Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 11 / 15 March 2018

Truly, Julie


William Sauerland's show hits all the high notes

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"My dream role," says countertenor William Sauerland, "Would be to play Larry Poppins, the gay nanny."

And while that particular "Something About Mary" isn't likely to be staged anytime soon, Sauerland will helm a jolly holiday of his own at Feinstein's at the Nikko on Thursday, October 19. The former Chanticleer member, internationally acclaimed soloist, and Artistic Director of the Oakland-East Bay Gay Men's Chorus will present his first-ever official concert tribute to Julie Andrews, complete with plenty of audience sing-alongs.

"I was listening to Julie Andrews before I could even talk," says Sauerland, 35, who grew up on an Ohio dairy farm and currently lives in Hayward, where he's the Director of Choirs and Vocal Music at Chabot College. "She was my grandmother's favorite singer and her records were played non-stop around the house."

"I can't even remember the first time I watched The Sound of Music on TV. The Wizard of Oz, I can remember my first time, because before that I wasn't allowed to watch it because it was scary. But the Sound of Music; it's like it was always there. It was ambient.

"In sixth or seventh grade, the choir teacher at my school noticed my voice and asked me if I studied with a voice teacher. And I said 'Julie Andrews.' True story."

While Sauerland soon had legit voice teachers of his own and began singing classic choral and operatic music professionally from the age of 12, his Andrews fandom never let up.

"As an adult, I've been to maybe 15 different Sound of Music sing-alongs," he says. "I've gone here in San Francisco, New York, Portland, Seattle. I just went to one at the Hollywood Bowl, and it was just amazing to hear 16,000 people really belting those songs.

"It's not necessarily my intention, but when you're a trained singer sitting in the movie audience among non-trained singers, the minute you open your mouth, people notice. So as soon as I see that people recognize I'm a professional, I feel like they'll be slightly disappointed if I don't hit those high notes at the end of 'Climb Every Mountain.'

"First and foremost," Sauerland says of his cabaret debut. "I want to get people to escape into those childhood memories of their old Julie Andrews LPs.

"But I'm an educator and a conductor!" he adds. "Even more than singing, I love to get other people singing!"

Among those other people are the transgendered, who Sauerland is focusing on in his pursuit of a doctoral degree at Columbia University. He is researching the experience of transgender singers and their voice teachers.

It's a topic with particular resonance for Sauerland, who finds opera and musical theater "extremely gendered and very sexist."

When he was applying to conservatories as a teenager, an esteemed vocal music professor suggested that Sauerland should sing baritone, suggesting that the natural alto he'd sung in for years 'might be unhealthy.'

"Voice instructors have historically taught as masters, shaping their students rather than collaborating with them on what should be a joint project," says Sauerland. What does the student want and need? For some trans singers, matching their voice with their sense of identity is very important to them."

In the end, says Sauerland, in addition to advocating for trans singers, he hopes that his studies can help inform changes in vocal pedagogy overall.

"In some regard, every voice teacher serves as a personal counselor," he says. "While a trans individual may be going through a heightened period of dysphoria, every 18- or 19-year-old who goes into voice training is at a time in their lives where they're trying to figure out who they are."

Sometimes Maria is not a problem to be solved, just a situation to be accommodated.

William Sauerland performs at Feinstein's on Thursday, October 19 at 8pm. $14-$35 ($20 food/drink min.). Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St.

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