.
“I knew that I could sing when I joined the chorus in fourth grade,” Strube said. “The bottom dropped out by the time I was a senior in high school.”
Strube, 29, said he hopes his bass-baritone voice will manifest into an opera career, but last Saturday, he revisited choral music for a performance at the White House. Strube performed as part of the White House 2007 Holiday Program, running for 21 days preceding Christmas. To get selected, Strube submitted a demo CD with five classic Christmas songs — from “The First Noel” to “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” to the social secretary at the White House.
“The weekend as a whole blew me away,” he said. “I don’t really know how to describe it, other than it feels amazing.”
On Saturday, after putting his bag of music through three security checks, Strube and his accompanist, Carl Ruck ’81, performed in the East Wing with a view of the Washington Monument. Strube said his audience ranged from two to 24 passing spectators during songs.
Strube’s father, David, said the engagement confirmed Strube has chosen the right career.
“Recognition of his hard work from the White House is enormous,” he said. “As a parent, it’s one of the joys [to see] your child will do really well. This is my Christmas present.”
Ruck, who often works as a pianist in the Washington, D.C., area, accompanied Strube’s performance. Ruck, who has performed at the White House numerous times, said he was initially impressed by the caliber of Strube’s vocals while accompanying the Ithaca College Choir.
Ruck said the Washington, D.C., trip will not only be an asset to Strube’s résumé, which already spans more than 15 years of choral and vocal performances, but may also provide valuable exposure as he networks for his career.
“Many people treat life like it’s a slot machine — trying to put in as little as possible and expecting a big payoff,” he wrote to Strube in a letter encouraging him to audition for the engagement. “Life rarely works that way. You undoubtedly have a marvelous talent to share with others … this could be a career-altering move for you.”
After graduating from high school, Strube spent four years attending Suffolk County Community College in his native Long Island and singing in local choruses.
“I should have known when I left high school that I was going to be doing music, because I still sing everywhere,” Strube said.
Strube said his compulsive musicality didn’t go over well during his stint as a bank teller. He found a more receptive audience at T.G.I. Fridays, where he said he would serenade patrons with French, Italian and German arias.
“He will mostly sing instead of talking,” said Strube’s mother, Caroline Nolte. “He’ll sing anything.”
Strube originally auditioned for the School of Music in March 2001, but because the academic deadline had passed, he did not get in.
“I wasn’t really ready,” he said. “If I really wanted it that badly, I would have figured out what I needed to do beforehand.”
Before auditioning again, Strube said he went through a five-month period of self-discovery, during which he found a confidence essential to vocal communication with an audience.
Strube re-auditioned in 2004 and was admitted to the music education program, switching to music performance — what he said is his true passion — after a year and a half.
“If I’m not honest with who I am being, it’s not a true performance,” Strube said.
Lee Steward, assistant professor of music performance and Strube’s vocal coach, said Strube’s capacity to convey emotional subtexts of music — from opera to commercial songs — will make Strube’s renditions of holiday classics unique.
“He’s going to bring his view of life, his view of Christmas and his view of family,” Steward said. “That’s what will make them special.”
Lawrence Doebler, professor of music performance and director of Ithaca College Choir, said he has seen Strube’s personal and musical evolution during the past four years.
“[He has learned] to let this voice manifest itself into a really incredible instrument that’s capable of emotion,” Doebler said. “When I watch him sing, I can see tears come to his eyes.”
Despite the challenges, Strube said he will not be deterred from becoming an opera singer.
“My biggest challenge is myself,” Strube said. “The opportunity is there, and at a certain point only I stand in the way.”