Tenor  William  Eichorn

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie



Dr. William J. "Bill" Eichorn has been the Minister of Music and the Arts for Saint Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Poway since 1985. He is also the Director of the Academy of Music and Arts, located on St. Bart's campus.

Dr. Eichorn has also served as the Director of the San Diego Choral Arts Ensemble (SDCAE) since 1996. This group was founded as the successor organization to The Escondido Chorale.

In 2002, he received a Doctorate in Worship Studies (Theology) from The Robert E. Webber Institute for Worship Studies in Florida.

Earlier, Dr. Eichorn received a Master's Degree in Music from Northwestern University and a Bachelor's Degree in Music from Illinois Wesleyan University.

Dr. Eichorn previously served as the music minister at Trinity Methodist Church in Wilmette, Illinois before becoming a solo artist at the New York City Opera. He sang for many opera companies and has performed concerts around the country. He was the first prize winner in Metropolitan Opera competitions in Chicago and Philadelphia, and he won first place at the Francisco Viñas Vocal Competition in Barcelona, Spain.

Since coming to San Diego, Dr. Eichorn has sung for the San Diego Chamber Orchestra, San Diego Master Chorale, St. James Concert Series, La Jolla Presbyterian Church Concert Series, and many other venues. He is widely sought as a voice teacher and a worship, vocal, and choral workshop leader. 

From May of 1982 until June of 1983, a business partner and I published a magazine called Opera Scene.  Eleven issues were put out, and to see the list of my contributions to the venture, click HERE.  Several of my interviews from that year have now been posted on this website, and they are listed at the bottom of this page.  [Names which are links later on this page refer to other interviews posted elsewhere on this website.]

One of the features was a series devoted to younger artists, and this conversation with William Eichorn was the first to appear.  Held in February of 1982 (when the tenor returned to Chicago for the revival of Mozart's Abduction from the Seraglio), the topics centered on the tenor's burgeoning career and the roles he was doing at that time.  Even now, in 2015, at a remove of more than thirty years, it is interesting to see what ideas have changed and which remain constant after so much time has passed.

I had seen him in productions of The Mother of Us All by Virgil Thomson and the premiere of Abduction given by the Chicago Opera Studio (now the Chicago Opera Theater), so Mozart was a major item on his agenda . . . . . . . . .

Bruce Duffie
:    Let's start with Mozart.  You started out singing heavier roles, so when and how did you decide
get forced into?singing Mozart?

William Eichorn:    [Laughs]  Good Lord, how many hours do we have?  There's a long answer to that question.  One direction the answer could take is that every singer I know goes through a period where they don't know their voices, and they sing things that are just great music.  They're drawn to them simply because the music is great, whether it's Verdi or Puccini or even Wagner.

BD:    Do you see yourself as a Siegfried?

WE:    No, but at one point I may have.  The problem in this country is oftentimes the teachers we have may not know the whole roles, and because someone can negotiate an aria does necessarily mean that they can negotiate the whole role on a stage with orchestra in a huge hall.  That's a different story from singing in a studio or a recital.  So, because I enjoyed singing Bizet or Puccini arias and my voice could negotiate them, for a long time I sang with an "assumed" voice.  I thought of myself as maybe perhaps going that way.  You know, a singer hears his voice from within and I thought for a long time that what I was hearing was a darker sound.  It took a lot of years of just trial and error to figure it all out.

BD:    How much of this is the advice of the coach?

WE:    The strange part of it was that while I was auditioning, I used to audition with Cavarodossi's aria, Lohengrin's Abschied, etc.  The first two productions I was in were both Carmen.  I just assumed that because I was chosen for these things, it follows that I was right for them.  The strange part was that I was singing these arias on auditions and getting hired.  So that didn't help me, either.

BD:    It gave you a false sense of security?

WE:    It gave me a false sense of who I was, or what I was maybe becoming.  It really wasn't until about three years ago that I finally quit teaching and decided to make a go of singing full-time.  I got a job with a preparatory company in California called Hidden Valley.  It was a branch of Seattle Opera and Henry Holt was the music advisor.  He was a neat guy, very musical.  He was there and Natalie Lemonick
who is at USC and who has been a big part of the building of the Music Academy of the Weststarted giving me these ideas, putting these ideas in my head that maybe I was darkening my sound too much.  Maybe the sound I really had we more lyric.

BD:    So this was after your first Belmontes with the Chicago Opera Studio in 1977?


