“Sing God a simple song
The warm, meandering melody from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” spills from the singer’s lips, filling the church sanctuary from wall to wall.
“Make it up as you go along
For Nick Nestorak ’11, “A Simple Song” was only the beginning of an intimately worshipful, yet also dauntingly technical program of sacred music at Hillsdale First United Methodist Church this past Sunday. Nestorak collaborated on the performance with college piano instructor Debbi Wyse and selected a large range of religious repertoire, from world-renowned classical works of Bach, Mozart, and Schubert, to more familiar sacred hymns like “How Great Thou Art” and a contemporary piece by Christian artist Michael W. Smith, “Shine on Us.”
Nestorak has focused on vocal development ever since his first lessons with vocal instructor Missy Osmond during his freshman year at Hillsdale. After attaining his master of music in voice from University of Michigan, he now performs in various singing gigs across the country, in opera houses from Toledo, Ohio to Austin, Texas.
For Nestorak, performance involves both singing and acting. From his days at Hillsdale High School in which he performed a leading role in the comic opera “Pirates of Penzance” to his more recent leading role in “The Magic Flute” at the Toledo Opera, he often plays comic tenor buffo, or “character tenor,” roles that allow him to offset the role of the lead performer.
Though character tenors often bear the brunt of collegial jest due to the nature of their comic role in the opera, Nestorak says he enjoys having the opportunity to shift between many different roles.
“It’s about putting yourself in another character’s situation and thinking, ‘How would I react to that?’ and to also bring the audience to feel what my character feels,” he said.
Osmond said she recognized Nestorak’s exceptional vocal talent near the beginning of his freshman year at Hillsdale. Prior to Sunday, she hadn’t heard Nestorak perform since his graduate school days.
“It took my breath away. I was in tears most of the time,” she said. “I was just feeling so blessed to have had four years to work with this man and help launch him to where he is now.”
Osmond added she would love to see Nestorak move into more romantic lead roles. Though romantic roles usually require a taller performer, Osmond said Nestorak’s command of the stage and vocal talent are enough to propel him to the next level.
Though an actor by trade, Nestorak says he sometimes has to refrain from too much dramatic interpretation during particularly moving or intimately worshipful songs, or else he risks losing his composure, as he did while rehearsing “Shine on Us” before Sunday’s concert.
“If I’d put too much into it, I would have had a hard time getting through it,” he said. “I would have looked around the room and would have been crying.”
Nestorak remembers one particularly emotional moment he experienced while playing the role of George in the opera “Our Town” by Ned Rorem. George gets married in one scene, but in the scene immediately following, he must carry his deceased wife to the same marriage table, which has now become a funeral altar.
“It brought me back to my grandmother’s funeral in which I was a pallbearer,” Nestorak said. “During the rehearsal I had to let myself have it so I wouldn’t totally lose it during the performance. I can’t sing through crying.”
Hillsdale resident Georgia Bentley, who has attended Nestorak’s performances since high school, including a performance at the Toledo Opera House, said she appreciates the clarity of intention in his singing.
“He’s good at becoming whatever he’s singing, and he seems to understand whatever the composer is feeling,” she said.
Perhaps one of the most moving moments in the Sunday performance was the dramatic staging of “O Thou, in Whose Presence,” in which Nestorak turned away from the audience for an entire verse, facing the altar. His projection remained clear and vivid, and all eyes turned to the golden cross standing behind the altar.
“It’s really nice to connect with the text when it’s something you absolutely believe in,” Nestorak said, “and when you have a loftier goal of pleasing God and also touching people in the audience.”