Tenor Fraser Walters struck right note on field
Former UBC soccer player now tours the world as one of The Tenors
Fraser Walters, one of the famous Tenors, played soccer for UBC and was an accomplished track athlete before turning to opera. He belts out a tune along the Fraser River in Vancouver.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, Steve Bosch
VANCOUVER — Before he was a great tenor, Fraser Walters was a great athlete.
Actually, before either, he was a great soprano, singing as a boy in operas and musical theatre productions like Brigadoon at the Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park.
He was so adept at both sports and music that Walters wrote in his high school yearbook – St. George’s, class of 1998 – that his goal was the Olympics or the Grammys. Maybe he could do both.
“To all the music guys, I was the jock,” Fraser smiles, sitting in a pub across the river from Richmond, where he grew up. “And to all the jocks, I was the music guy. I was always in this in-between world of people’s expectations. I took a lot of slack from the jocks. But they’re the ones who write now: ‘Hey, buddy, just saw you on TV.’ ”
Walters never really had the chance to make the Olympics because at age 20, after a soccer game with the University of B.C. Thunderbirds, he darted up the stairs at home and felt his heart pounding irregularly.
His mom Lynn, a nurse, rushed him to hospital and he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, a form of arrhythmia. His career as an elite athlete was over.
“It was crushing,” Walters, now 32, says after searching for words to describe the feeling. “When anything is taken away from you that you love, there’s a grieving process. But I’m so grateful for the other things I have in my life.”
Yeah, Fraser Walters has got a couple of other things going on.
Some of his old sports buddies saw him on television Sunday night when The Tenors – formerly the Canadian Tenors, but still Canadian – appeared in a PBS concert special. Walters and Clifton Murray, a bandmate from Port McNeill on Vancouver Island, were in studio in Seattle to help the public broadcaster raise money and promote the recent release of the vocal quartet’s album, Lead with Your Heart, which went gold in Canada within two weeks.
The title could be a double-entendre for Walters, who underwent heart surgery twice last decade.
Besides playing varsity soccer, he was a member of Canada’s national junior track and field team, running the 400-metres hurdles at the Pan American Junior Championships in 1999.
Walters’ training partners back then included future Olympians Dylan Armstrong of Kamloops and Gary Reed of Victoria.
Walters, who graduated from UBC with a degree in music, comes from an athletic family. His oldest brother, Steve, now a police officer in Delta, competed nationally in the 400 before going to the Paralympics twice as a guide runner for Coquitlam’s Dustin Walsh. Lynn and Lyall Walters’ middle son, Stu, a sports broadcaster with CKNW radio, still plays soccer in the Metro League’s premier division.
Fraser runs for fun and goes to the gym. Even after a dozen years, he still misses soccer.
“I would give anything to be able to go and play in a real game,” he says. “A couple of years ago, we were on tour in the Netherlands and our driver put the wrong kind of gas in the car and had to pull over. We rehearsed for a while, but there was a ball in the car so we got out and started a soccer game, right there beside the freeway. It got pretty competitive. We kept playing to the point where we might be late for our concert, but we didn’t care because we were having so much fun.”
The Tenors are at full sprint in the music business.
Walters, Victor Micallef of Toronto and Remigio Pereira of Gatineau, Que., have been singing a repertoire of popular and classical music for six years. Murray joined the group in 2009.
They sang for the queen of television, Oprah Winfrey, two years ago and in May sang for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. They toured with Canadian David Foster and now work out of Los Angeles with the mogul who is chairman of Verve Music, a subsidiary of Universal Music.
Walters says a dinner about 18 months ago at Foster’s home was a “defining moment” in The Tenors’ evolution.
“He asked us if we would sing at this small dinner party he was hosting,” Walters explains. “After dinner, he brings his guests into the piano room. There’s Barbra Streisand and her husband, Regis Philbin and his wife, Dr. Phil and his wife.
“So we sang and Barbra leads a standing ovation. She didn’t want to sing but the late Donna Summer was there – no one knew she was sick at the time – and she got up and sang Amazing Grace with us. It was incredible.”
So was what followed.
That dinner led to an invitation to sing at Philbin’s birthday party. Among the guests was Mark Burnett, producer of the Survivor TV series and, in 2011, the Emmy Awards. Burnett was so impressed by The Tenors he invited them on the spot to perform at the Emmys.
They sang Canadian Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” for an American television audience of 12 million.
Eight months later, they performed at Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebration at Windsor Castle in England.
“They wanted us to do ‘O Canada’ and ‘Hallelujah,’ ” Walters says. “But they also asked us the day we arrived if we’d sing ‘God Save the Queen.’ We said we’d do it, but we didn’t know the song. We had to make an arrangement for it on the drive to Windsor Castle and we rehearsed it in the car the whole way. I had some pins and needles because you don’t want to forget the words in front of the Queen.
“We actually had tea with the Queen. There were only about 30 people in the room. She poured her own tea. She came and greeted us and we chatted for 10 minutes. She told us she loved the variety in our repertoire. Moments like that, we’re so proud to be from Canada.”
Walters, who is married to accomplished New York singer Kelly Levesque, estimates he’s on the road 300 days a year. A pre-Christmas tour ends Dec. 22 in Windsor – Ontario, not back at the palace. The Tenors are supporting Lead with Your Heart with a 70-city tour in the first half of 2013, including a Feb. 5 home game for Walters at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This is The Tenors’ third album, but their first containing original compositions.
Walters says the team dynamics he learned in sports apply very much in the music business.
“We were supposed to do the Winter Classic this year,” Walters laments, referring to the Jan. 1 outdoor game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings that was scuttled by the National Hockey League lockout. “That would have been huge – the biggest hockey game of the year. That’s our big letdown for 2012.”
Probably their only one.
On their way to stardom, the Tenors sang at all-star games for the NHL, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. Their only unchecked sports box is the National Football League’s Pro Bowl.
“Or the Super Bowl,” Walters grins. “Why not shoot for the stars?”
The Grammys, then.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun