The Road to Carnegie Hall, Valentine's edition 

Former Canadian Tenor Ken Lavigne sings of achieving his lifelong dream

click to enlarge 'That guy'
  • 'That guy'

It is a fascinating story. Vancouver Island-based tenor Ken Lavigne wasn't sure where his singing career was going, until a friend one day challenged him.

"I was feeling kind of blue because it was the wintertime in early '08 and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I was having coffee with a friend and he challenged me on the spot with 'what is it that you wanted to do in the first place when you started this crazy career?'" He recalls.

The former member of The Canadian Tenors knew his answer immediately. Sing at Carnegie Hall.

"He asked what was stopping me. Part of my brain said, 'everything' and part said 'I don't really know.' It prompted me to investigate what one actually has to do to get to Carnegie Hall. It grew from that one little challenge," he says.

"It" was Lavigne's performance in the fabled New York City concert venue in January 2009, where he filled 1,200 of the 2,800 seats in the hall and was described as having "a voice of liquid gold" by a New York reviewer.

The wonder of it is that he did it all on his own, taking most of 2008 to arrange and find the funds to make his dream happen. And it wasn't a matter of putting it on his Visa; it cost $200,000 to book it for one night and pull together his orchestra.

Lavigne spent the year raising the necessary funds through concerts in B.C.

And on the night, his set ranged from classical tenor songs to beloved Canadian folk singer Stan Rogers, according to the CBC at the time.

The Road to Carnegie Hall is Lavigne's gift from that night. His tour, which he brings to Whistler's Millennium Place on Thursday, Feb. 13, is a combination of stories and music from his journey.

Lavigne says he set a deadline for himself, thanks to a small gap in Carnegie's scheduling, which was the day the hall was available.

"I had to find out what hoops I needed to jump through. It was just under 12 months from the first phone call and investigation to a 'touchdown.' I didn't know anything about producing shows, not at the time, anyway," he says.

But now he knows.

"Oh yeah," Lavigne says, his voice cracking.

"Carnegie Hall is very rigorous in their vetting process for performers... and I had steeled myself for rejection before I phoned them, figuring what's the worst they could do? They could laugh in my face or be extremely rude, but they weren't. Everyone there was incredibly polite and helpful and respectful. They pointed me in the right direction... and then they told me how much it cost and I nearly dropped the phone."

Have people taken his experience as an inspiration?

"It's astonishing, certainly the reaction after the shows is that people feel inspired that someone who is crazy enough to follow their own dream, then so can I," he says.

"I think audacious is probably a good word to describe (deciding to play at Carnegie Hall). In my mind, though, as I was planning, it didn't think it was audacious at all. You never know what is going to happen to you in your life and if you have the opportunity, why not try and make it happen for yourself if you have a dream."

Lavigne says his audiences want to know the details of how his night in New York came to pass. He obliges by telling stories and vignettes, trying to "make them as entertaining as possible."

"It has been really well received, so I am very lucky," he says.

He's calling his Whistler show his "Valentine's edition." He says he will be drawing from Leonard Cohen, Elvis Presley and Pavarotti, among others, and is backed up by a small ensemble of four musicians on piano, violin, double bass and guitar.

"Being mindful that it's close to a certain romantic date, we'll be performing some romantic ballads as well," he says.

Is the Carnegie Hall performance a defining professional moment for Lavigne?

"It's interesting. In a way, I've become 'that guy.' I would say there have been moments, keystone moments, where you can say, 'That was pivotal.' Or something galvanized me to the idea that I was going to be a performer, in my mind," he says.

"Certainly, Carnegie Hall has become a defining moment for me in the public's consciousness. I have to embrace the idea that I will always be 'that guy.'"

But, surely, being 'that guy' is not a bad thing to be?

"I agree," he laughs.

More of Lavigne's story is on his website, www.kenlavigne.com. Tickets are available at artswhistler.com or the Millennium Place box office.

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