WE:    Yes, and I was very perplexed.  You just get bits and pieces.  We're so close to our voices that it's so hard to tell.  I would get little bits and pieces that I would ignore.  Someone would say I should do such-and-such, or wonder why I wasn't doing this or that, but I ignored them.  I thought what do they know?  Then I finally realized that enough people were saying the same things to me that perhaps I'd better reconsider what direction I was going with my voice.

BD:    Do you enjoy singing Mozart?

WE:    Oh gosh, yes.

BD:    I ask about this because Mozart is such a special category to get into, and it's really very difficult.

WE:    I tested myself.  Three years ago I went to Spain and entered
the Francisco Vigñas National Competition.

BD:    Yes, he was a fine tenor (1863-1933).

WE:    I didn't know at the time who he was, but there were 90 contestants from 22 countries, and Domingo had given money as the prize for the best tenor.  So I went over and only sang lyric things
Mozart, Donizetti, quite a variety within that range.  It happened that I won first prize, and was called the best Mozart singer also.  The comments I was getting seemed to fit, and then I felt the aha’ moment.  This is where I belong.  And to have a person with the knowledge of Giulietta Simionato (who was the judge) say that was just a real thrill.  She handed me the prize, and I sang the final concert in the Liceo which was another thrill because it's such a gorgeous theater.

BD:    Let me backtrack a bit.  How much of a jolt was it to give up teaching and go into singing full time?  How much of a panic did this cause for you and your wife?

WE:    Not a real panic because I enjoyed my teaching.  I was not only doing that, but I was director of music at a Trinity Church of the North Shore, and was teaching at two colleges, and doing a lot of conducting and private coaching at New Trier.  I had all kinds of jobs.  There was an increasing sense that the teaching was not fulfilling me and singing had been primarily relegated to summers.

BD:    But you were able to sing yourself each day.

WE:    Oh yes and it made me realize what it took to make the voice happen.  So it was all well and good, because it solidified my knowledge and ideas of technique and breathing.  I realized what it took to make a voice function, to make a voice go.  This was all very important, and the conducting I was doing gave me that insight.

BD:    It makes you more of a well-rounded musician?

WE:    Yes, but there was also an increasing disturbance within that said I'm not getting at what I really want to do.  It's holding me back.  So when I made that realization I said it's time to get out, and I had a wife who was 100% for my making the career.  At the time she was running a beauty salon here in Wilmette.  We had gone out on a limb and bought the shop and had it for maybe three years.  That summer I was singing at Wolf Trap
the first time I had really been out of this area besides the California thingand all the encouragement I got that summer made me wonder what I was doing in Chicago.  If I wanted a big career rather than a mini-career, I'd have to get to the East Coast.  So my wife and I talked it over, and she said OK.  So we sold the shop and took that big risk.

BD:    It was a huge risk, and I'm glad things have happened for you.

WE:    [Laughs]  You're not the only one!

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    When you were going into Mozart, did you learn the roles to have them in your repertoire, or were you getting offers to sing them before you knew them?

WE:    Offers were coming in to sing them.  I had learned a lot of the arias as a student, but until one's technique allows one to really sing them the way you feel they should be sung, you feel a frustration.


Also see my interviews with Dominic Missimi, and Alan Stone

BD:    Have you done Don Giovanni?

WE:    Yes.  That's the first thing I did with the New York City Opera.  I had two weeks' notice to learn it.  They heard a tape of me when I did the Met auditions in Philadelphia two years before and won.

BD:    For those auditions you sang Mozart arias and Donizetti?

WE:    Yes.  That was the advice I had gotten in Europe.  There's a perspective I didn't get here.  When they heard me sing, they told me by all means to sing the Mozart first.  I'd never done that.  I'd been pulling out something bigger that I thought would be more flashy, but it wasn't my voice.

BD:    Is the art of auditioning especially hard?

WE:    You've named it right there.  It is an art.  It's taken me two years, and I'm still not perfect at it.  Boy I've come a long way in two years' time.  Like you say, one needs just the art of knowing what to sing and knowing what not to sing.  For instance, when Beverly Sills first heard me live, she asked what Puccini I would like to sing.  I knew a lot of Puccini arias, but something in the back of my mind told me to wait.  I've learned how to say that I would like to sing something else first.

BD:    How difficult is it for a young singer to say "no"?

WE:    To a role?  To an offer?

BD:    All of the above.

WE:    I'm afraid we don't say no at the beginning.  I didn't.  We just need experience.  I got an offer six years ago to go to Italy for a summer festival, but they had hired me for Luigi in Il Tabarro.

BD:    My goodness!

WE:    My goodness is right.  When I got there, I convinced them I should do Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi instead.  That was a close call, but at least I got to spend three months in Italy.

