As a young boy living in London, Ontario, in the 1970s, Bevan Keating, like his friends, dreamed of being a hockey player when he grew up.
“With all he does, I’m not really sure when he sleeps. He has such a matchless and boundless energy. I have to think his wife, Kira, plays such an important role in that, allowing him to work as much as he does.” — Melissa Thoma about Bevan Keating
Competing on ice was not to be his life's work. Keating does use a wooden instrument, but he traded the hockey stick for a conductor's baton.
Singing, music and conducting compose his life's score.
Keating has put his vast musical knowledge to work where needed since moving to Little Rock for a job in the University of Arkansas at Little Rock's music department in 2004. He's associate professor of music and director of conducting and choral studies. He also conducts the university's Concert Choir, Chamber Choir and Community Chorus.
Outside his day job, he's also music director at Second Presbyterian Church and artistic director of Praeclara, a performing arts company supported by the church.
Last month, he became artistic director at Wildwood Park for the Arts, where he had directed and collaborated on several stage productions and provided leadership for its Academy of Music and the Arts, a summer music and arts camp for children 6-18.
He's an integral part of Wildwood Park's annual deep-winter festival, Lanterns!, Feb. 10-12. The multicultural event, now in its ninth year, is a fundraiser for the park. The event runs 6-10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 6-9 p.m. on Sunday and is likely to include performances by some budding vocalists.
Keating's rise to the stage began with one of his siblings.
His father, Blair, was a blue-collar worker who drove trains for Canadian National Railroad. His mother, Edith, was a stay-at-home mom. Keating is the second youngest of five children. The older of his two sisters, Brenda Zadorsky, was 18 when he was born. Zadorsky is a classically trained opera singer who used Keating in her college studies.
"I was her example for giving singing lessons," Keating explains. "Normally, they had young women to sing the trouser roles [a role in which an actress appears in male clothing], but instead, I did, because my sister dragged me into school with her."
He first began singing as a young boy at Stratford Festival, formerly known as the Stratford Shakespeare Festival, a months-long internationally recognized annual repertory theater event in Stratford, Ontario. With no musical training, he auditioned for solos with St. Paul's Cathedral choir in his hometown. His singing at the cathedral, designed exactly like the famed St. Paul's in London, England, included rehearsals four to five days a week.
"My parents were the ones who drove me to that church every day," he says, "because they knew this was something that would define my life."
He began singing professionally when he was 7, continuing until his voice changed at 16.
"When I was 10, I got picked up by an agent who sent me all through Canada," he says. "By eighth grade, I was missing three months of school a year, and I would catch up on my work on the road."
Keating says his father, who died in 2004, had musical talent as well.
"He could pick up a guitar and play," Keating recalls. His father loved the music of Johnny Cash and '30s and '40s country-western tunes.
After Keating's voice deepened and his professional singing came to an end, he attended the University of Western Ontario (now Western University), majoring in vocal performance. He replaced singing with conducting when he graduated.
"It's so much more expansive," he says of conducting. "I enjoy the energy between all these people and intimately connecting with a large group of people instead of just being the performer.
"In this position, I could be collaborating with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra one day or singing with Barry Manilow the next." (Members of his UALR Concert Choir accompanied Manilow in April when he performed at North Little Rock's Verizon Arena.)
FROM PERFORMER TO CONDUCTOR
After receiving his undergraduate degree, Keating worked for about seven years in his Canadian hometown, where his sister founded the Amabile Youth Choirs of London, Ontario, and he founded the boys choir. When he was 29, he enrolled at Ohio State University, where he got his master's and doctorate degrees. From there he came to Little Rock as director of conducting and choral studies at UALR. Keating says he was impressed with the cultural landscape he found when he first arrived here.
"There were excellent choirs, a professional orchestra, dance, a professional theater downtown and a thriving community of visual arts," he recalls. "Right away, I was impressed and very excited to see all Little Rock had to offer."
Through his work with the church, he continues to foster the careers of young singers who aspire to follow in the footsteps of Kelly Singer and Kristin Lewis.
