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O Say Can He Sing

CFA senior will sing National Anthem at Commencement

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Michael Convicer is fairly confident he won’t forget the lyrics to the National Anthem when he strides across the stage at Boston University’s 139th Commencement exercises on Sunday. After all, he’s been singing the song since he was eight years old.

“The lyrics have been ingrained in me ever since I had to memorize them in second grade music class,” says Convicer (CFA’12). “And then I performed the song at my high school’s basketball games. So currently I’m not nervous, but if you ask me Sunday at 12:50 p.m., it might be a different story.”

Convicer was ecstatic when he found out he was chosen from five fellow School of Music vocal performance graduates to lead the crowd of approximately 20,000 in “The Star-Spangled Banner” and BU’s school anthem, “Clarissima.”

Phyllis Hoffman (CFA’61,’67), a College of Fine Arts professor of music and director of BU’s Tanglewood Institute, says the faculty chose Convicer for many reasons.

“Not only is he a leader in CFA in terms of student government and his support of his fellow students, but he has worked in three units of the University—Admissions, Summer Term, and as an RA for two years—so his relationship to the University is exemplary,” Hoffman says. “He is a model for what is special about being in a conservatory-type program such as CFA’s. He shows a balance to service and his personal life, as well as a serious commitment to his academic studies.”

Hoffman acknowledges that there is another reason behind Convicer’s selection: he’s a baritone.

“A very high soprano never gets asked to sing the National Anthem because they can’t sing the song in the key that is appropriate for the masses who wish to sing along,” notes Hoffman, who was director of the School of Music for half a decade. “When you want 20,000 people to sing along, it is going to be in a midrange, so untrained singers can reach the high notes, like ‘the land of the free.’”

Hoffman first met Convicer in 2007 when he was a student studying at the Tanglewood Institute, a premier summer training program for aspiring high school musicians. After he enrolled at BU, she became his advisor and started giving him weekly one-hour private lessons. She has been both a teacher and mentor to the aspiring singer.

“I think all of us voice majors were in for a rude awakening when we came here,” Convicer recalls, laughing. “In high school, you’re the best singer, and then when you come here you’re surrounded by a whole class of kids who are phenomenal. It definitely makes you work harder.”

To prepare for his Commencement performance, Convicer has spent the week rehearsing with the CFA instrumentalists who will accompany him. But to master the song notorious for its difficult range, he and Hoffman have been working together for weeks. On a recent afternoon, they were in her fourth floor CFA office, which looks more like a living room, with its striped purple couch, paintings, bookshelf, and Oriental rug. Hoffman sat at a black piano, and Convicer stood a few feet away in front of a mirror to watch himself as he warmed up, hands cupped firmly by his side. “The voice is an instrument,” Convicer explained before they began. “You have to exercise it every day if you want to be a professional singer.”

The one-hour lesson began with vocal scales and pronunciation exercises. When Convicer missed a note, Hoffman sang it to him and had him practice several times.

When they turned their attention to “Clarissima,” she worked with him to make sure his pronunciation of “Boston” was perfect, urging him to stress the “o” in the word. Don’t pronounce it like “Bah-stun,” she urged, reminding him to take the whole note. After a few tries, he nailed it.

It’s a fair assumption that when Convicer sings the song on Sunday, he’ll be one of the very few assembled who know the words without looking at the program. (“Clarissima” was composed by two members of the Class of 1911, with new lyrics written by the late Dean B. Doner, a BU vice president from 1973 to 1986.)

At Commencement, Convicer will sing the National Anthem after the processional of the graduates and the Call to Order from Robert Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75), BU Board of Trustees chair. He will sing “Clarissima” towards the end of the ceremony, after BU President Robert A. Brown delivers the President’s Charge to the graduates.

Hoffman promises she’ll have her student suitably warmed up on Sunday morning and that she’ll be in the audience cheering him on.

After graduating, Convicer says, he plans to attend BU’s Metropolitan College to study arts administration. He hopes to eventually pursue an administrative career in New York City.

“I’m excited—a lot of people at BU have never heard me sing,” he says. “It’s such an honor to go out on such a good note.”

The University’s 139th Commencement takes place Sunday, May 20, at 1 p.m. at Nickerson Field.

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Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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