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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, February 25, 2005

Baritone grew up in a musical Island family

 •  Home for the opera
 •  Soprano travels the globe to learn language of opera

By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Not that he would change a thing, but in reality, Quinn Kelsey never stood a chance of not having a musical career.

Quinn Kelsey first realized that opera was a career option for him when he was a student at Stevenson Middle School here. He'll compete next summer, in Wales, in a BBC competition for rising young singers.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

His mom and dad, Debbie and Chris Kelsey, met when they were singing in the chorus at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. Though Chris is taking a break from singing to work on his doctorate, Quinn's mom still sings in their church choir and the Hawai'i Opera chorus.

Quinn remembers how his parents would bring him and younger sister Blythe to the church choir and also to sing at weddings, senior centers and other events.

Destiny called. Quinn was offered a job entertaining tourists in Waikiki, but by then he was evolving into the 26-year-old baritone who will put his booming voice on display with tonight's opening of "Turandot" at the Blaisdell. The production repeats Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

"When we started doing things together, my parents always treated us children like equals — not kids — and I remember that," Quinn said.

"Both parents have been so musical themselves — so for me, picking up skills and behavior came naturally by watching my parents. The music aspect was a strong bond in our family."

This week, Quinn, who is an ensemble member of the Lyric Opera Center for American Artists, a training program of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, learned he is one of 26 who will compete in the prestigious BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Contest, June 11 through 19 in Wales. It's a stepping stone for budding performers to get exposure to a global audience, so Quinn's quest for recognition has moved up a notch.

Last week, Chris and Debbie stopped by one of Quinn's opera rehearsals. If she were on the island, sister Blythe might have been there, too, but she has been away at college, completing her bachelor's degree at Westminster Choir College near Princeton, N.J.

Music has always been a source of bonding for the family. "We always knew what the kids were doing," Chris said.

Tonight, Chris will watch Quinn perform and also watch and listen to the chorus, in which Debbie sings.

It's not the first time family members have performed together.

While at Stevenson Middle School, Quinn (then 12) joined his dad, a member of the Kamehameha Alumni Glee Club, in "Aida."

At the University of Hawai'i Lab School, Debbie was choral teacher when Quinn and Blythe attended.

At one point, all four performed together, once in "Carmen" (when mom was a principal) and in a previous "Turandot."

Tonight, it's just mother and son. Chris is sitting out "Turandot" because of academic duties; he is a doctoral candidate in English at UH, works as a grad assistant, and is fiction editor of the Hawai'i Review. "I've also taken over for Quinn as baritone (in the choir) at Central Union Church, where I also have a custodial job at the church," Chris said.

Though his family loved opera, it wasn't until he reached Stevenson that Quinn realized opera was a career option.

"My first year, 1991, was a huge shock," he said. "I had a whole lot of fun, but my daily schedule was so frantic, I think I took a whole year off, not singing till 1992. ... Competition is keen and it's tough to find your place."

Opera helped Quinn Kelsey find his place, and now it consumes his life.

With his current ties to the Lyric Opera of Chicago , Quinn resides in Chicago and braves the weather.

"I love such a drastic change (in seasons); besides, I sweat too much when I'm home, and I can live with the cold crazy snowy weather in Chicago," he said. "And I've discovered a big Asian market, where there's Vietnamese food, Aloha Shoyu and Hawaiian Sun juice. So it's all right."

His partner, Pamela Maiava, often visits Quinn in Chicago, though she runs a business in Honolulu.

Being a Hawaiian opera singer often gets people's attention, said Quinn.

"There's initial exoticism about Hawai'i, in regards to getting hired," he said. "They give a second look, because they're curious. I think opera companies now are used to seeing singers from other parts of the U.S. or Europe, but Hawai'i goes a long way."

Reach Wayne Harada at wharada@honoluluadvertiser.com, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.