Illinois Wesleyan University Magazine

From IWU Magazine, Winter 2014-15 edition

Journey to the Top

Distinguished alumnus Kyle Pfortmiller ’92 reflects on his unlikely musical path.

Accepting the Distinguished Alumni Award at this year’s annual Homecoming luncheon, Kyle Pfortmiller ’92 spoke of the impact that his IWU education has had in his operatic career and his life.

Pfortmiller
Kyle Pfortmiller '92 juggles during an aria.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it really took an army to make this award possible for me, and I am truly and deeply honored. I thank you, Dr. Linda Farquharson. She supported me before my very first lesson. She chose me, with that pipsqueak little voice, and I appreciate that. She has traveled across the country to see me, and I can’t think of a better mentor or teacher or friend to share this with, so thank you.

When I enrolled at Illinois Wesleyan, the thought of ever becoming a distinguished alumni was not anywhere near my radar. In fact, the only thing I wanted was to be accepted into the School of Music. Let me take you back just for a second. When I arrived on campus for my orientation, I decided it was time to become a music major, so I wore my MTV hat, my David Letterman t-shirt and my Rocky Horror Picture Show jacket. I showed up to [then School of Music director] Dr. Kvam’s office, and I knocked on the door. When his shock wore off, he asked me what I wanted to do, and I told him that I wanted to become a music major. And he said okay, and he sent me with a list of music theory and music history books that I needed to walk and get immediately if I wanted to get in to the School of Music. His parting words to me were, “Oh by the way, there will be an audition, and it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be accepted.”

Little did I know at that point, that those words, “There will be an audition, and there is no guarantee,” would actually rule my career. But indeed it’s true. And yet, here I stand, absolutely overwhelmed by the honor of this award. The line between success and failure is a thin, blurry line. And after thousands upon thousands of auditions, and nearly a hundred different roles performed, and closing in on my 50th performance at the Metropolitan Opera in five years — even now in what some consider the pinnacle of my career — what Dr. Kvam said was right. There is no guarantee. You can start with talent and hard work… Had I not met with a great deal of kindness and graciousness along the way, I certainly would not be standing here now. There’s not a day that goes by when I don’t remember the cocky optimism of the kid in that MTV hat. And there isn’t a second that I don’t forget the grace that got him here … the grace of a God who has such a wicked sense of humor that he would let this crazy mashup of a kid get to hobknob with the best musicians on a daily basis. It is truly, deeply my honor to accept this award.

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