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Monday, April 21, 2008

The Kevin Sutton Interview

Some weeks ago, I had a long conversation with tenor, conductor and bon vivant Kevin Sutton. He promised me a second interview and I finally pinned him down. Here's a transcript of our conversation.

KS: Well, hello again. It's been some time since our last interview, so I wonder, how's life?

Kevin Sutton: Well, not so bad really. There have been quite a few changes though. My grandmother died in March, and that has caused a number of changes to happen in my life. My mother will be moving to Dallas soon, and there has been a lot of work finalizing her estate and such. I am also leaving WRR Radio, so I have been busy recruiting new students and trying to get my finances and such in order.

KS: I am sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. How has her passing affected you?

Kevin Sutton: Thank you for your concern. Actually, her passing has really got me to thinking about some things that never before entered my mind. I have gotten really serious about making sure that all of my affairs are in order, for example. She made our lives quite a bit easier by planning for her own end of life needs very thoroughly. I have also had to come to grips with the whole concept of death and the afterlife. I am not sure I am at ease with that yet.

KS: What do you mean?

Kevin Sutton: Well, I am certainly a person of faith, and I believe in God and heaven. But having said that, faith is just that: faith. There are certainly spiritual implications and assurances, but when it comes right down to it, we don't get a pre-death tour of heaven. It's not like I have been there to pick out my room or anything. Until we get there, we really don't know what it's going to be like, and as much as I want my faith in God to reassure me, human beings can't help but to fear the unknown.

I have also come to realize how short time is, and even though I have a good chance at 50 plus more years on this mortal coil, even that's a very short time.

KS: So with this realization that your time here is by nature limited, have you changed anything about the way you live your life?

Kevin Sutton: Oh most definitely. You know, my father has set a pretty good example. He's rather adamant about being in complete control of his life, right down to insisting on driving his own car to church so he's not forced to wait on another driver. Now, he's 77 so he's a little more set in his ways, but we've had many a long talk about choices and how we choose to spend these few years of life on earth. I have gotten to the point where I absolutely refuse to be subjected to anything or anyone that I don't want to. That's one of the main reasons that I left the radio.

The other day, we had to sit through five hours of meetings that were run by idiots and chock full of useless information. As I see it, those people, that is, the people who required me to sit there, stole five and a half hours of my life. Sure, I was compensated with money, but that money is utterly worthless compared to the time that I sacrificed being there. I'll never get that time back. I just won't do that sort of thing anymore. If I am going to spend my time, which by the way is a commodity far more valuable than money, it's going to be on something that fulfills me. Period. I just refuse to live any other way.

The time between youth and old age is fleeting. It goes by in minutes, not years. There is so much to do on this earth that is worthwhile that I just can't justify wasting my time on those things that are of no worth. For as long as I am able, I am going to pursue that which does me the most good, and that which enables me to do the most good for others.

KS: That sounds very pie in the sky to me. Can you give me an example of someone upon whom you model your ideal lifestyle?

Kevin Sutton: Yes, I can. First my father. His is a rags to riches story that didn't even get underway until he was past sixty. He took a life that was in shambles and put it back together again piece by painstaking piece. And now he is one of the most content people I know. My grandmother, God rest her, never got there. She carried the bitterness of past events to her grave, and it took death to release her from them. That's very sad to me.

Second, there is my musical hero, Max van Egmond. While I don't know all of the details of his past experiences, I know that he lives every day to the fullest. He enjoys every minute of life, and he enjoys the company and friendship of people from age ten to ninety because of his open outlook on life and his willingness to join people on their own journey at whatever point he finds them. He calls 'em as he sees 'em, but he is so willing to gain things from others' experience. This, from a man who is as accomplished and respected as any musician in the world, and has nothing to prove to anyone!

KS: Has Mr. van Egmond ever given you advice on how to be like him.

Kevin Sutton: No. Rather he's given me lots of good advice on how to be like ME, and to enjoy that being. He has disciples, that's for sure, but his advice is always tailored to the best interests of individuals. Maintaining that individuality while still being able to function as a member of a group or a society is at the core of his philosophy, at least as I have interpreted it. He never makes anyone feel ashamed of who they are and where they are in life. But he does help a lot of us to get to a higher level of existence!

KS: What has happened to you musically since our last conversation?

Kevin Sutton: Oh my. Well, I think that I am singing better than I ever have in my professional career. Many thanks to the patience of Nancy Zylstra and Max for that gift! I am getting a good amount of work, and it 's very exciting to have my singing be so well received.

I think too that I have come a long way as a teacher. Just last night we had a studio recital, and it was very rewarding to hear so many of my students sing so very well. I mean that says as much about them as it does me, but I would like to think that I have had a little something to do with their success.

KS: What do you think of the state of classical music in 2008?

Kevin Sutton: I don't think that there has been this exciting a time to be a musician since the invention of the phonograph. Technology as broadened the horizon so much, and it has enabled so many more talented people to be heard! I think that it will still take some time for the music industry to sort out the plethora of delivery media that is out there, but wow!

I really rail against the traditional record labels and concert promoters that are trying so desperately to take up residence in the mid-twentieth century and stay there. That era is gone forever. Embrace the future, or it will swallow you whole!

I am a little concerned about information overload. There is just so much content out there to be explored, and there are so few hours in a day!

KS: Now that you are no longer at WRR, will you have a media presence?

Kevin Sutton: Oh yes. You can still hear me on The web cast will be updated far more frequently now. I will be very active in broadcasting, and true to my life's philosophy, I will make up all the rules as to what gets aired! I'll be writing a lot more too. I hope to expand my blog to make it interactive, and I will be writing still for Musicweb International.

KS: Made any musical discoveries lately?

Kevin Sutton: Yes, one or two. Just the other day I heard the beautiful Serenade for Orchestra by Wilhelm Stenhammer for the first time. GORGEOUS! I have been exploring the music of Stockhausen lately too, and I have really gotten into what I love to call QBDM (queer bar dance music) that is, electronica, trance music, and other synthesized stuff. I always love to explore. I am really into Brad Mehldau right now too.

KS: You are an eclectic bastard, aren't you.

Kevin Sutton: (laughs) Well, yes. I like to keep 'em guessing you know.

KS: Hey, it's been great to talk to you again. Let's do this more often shall we?

Kevin Sutton: Definitely. Thanks!

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