He performs opera and jazz, toured with Pulitzer Prizewinning musician Wynton Marsalis and recently came Down Under for a one-man tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. Now Tim Springs tells Jesse Archer about singing like a frog, colour-blind casting and why, when it comes to opera, size doesn’t matter.
DNA: Welcome to Australia. How are you finding it? Tim Springs: I love Australia – the accents are amazing. As one of the three African-Americans here, just how popular are you? It’s really funny because when I go running, people are staring. And when I go out it’s refreshing being the new kid in town. You sing all genres from jazz to classical opera – what’s your favorite? Classic is my heart but I love singing jazz. I’ll crossover into a bunch of things. We often think of people who sing opera as fat ladies with braids. Yeah, the Viking! But you’re this really thin guy with a big booming voice. Are you an anomaly? Opera has changed from years ago. Now they’re all about thin and healthy looking people so it can be marketed to a younger crowd. But doesn’t size affect your voice? Or is that a myth? I think it’s a myth. I use my whole body to sing, and if you know how to do that you can project over a 50-piece orchestra. So it’s more than just your diaphragm. Yeah, I feel it even in my toes! How old were you when you knew you had this gift? My voice changed into classical form
when I was about 16. But you performed at the Apollo when you were just 10. That wasn’t my operatic career – I was singing Michael Jackson songs. My voice was really high, like soprano range and then one day it changed and I thought I couldn’t sing anymore because I couldn’t sing high. I cursed myself because I heard people singing at church with low voices and I was like – they can’t sing. They sound like frogs. Then one day I sounded like a frog. When did you accept your froginess? I went to a boarding arts high school in South Carolina. I had to audition to get in and didn’t think I would make it but my mom was like, just audition! So I did and got in. Tell us about touring with legendary trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. He’s the coolest man I’ve ever met in my entire life. So down to earth, humble and smart and an amazing instrumentalist and musician. I remember sitting there at the first day of rehearsal and my mouth was just open… he was wailing on a trumpet. You toured in Abyssianian: A Gospel Celebration. Does that have anything to do with the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem? It does! Wynton actually wrote the piece for the Abyssinian Church to perform it. They gave it to their choir and it was a little difficult for them. It was difficult for that choir? Yes, it was a mix between all genres. There were pieces that were heavy classical and pieces that were so jazzy, like riffing and all kinds of stuff. It was an experience. I call it The Abyssinian Experience. Who would you most like to work with now? Diane Carroll. I’m in love with that lady. She’s going to be in Raisin In The Sun, the revival. I’m gonna wait backstage like a groupie. You’ve played a ton of black roles from Porgy And Bess to Aida to Hairspray. Have you ever played a traditionally white role? Yeah, I played the Prince in Into the Woods. What do you think of colour-blind casting? Colour blind casting should happen all the time! I understand if the piece is period, like Porgy And Bess, and the composer wrote that it needs to be an all African-American cast, then I can see how it should be traditional, otherwise it could be all Asian. I find it really frustrating to be pigeonholed but I still audition because my voice suits the classical stage. Opera is filled with colour-blind casting. Musical theatre is very strict. You have to find a 23-year-old, six-foot Caucasian, so it’s very straightforward. And film, even more so… he has to look the part, even if he can’t act! What’s your advice for other kids like you? Never put yourself in a box. I didn’t think I’d be doing all I’m doing today travelling around the world and it’s because I’m not limiting myself to classical. There are so many opportunities: commercial print, TV, musical theatre… You modelled for The Gap. Do you consider yourself to be the All-American boy? I’ve always imagined myself on a Gap or Target ad, but at the audition they asked me a bunch of questions and I thought I answered them horribly wrong. One of the questions was, “when do you feel most alone?” I don’t remember what I said but I bombed that. They gave me a bunch of questions to study and prepare. Why are they asking models questions? To see if I match the brand. So you’re a spokesmodel! You were also a US national anthem soloist at Madison Square Gardens. Yeah, for the New York Nicks and college basketball championships. “The rocket’s red glare” is notoriously high in the Star Spangled Banner. What’s the secret to nailing it? I start the song in a low key so when I get to that part it’s not that high. So you cheat? I can make it go anywhere. Like a leaping frog? Or a howling dog. Do you have a boyfriend? I’m currently exploring my options. Then we’ll see you at Bodyline sauna? Yes, of course!