After almost 20 years on Broadway, the countertenor walked away from it all. Here's the story of how he developed his head-turning talent—and how he found his way back to music.
Each year during the Christmas season, my wife and I find a holiday concert or two to attend with our kids, but somehow we’d never gone to the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Holiday Pops until this year.
After taking our seats at the Ohio Theatre on the first Friday night in December, we settled in and found plenty to enjoy in the first few festive pieces. But looking back now, they all feel like a precursor to a performance that I’ll never forget.
The song was “Sweet Little Jesus Boy,” a 1930s Robert MacGimsey tune written in the style of an African American spiritual. The words and melody are pretty enough, but it wasn’t the song that got me. I had never heard anyone sing quite like this man. For four minutes, my jaw hung slack. Goosebumps covered my limbs. This guy sang higher than I’d ever heard any man sing, which was both awe-inspiring and confusing. But it wasn’t just the number of octaves he could climb. There was a clarity and purity to his voice, and he sang with feeling. The emotion behind the song seemed to pour out of him and fill every space of the theater, where the audience sat wide-eyed and rapt, then instinctively jumped to their feet and burst into thunderous applause.
My wife and I looked at each other, bewildered and overcome. All we could say was, “Wow.” Who was this guy?
I checked the program: Arthur Marks, countertenor. Disregarding theater etiquette, I took out my phone and began searching the internet for anything I could find on Marks, but other than a PDF of a program from a local church where he apparently sang, my searches came up empty.
Still, I couldn’t get that performance out of my mind, so the following week I reached out to the symphony, as did many others who wanted to know about this mystery singer (audio from the performance can be streamed from the CSO app).
The CSO passed along Marks’ contact info, and on a recent weekday afternoon we met at his workplace — a nondescript church on Johnstown Road in New Albany, where Marks runs a program for adults with developmental disabilities. It’s not the type of place you’d expect to find a classically trained opera singer who spent nearly 20 years on Broadway and toured the country, wowing audiences — including at least one former president — with his otherworldly voice.
Turns out that Holiday Pops performance was a comeback, of sorts, for 48-year-old Marks. He had previously been singing with the Columbus Symphony Chorus, but not many solos, and very little as a sopranist. In fact, until a few years ago, Marks had given up singing entirely. At the top of his game, he walked away.
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