Gordon Hawkins sings a pretty happy tune for a guy who was washed up before he was old enough to vote.
The young baritone, who will be singing tomorrow night with the Peabody Symphony in the John Charles Thomas Centennial concert at Peabody's Friedberg Hall, was a brilliant pitcher who was drafted and given a bonus by the Texas Rangers before he was out of high school. But during his freshman year at the University of Maryland -- this Prince George's County native was recruited there on a baseball scholarship -- an injury to his shoulder wrecked his career.
"Did I take a spiritual view of things -- no way!" says this minister's son. "I wasn't that together. I was just one very depressed 17-year-old kid."
But sometimes when doors slam shut, windows open. Today the 32-year-old musician, who had sung all his life in church and school choirs and who was an expert clarinetist, sings regularly at the Metropolitan Opera. He was so promising a singer that the university had no hesitation in trading a baseball scholarship for a vocal one. He is now a favorite partner of the great Luciano Pavarotti. In fact, the great tenor has taken Hawkins under his pulchritudinous wing, even inviting him to spend part of last summer with him in Italy.
"Your voice is a Ferrari, not a Toyota," Pavarotti told him. "But you must learn to use it like one."
"I think that Pavarotti mostly just wanted to help me with the Italian language," Hawkins says. "But just being around him was an education. He's a very informed and wise musician and it's no accident that he's the world's greatest singer.
We worked only on Italian roles -- Verdi and Puccini -- but one of the things he told me was that whatever I sing must be 50 percent Mozart. He explained that Mozart's music is the most lyric and the most difficult to sing in the repertory. It's vocally demanding not because it asks you to sing higher or louder but because it's so streamlined and so precise. It's safer to walk on eggshells than to sing Mozart. But because you have to sing it so well to do it well, you can apply whatever you learn from Mozart to other composers."
But Hawkins' favorite roles are the heavier ones of Verdi -- roles, he says, that he's willing to wait several years to do.
"I was a sore-armed pitcher -- I don't want to be a sore-voiced baritone," Hawkins says. "But Verdi's what I aspire to. His operas all deal with serious human concerns and the music is so noble and regal -- it's real major league stuff!"
What: Peabody Symphony Orchestra in a centennial tribute to John Charles Thomas, featuring works of Weber and Sibelius and, with baritone soloist Gordon Hawkins, orchestral songs and arias by Wagner, Mahler and Verdi.
Where: Friedberg Hall, 1 E. Mount Vernon Place.
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.