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Alumnus Nicholas Nestorak ’11 works as an opera per­former. Here, he is Albert Herring in “Albert Herring.” Nicholas Nestorak | Courtesy

Alumnus Nicholas Nestorak ’11 sings opera for a living, and he hasn’t thought of a backup plan.

“This pro­fession is unnerving,” Nestorak said. “You never know when your next oppor­tunity or job will come up. If you have a backup plan, you’re most likely going to fall on that. I’ve lived by one rule that my teacher in graduate school taught me: He said, ‘sing for whoever will hear you, no matter who it is.’”

This phi­losophy has steered Nestorak into an edu­cation he said he didn’t plan for and a career he can’t map out. But even before his teacher artic­u­lated this mantra to him, he had already stumbled upon this secret, the key to a suc­cessful opera career: Sing to whoever will listen.

Nestorak found his first audience as a child at Hillsdale First United Methodist Church, where he trooped out to the front of the con­gre­gation with his friends to sing in  the choir. When he moved to Hillsdale’s Davis Middle School, he joined the choir there and found more people who would entertain his devel­oping voice.

“When he was in middle school, he sang a solo for the first time: ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas,’” Nick Nestorak’s mother, Kathy Nestorak, remem­bered. “My husband and I … looked at each other and said, ‘Whose kid is that?’”

After that, the young tenor couldn’t stop himself from joining every musical activity available: cello lessons, jazz band, and musicals galore.

When Nestorak entered the college from Hillsdale High School, he intended to graduate with a double major in chem­istry and cello per­for­mance. His plan didn’t last long: “I was intro­duced to opera at Hillsdale,” Nestorak said. “One day my teachers approached me and said ‘Hey, we don’t think you have a suc­cessful career with the cello … You might look into going to graduate school for singing.’”

Between his lessons in Voice Teacher Melissa “Missy” Osmond’s studio and practice ses­sions in the basement of Howard Music Hall, Nestorak began to dis­cover the true talent he had once con­sidered a hobby.

“I remember I was so impressed with his young tenor sound and musical delivery,” Osmond said. “Nick was always a very curious student and so desirous to learn. He was an incredible musician on all levels. He was always willing to try new things.”

Osmond praised Nestorak for his work ethic —“He was the hardest worker I had at the time,” she said. After he swapped his chem­istry major for one in vocal per­for­mance, he logged hours in Howard’s basement practice rooms exer­cising his voice and improving his cello tech­nique. This ded­i­cation earned Nestorak a foun­dation in music that would benefit him throughout his career.

“Missy taught me the basics of singing tech­nique and gave me chances to explore. And I have to nod my hat to my cello pro­fessor, David Pesh­lakai. Even though I went in as a cello major and didn’t pursue it, I learned prac­tices in his lessons that I still use today,” Nestorak said.

Hillsdale’s Opera Workshop program played a big part in Nestorak’s musical mat­u­ration. Nestorak said the program allowed him to exper­iment with singing and acting in a safe envi­ronment.

“As singers, it is our job to move people and take them into a dif­ferent space in their minds and hearts,” Osmond said. “Some­times that requires a lot of risk and trans­parency. To perform, we let go of all we want to protect about our­selves. We have to dig deep into our souls.”

Nestorak took on mul­tiple roles in each year’s Opera Workshop per­for­mances, por­traying char­acters who often had little in common in back-to-back scenes. As he honed his talent on stage, he also took a seat in the director’s chair and managed a few “op-shop” scenes his senior year.

Upon grad­u­ating from Hillsdale, Nestorak kept singing for anyone who’d hear him, and suc­cess­fully audi­tioned for Uni­versity of Michigan’s graduate program in opera, where he studied under Pro­fessor of Voice George Shirley, the first African-American tenor to sing leading roles at the Met­ro­politan Opera in New York City.

“The Uni­versity of Michigan’s music program runs like a con­ser­vatory program, but it’s at a state school,” he said. “You get high-quality and high-caliber teaching and expe­ri­ences like you would at a con­ser­vatory, but you get it for a state-school price.”

Since Nestorak’s grad­u­ation from Uni­versity of Michigan in 2013, he has con­tinued to sing, and sing, and sing.

It wasn’t easy. Nestorak said the start of his career was scarily still: “The ball even­tually started rolling, but that was after I started taking every oppor­tunity to sing for whoever I could.”

Audi­tions and per­for­mances have zigzagged him from oppor­tunity to oppor­tunity all over the country, and even around the world. Most recently, his rich tenor voice has landed him three con­tracts at the Toledo Opera, a quick jaunt from his hometown and alma mater. For the past couple months — a long haul in the opera world — he has per­formed with the voice he dis­covered in the practice rooms of Howard and trained at the Uni­versity of Michigan. His next move is anyone’s guess, but one thing is for sure: He’ll always keep singing for whoever will hear him.