Bass-baritone Clayton Mathews started out as a baseball player and hoped to make it to the major leagues. But when an injury in rookie camp curtailed his dreams of turning pro, he enrolled at Barry University in Florida. The history major joined the choir on a whim and ultimately graduated with a degree in voice performance. Mathews, who is earning an Artist Diploma here at Mason Gross, shares his story below.
It is coming up on 10 years since I sang my first note. At that time opera was never a field that I was ambitious about. The only thing that I knew about opera at that point was hearing Elmer Fudd singing “Kill the Wabbit” about the cartoon character Bugs Bunny, and it turns out he’s singing Wagner.
To this day I still don’t believe that this is the reality of my life. Being a baseball player for as long as l could breathe, you can only imagine the difficulty of transitioning to the life of an opera singer. It’s like transitioning from being an apple to being a steak – especially growing up in poverty on the North Side of St. Louis, Missouri, where being anything positive bordered on the unrealistic.
The most frequent question that I get asked is how in the world did I get into opera? In all the honesty in my heart the answer is: I don’t know. It really just happened, but I’m glad it did because it saved my life.
I didn’t know what to do after I was injured and my dreams of being a professional baseball player were ripped out of my heart. Opera came and gave me a life, purpose, and most importantly, self-worth, because there is nothing worse than feeling worthless.Before I came to Mason Gross, just like any other student I applied to and auditioned for other schools. One thing that I learned about a lot of these conservatories and programs from friends and colleagues and my own general experience is that a lot of these programs want you to already have the necessary tools to function in the professional world. It just seems as if a lot of these schools want you to be perfect in order for them to teach you.
Personally, I think the definition of a prestigious school is a school that sees the beauty in your imperfections; a school that has teachers whom students aren’t afraid to make a mistake in front of; a school that sees through sight, meaning that they don’t just see you for what you are, but what could be. Someone asked me some time ago where they could find a program like that, and I told that person to look into Mason Gross School of the Arts, because that’s the exact school I was talking about.
The experience that I’m having at this school has been phenomenal. They accept my transition to opera from a baseball background, and they push me to my potential. They made me see something that I never saw in myself, and they do that that with everyone. This was the best decision of my operatic life, because I actually feel like I’ve grown as an artist.
Watch Clayton Mathews perform The Rape of Lucretia with Opera at Rutgers in New York City in November 2013: