Latter-day Saint tenor part of Grammy-winning opera cast
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The annual Grammy musical awards are typically associated with rock 'n' roll and pop performers — but for many years opera has been counted among the categories included for recognition.
And while music's "usual suspects" — think Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and a cadre of other popular performers — were featured during the recent prime-time Grammy broadcast, fans of opera (and LDS performers) also had something to cheer about. Thomas Glenn, an accomplished opera tenor and a lifelong Church member, was part of the cast from the Met Production recording of "Doctor Atomic" that won a Grammy for Best Opera Recording.
Brother Glenn was even selected to accept the award on behalf of the cast. (The opera awards were not part of the televised Feb. 11 prime time award program, but were held earlier that day.) This year's edition of the Grammys also marked the first time an opera singer performed at the awards show.
Being part of a Grammy-winning cast "was kind of crazy," he admitted, adding, "Our reward for singing opera is singing opera." Still he was thrilled that he and his fellow cast members were selected from a group of fellow nominees that included opera icon Renee Fleming. "We were up against some very good competition," he said.
"Doctor Atomic" utilizes opera to tell the story of the development of the atomic bomb during the desperate years of World War II. Brother Glenn is numbered among the cast from the recording that includes more than 60 other performers and musicians.
He may still be growing accustomed to the title "Grammy winner," but he's a veteran in the opera community with years of experience behind him. He was born in Provo, Utah, where his parents were students at Brigham Young University. Most of his childhood was spent in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where his father — also named Thomas Glenn — worked as an attorney.
Music was an integral element of Brother Glenn's childhood. His parents, Thomas and Cynthia Glenn, were always supportive of his artistic endeavor. Meanwhile, his testimony of the gospel stretches back to his earliest years, so opting for study at BYU was an easy choice. After spending two years at the Church-owned school, Brother Glenn set his musical education aside for missionary service in France.
Spending two years away from the rigors of opera training is unusual for an aspiring tenor. "It was a concern for some people, but not for me," he said. "I knew a mission was something I needed to do and I knew that no matter what happened, I would be blessed for serving a mission."
Two years of missionary service included the usual tracting and teaching, but Elder Glenn's musical talents did not go untapped. He was often asked to sing in Church functions and in front of secular audiences. He was also assigned to help start an institute choir.
He later returned to BYU where he finished his undergraduate studies, married and began his formal opera career. He would spend eight years studying as an apprentice with the San Francisco Opera, developing a relationship with that renowned company that continues today. He and his wife, Amy, are the parents of two daughters and a son.
The life of an opera singer can be an itinerant life. Sometimes Brother Glenn is away from his family and his home in Calgary for weeks at a time. But he's enlisted technology to maintain as normal a family routine as possible.
"Using Skype allows me to help the children with their homework and to be with my family for family prayer and family dinner," he said.
He's also developed a habit of venturing out on splits with the missionaries in whatever part of the world he is performing. His time with the missionaries keeps him focused on the gospel, and he enjoys being able to teach and share his testimony with folks from around the globe. "I identify with the missionaries because they are usually far from home."
While more and more Latter-day Saints are carving inroads into the opera community, Brother Glenn admits his Mormon beliefs remain something of a curiosity. But he's quick to add his beliefs have never presented a professional obstacle. He's been judged entirely on the talents he brings to a performance.
Soon Brother Glenn will be leaving his Calgary home to perform with the Atlanta Symphony. He has a busy schedule but plans to make time to participate in the upcoming dedication of the Calgary Alberta Temple. The Glenns are members of the Calgary 8th Ward, Calgary Alberta West Stake.