Many will remember Jubilant Sykes’ booming voice from his role as Celebrant in the 2015 Louisville Orchestra production of Bernstein’s “Mass.” Now, the Grammy award-winning baritone is back to sing with the orchestra again for “Sacred and Profane,” a classics concert that compares and contrasts the music of composers in sacred traditions, as well as those of a decidedly secular focus.
In this case, Sykes represents the sacred, with his renditions of American spirituals like “Ride on King Jesus,” “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child,” and “Were You There?”
I talked with Sykes about how he personally identifies with the spirituality of both “Mass” and “Sacred and Profane,” his relationship with Teddy Abrams, and his unexpected turn as an actor in the historical musical “1776.” Listen to our conversation in the player above.
On how he identified with the music from last year’s ‘Mass’:
“I think with all of us there is the sacred and the profane, which is the title of the (upcoming) concert. But I think that even atheists would say to some degree that we are spiritual beings, however they would relate that to there being a God or no God.
“But I think, things like music, things like art, things like beauty, things like love — those are things that we can sort of, to some degree, analyze, but when it really stabs you in the heart, that transcends intellect. It transcends even emotion. It hit a core that is profoundly deep, that words and even music alone cannot articulate.”
On identifying with the American spirituals from ‘Sacred and Profane’:
“Foremost they are from slavery. They are, of course, African-American. But I think they transcend culture and race. They are messages of love. They are messages of suffering. I think man’s calling out to God to hear him, to see him, and God’s answer in that, ‘I am here, in spite of what it may look like.’ So yes, they are very personal to me.”
On his relationship with Louisville Orchestra conductor Teddy Abrams:
“First of all, he is — what is it they say? The cat’s meow. Teddy is amazing. I don’t know him personally-personally, but when you collaborate and work with someone musically, unlike other businesses, in music and the arts there is a personal revealing, an inner thing that happens. But he is just an incredible conductor. He is just an gem. That is rare. I’ve had wonderful opportunities to work with really world-class, fabulous conductors and I say that humbly, but truthfully Teddy is right up there.”
On how he became involved in a production of ‘1776’ and his thoughts on acting:
“A lot of my life — it’s the phone call. The phone rings. I love acting, and I think that if I am very candid — my wife is probably the only one who really knows this — I consider myself more of an actor than a singer. But the singing door is what has opened up for me. I got a phone call, they were looking for me to do it. I live in California, this was in New York and my agent said, ‘Listen, there’s this show ‘1776,’ they want you to play this part in it.’
“I had a fabulous cast. These were actors personified, so for someone who has been a closeted actor, to see these men step into this role, I was humbled, I learned a lot. I learned that acting is not just passion and talent, there is of course craft. But when all those things come together, man it is — it sounds cliche — but it is magical.”