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Alumnus, Tenor Hits High Note at Oratorio Competition

From the University of St. Thomas to Yale to performing in Carnegie Hall, singer Joe Mikolaj is making joyful noise on stages across the country. Despite the competitive nature of a music career, Mikolaj said his UST experience keeps him grounded and helps him remember the joy in music.

A 2008 UST graduate, Mikolaj will earn a master’s degree from the Yale Institute of Sacred Music and the Yale School of Music in May.  He recently took first prize at the New York Oratorio Society’s Lyndon Woodside Solo Competition on April 10. Competing as the youngest musician against experienced singers from across the nation, Mikolaj earned the 7,000 first prize. Mikolaj, a tenor, performed selections from Haydn’s Creation and Mendelssohn’s Elijah in Carnegie Hall.

The competition is designed to encourage the art of oratorio singing and to give talented young singers an opportunity to advance their careers. The competition has become international in scope, and well-known in the music world. Since the competition’s inception, more than 3,400 singers have competed.  More than 65 performance contracts have been awarded to competition winners to appear in concert with the Society; many have also been awarded contracts with other major musical organizations.

“It was a blessing to be able to participate in such a prestigious competition, I never expected to win,” Mikolaj said. “My goal was to learn from the other experienced singers, make connections in New York and communicate the joy and message of the music to the audience.”

Mikolaj transferred to UST as a sophomore from Texas Christian University to study under Dr. Brady Knapp, assistant professor and director of choral activities. In fact, it was Knapp who encouraged Mikolaj to apply to the Yale School of Music. While at UST, Mikolaj participated in Opera workshop, Pop choir and University singers every semester.

“UST is the kind of place that nurtures Joseph’s kind of intellect and talent,” Knapp said.

Since he graduated from UST, Mikolaj kept himself in tune with numerous stage performances. Recent engagements at Yale include a solo in Bach’s Weihnachtsoratorium, a concert of Elizabethan lute songs, and a solo in Bach’s B Minor Mass.  He also recently performed as soloist in Mozart’s Requiem with Mount Holyoke College as well as a Requiem with the Woodlands Symphony Orchestra (Texas).  Mikolaj also appears frequently in operas and musicals.   He recently played Nanki-poo in The Mikado with the Janiac Opera Company of Brevard Music Center.  Other roles include Frederick in Pirates of Penzance, The Defendant in Trial by Jury, Bill in A Hand of Bridge, Goro in Madame Butterfly, Little Bat in Susannah, Basilio in Le Nozze di Figaro, and Tony in West Side Story, among others.

As he balances a full graduate class load, teaching private lessons, a part-time job and lengthy rehearsals, Mikolaj said he rarely sees daylight. Through it all, Mikolaj said he calls upon his faith and the music and spiritual foundations he learned at UST.

“It is so easy to get wrapped up in the cut-throat competitive nature of the music world,” Mikolaj said. “I see people from other conservatories which are infamous for producing slaves to music. Those students don’t seem to enjoy music very much,” Mikolaj said. “I’m grateful I got my early training from a place that taught me to view music not as life itself, but as a beautiful expression of life. UST helped me take a step back and remember why I love music.”
To view photos and hear clips of Mikolaj’s performances, visit his website.

Learn more about the Music Program at the University of St. Thomas