BD:    Do you enjoy the characters that your voice dictates you must play?

WE:    Sure.  I like to bring to them more than what I have seen in other performers.  For instance, Don Ottavio is always considered milquetoast, a kind of non-character, and yet I think a lot of virility can be brought to that character.

BD:    How old is Ottavio?

WE:    He is very young, maybe 20.

BD:    Some directors feel he should be a bit older, maybe pushing 40 and having a little gray in his hair, and maybe a bit paunchy.

WE:    I'm not talking about the physicalness of the character, but how he should be sung.  Often, what's called a leggiero tenor is given that role, and I like to hear a bit more warmth in the sound, more color.

BD:    How much time is there between the two arias?  Does the voice get cold and you have to re-warm it?

WE:    I always have to keep singing.  Talking about saying no, I've done Butterfly.  It was one of those chances I had and I decided to take it, but I convinced them I would be a very lyric Pinkerton.  There's a role where you sing and sing the whole first act, and then it seems like a year before you come on again in the last act.

BD:    You take the second intermission to re-vocalize.

WE:    Yes.

BD:    How much time do you spend vocalizing before a performance?

WE:    About twenty minutes.  I do lots of runs and lots of breathing.  It's really important, and yet no matter how much vocalizing you do, there's a sense when you sing your first few phrases that you have never even sung.  It's the feelings of the lights, heat, nervousness of the first phrase you sing, and it's an interesting thing.  I don't know if I'll ever get over that.  I usually try to sing the first aria at least once before I go out on stage.  Many singers don't, but I think you should not vocalize on the stage before the audience!

BD:    The only one I know of who was said to get away with that was Tito Schipa.

WE:    Well, that style is not practiced very much
a lot of head mix qualities, and we're not used to hearing that today.

BD:    Are you bringing some of that back?

WE:    I'd like to.

BD:    But not too verismo?

WE:    Not verismo.  That's another extreme.  I'm in the middle there.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    You're about to do Magic Flute at the New York City Opera.

WE:    Yes, in the Sendak production.  You know his illustrated books, and his work was in Smithsonian Magazine recently.  They're wonderful and I just can't wait to see them.  But before I do that I'm in the concert performance at Carnagie Hall of Die Feen, Wagner's first opera.  John Alexander is the big, heroic tenor and I'm just a minor player.

BD:    Does singing opera in concert bother you?

eichorn WE:    No.

BD:    Is it fun?

WE:    It's certainly not as much work!  [Both laugh]  Anytime I have the opportunity to walk on a stage and sing opera, I think it's fun.  What a thrill.

BD:    I just wondered because some people miss the drama with the stage machinery and all.

WE:    But if we didn't have this performance we might never get to hear this music.  It's a great chance, and some operas, interestingly enough, work better in a concert situation than on the stage.  Maybe some of the opera seria for instance.  Lest they not get performed, let's at least bring them into the concert hall so we can hear them.  There are several societies in NY that do that, such as Clarion Concerts, Friends of French Opera, Opera Orchestra of New York.  I coached Belmonte with John Alexander before I came out here.  He's doing the role at the Met and I learned quite a bit.

BD:    If they offered you Pedrillo at the Met with Alexander, would you do it?

WE:    I don't think they would.  They want totally different voices for the two tenors.

BD:    I like Alexander very much, having heard him at Ravinia a few times.

WE:    He's an amazing man.  His voice is still fresh, and I was really pleased that he would take the time.  He was so thrilled that I asked him.  I think a lot of the older singers would make themselves available if we young singers would have the guts to ring their phone and ask for their input.  I plan to do this as much as I can, because how else are we going to learn what they've learned.

BD:    Can you learn anything just by sitting and watching a performance?

WE:    [Hesitatingly]  Sometimes, perhaps.

BD:    You can learn more in a studio with them?

WE:    Sure.  There you can see first-hand what they're doing and how they're doing it, and they can explain why they do things one way and not another.  There's the great lesson
I learn more what not to do from a bad performance, or what happens when they get in trouble.  When you're singing well and you're in good voice and everything's working well, so what?  Ho hum.  But when you're not in good voice or if you're tired, then singing takes more energy and more effort.  Those are the lessons we need to learn.

BD:    Does it take more effort to go from singing to dialogue?

WE:    My trouble used to be that I didn't carry the same amount of energy into the spoken lines as I did in the singing.  My speaking voice tends to be a bit lazy, and you have to learn to speak with the same amount of intensity that you would sing.  And we all need to slow down!

BD:    Tell me about singing in translation.  Do you enjoy it?

WE:    There are so many bad translations.  There needs to be newer translations with current usage, not "thee" and "prey tell".  We just don't say that today, so it's hard for me to sing.  Also English is harder than Italian because there are more sounds, more vowels, more diphthongs, more combinations of sounds.  So to be understood takes a lot of work in English, but I feel strongly that the comedies should be done in English in America.  Not so much the dramas.  There the music and the words are so wedded that you can't really change them.  Putting another sound changes the music and changes the color.

BD:    Have you sung some really excellent translations?

WE:    Yes.  I did Falstaff with Sarah Caldwell.

BD:    Was that Andrew Porter's translation?

WE:    I think it was mostly hers.  She gets involved in every part of it including the conducting and staging.  Donald Gramm was Falstaff and he was a real joy.  They're using a new translation for the Flute at NYCO that I'll be doing.

BD:    When you sing a line in English and you know the audience gets it, does that make a better feeling for you than singing a line in Italian and knowing that maybe some of it has gotten through?

WE:    You bet.  You sing a performance of Don Giovanni in Italian, and it's so doggone funny, and you don't even get a titter.  Then you go to a smaller production where it's in translation and they're getting all of these little jokes.  There's your answer.

BD:    Do you find you can be more subtle when it's in English?

WE:    Yes.  The jokes don't have to be so visible.

BD:    Is it more work, then, when you have to act the jokes more?

WE:    Well, it's always work, so it's a different kind of working.  Every time you go out there's an awful lot of work to be done to try to be successful, to get energy across the footlights.  The big thing is energy.  You have to have lots of energy and presence, and then somehow the audience can pick up on that.  They're involved with you that way.  If they just come and only want to listen, it doesn't work.

BD:    If there's a good audience, do you feel the energy coming back to you?

WE:    I've read interviews where other singers say this, but I'll tell you the reverse is true.  If the audience is just sitting there you do feel that.  You feel their lethargy, but I don't know if I really do feel the extra when they are enjoying it.

BD:    Do you know ahead of time certain audience are better than others?  Are Saturday night audiences, for instance, more demonstrative?

WE:    There's something to that.  Week-night audiences are more difficult because they have to go to work the next day, so they can't relax as much as weekend crowds.  In the theaters that serve alcoholic beverages, you can tell a difference between act one and two.  They've had a drink or two at the intermission and you can tell a difference.  I don't know if others notice this, but I do.  Of course, there are days when it takes a while for an opera to get going.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Have you sung some lesser-known Mozart works?

WE:    I've been asked to learn Idomeneo.

BD:    I assume you would do it differently than Pavarotti.  Do we need big names to fill the house?

WE:    I don't know.  Talk to the impresarios.  This country has had a complex for years about its artists.  It's finally turning around now to where we young singers don't have to go to Europe.  That used to be the standard thing
— get the experience and exposure there and maybe you'll be recognized here.  Now there are enough opera producing entities here that we are given a chance.  But still and all, names are important.  The box office suffered when Sills retired from the New York City Opera.

BD:    Are we conditioned by recordings?

WE:    Sure we are, for good and for bad.  I'm sure that a lot of the public and critics alike learn their music from listening to a polished recording.  They don't go to the piano and play through a score to learn the music and then go to the performance.  I can understand a singer wanting to have their recordings as perfect as possible for posterity, but then we go into the live theater and expect that perfection.  It's rare to hear that perfect performance.  I don't know too many people who give them, so the standards are set high
which is all right.  We should strive toward perfection.

BD:    If a producer came to you and wanted to make a series of Mozart opera recordings with you, would you, knowing that you'd be up against the heritage of recordings from years before?

WE:    I'd be a fool not to try.  The good thing is that recordings reach more people.  Opera is on a big upswing in America.  All you have to do is look at that survey that comes out every year in Opera News.  The number of companies, the number of performances, the number of new works, the attendance, it's unbelievable.

BD:    Do you sing any contemporary works?

WE:    I did Floyd's Susannah.  That's about as contemporary as I want to get.  When I was in school, I got into all the craziness.

BD:    Is there a point to singing crazy works?

WE:    No.  To be exposed to it in a learning situation it's good, but...

BD:    Sounds like you should get contemporary music you like you should get the measles just to be through with it!

WE:    Yes, everyone should be exposed to contemporary music once.  [Laughs]  It's just not for me.  I suppose there are voices that can handle it, but I don't enjoy it at all.

BD:    What if you were offered Alwa in Lulu?

WE:    Nope, it just doesn't interest me at all.  I'm a real romantic at heart.  Maybe in another life I was there.  I love long legatos; I love long lyric lines.  It's just in my nature, and it just goes against me to have to sing things that are so angular.  I've tried it and I simply couldn't talk for two days after that.

BD:    Are you a good audience for Mozart operas?

WE:    No.

BD:    Do you breathe with the singers and sweat with them?

WE:    Yes, I do.  I'm really critical, and I guess there's a side of me which says,
Damn, I'd rather be up there!  But I do force myself.  I listen as much as I can.  I have to know what's being done.  I worked with Anna Moffo one summer, and she maintains that she's never gone to a performance of a role she sings to watch another colleague do it.  Now that's a little extreme I think.  I did the Taming of the Shrew by Giannini with her.  That was contemporary with huge intervals and all.


Also see my interviews with Anna Moffo, Robert Orth, and Barry McCauley

BD:    Have you done some Handel?

WE:    Some of the oratorios, yes.  I love Handel.  Handel, Bach and Mozart are just really good for me.  I can negotiate the coloratura.

BD:    How do you balance your career between opera and concert?

WE:    I would love to balance it 50-50.  It will take time, but I will.  I'm doing the Wagner this month, then next month the Bach St. Matthew Passion.  I love to be able to juxtapose those kinds of things.  It's healthy; they complement one another.

BD:    Let me ask you about stage directors.  Do you find that some of them are reaching for things that really aren't in the score?

WE:    You certainly know the right questions...  Most people agree that today we're coming through a period of the stage director.  I'm sure that's why you ask this question, and sure I've seen it where the staging is the most important thing
it's not Mozart's opera, but so-and-so's production.  And, yes, you're right, they do impose a lot of their own feelings and get away from where the music really is.  It's even more so in Europe, judging from reviews I readif reviews can be believed!  I don't know why we have to change something or move something 200 years from where it's set and put it in a whorehouse to make it accessible to the audience.

BD:    You wouldn't do Così in modern dress?

WE:    I don't know.  As long as it was musically sound with a good cast, and as long as it's not changed just for its own sake.  That particular opera is possible if it doesn't take away from the music and the characters.  They are wonderful characters.

BD:    Those Mozart characters still speak to us today?

WE:    Sure they do.  Strudel is still as good today as it was 200 years ago, isn't it?  [Both laugh]

BD:    You obviously enjoy singing.

WE:    Yes.  I was just asked how long I'd been singing, and I don't ever remember not singing.  When I was a little boy, I can remember just singing at the top of my lungs when I was growing up on a farm.  There's never been a doubt in my mind that I would be a singer.  I just have to sing.

BD:    Do you ever feel enslaved by it?

WE:    There are times I feel I can't do anything else or that I can't allow myself to do anything else.  I have to keep pushing this talent and this voice to make it do what I think it can do.  I can't just accept where I am right now.  There's so much more I have to do to make my voice more flexible, more pliable, more this, more that.  You can't ever take just the talent you've been given and be content with it.  You'll never get anywhere.  I went through a period when I thought I had everything one needed to sing, but that's silly.  The growth in these two years has been unbelievable.  Others hear it and I feel it.  When you're able to do more with your own singing voice, it changes you because your voice is you.  Everything that affects me affects my voice.

BD:    How do you counteract getting accidentally kicked just as you go out for your big aria?

WE:    If I could analyze how and why I do the things required to go out on that stage, I don't think I would do it.  You just go.  Can you imagine why you'd walk out in front of thousands of people?  No one in their right mind would do it!  Really!  You'd have to be daft to want to do that, yet there is a part of you that does want to do it.  It's really a challenge, but yet there is nothing else that fulfills me as much as that.

BD:    [With a gentle nudge]  So it's not just the applause?

WE:    [Smiles]  No.  I can't deny it's important to be liked, but I challenge myself and I sing for myself because I know how it should be presented.  Then I set that goal and attempt to reach it each time I walk out there.

BD:    Do you ever reach it?

WE:    No, but I come close sometimes.  No matter what I've just sung, I think about how it could be better next time.  Every time I walk out it's a challenge for me to overcome my human-ness and my limits, and try to go beyond.  That's a real challenge.  I do it in auditioning and I do it in performing.

BD:    I hope it continues to work for you.

WE:    Thanks.  I do too.

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© 1982 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Wilmette, Illinois (suburban Chicago) on February 9, 1982.  It was transcribed and published in Opera Scene magazine in July of that year.  The transcription was slightly re-edited and posted on this website in 2015. 

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.  To read my thoughts on editing these interviews for print, as well as a few other interesting observations, click here.

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Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM, as well as on Contemporary Classical Internet Radio.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.