Lewis, a former featured soloist at Second Presbyterian, is an opera singer based in Vienna. She'll be returning to her native Little Rock on Feb. 25 and 26 to perform at Robinson Center Performance Hall.
Singer, a soprano with Praeclara, twice won first place in the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions for the Arkansas District and competes today in the Mid-South Region Finals in Germantown, Tenn.
Keating worked with Wildwood Park's summer music festival and arts camp the past two summers, and on productions at the park, including The Music Man in October. As artistic director, he says he looks forward to helping the private, nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization return to staging more plays and concerts and connecting with the community through educational programs.
Leslie Golden, executive director of Wildwood Park for the Arts, says Keating's enthusiasm brings artists and audiences together "with a collaborative sensibility that's really refreshing."
"It's great fun to work with him, and I think that shows in the artistic process and the final product, whether it's Lanterns!, Dracula, a special event or a statewide educational tour to schoolchildren," she adds. "We're really lucky to have very talented artists living in central Arkansas. Bevan is among the best, and I'm very glad that he and his sweet family have made their home here."
Wildwood has a 625-seat house with a three-quarter round thrust stage in its Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre. It helps fill a niche in central Arkansas between Robinson's 2,214-seat venue and the Arkansas Repertory Theatre's 377-seat space.
"It's built for opera and is acoustically sweet," Keating says of the Wildwood theater, where Gilbert & Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance will run March 28-April 1. His goal is to merge the three entities for which he works and "grow Wildwood into more of a regional stage."
At Wildwood's summer camp, "all I do are rehearsals," he says. "I work with the less experienced and begin the process of helping them become musicians -- the ones who have found something they have a passion for, and that's where the mentoring comes in."
Melissa Thoma, a longtime friend and downtown neighbor of Keating's, says he connects with all those he mentors, regardless of their ages.
"I was most recently in the production of Music Man with him, which he directed and produced," recalls Thoma, who enjoys singing opera and is a principal with the Thoma Thoma branding and marketing firm. "The cast had a lot of children, and that's where I saw how he really connected with them.
"He helped them understand what he wanted, kept their spirits high, and maintained control, all at the same time," she says. "He was so kind. He knew how to talk to those children and get the best out of them. And then he could turn right around and connect with the adults in the same way, but in a more mature, complex and respectful way."
Thoma adds that she is in awe of the full schedule Keating keeps.
"With all he does, I'm not really sure when he sleeps. He has such a matchless and boundless energy. I have to think his wife, Kira, plays such an important role in that, allowing him to work as much as he does," Thoma says. "I think there's so much he wants to bring to the stage he just doesn't have time to sleep, and tells himself 'I have so much I want to do, I'll just sleep later.'"
Keating often works 16-hour days. Kira, a soprano and also Canadian, teaches lessons, sings and home-schools their 6-year-old twins, Brock and Blythe. Bevan Keating's typical day includes time with his family, then meetings throughout the day, with evenings devoted to rehearsals until 9 or 10 p.m.
"My family knows that this is who I am," Keating says. He also often travels to Canada to conduct and has planned trips to several cities there in the summer of 2018. He has assistants at all three of his jobs in Little Rock and credits them, along with his wife, for making his work schedule possible.
Keating does make time for himself each Monday, taking to the ice with the Little Rock Men's Hockey League.
"When I moved to Little Rock, one of my angsts was that I'd never have the chance to play hockey again," he says. As a member of a recreational men's league, he plays with guys who played professionally, when they lived elsewhere or here, with the former minor-league Arkansas RiverBlades.
"It's exciting to be playing with guys who have professional experience, and [it] allows me to get some stress out," he says.
He's finalizing preparations for Lanterns!, which drew some 8,000 people to Wildwood Park last year.
"It helps support it, keeps the gardens watered and allows us to have the space available for Wildwood's Academy for Music and the Arts," Golden says.
The event, celebrating the first full moon of the lunar new year, will feature vistas from six countries and the moon throughout the park's Butler Arboretum and inside Lucy Lockett Cabe Festival Theatre. Visitors will be transported to far-flung lands and times, she says. In between strolling through the lavishly lighted pathways of the 105-acre park's botanical gardens, guests may pause at various spots to sample each region's food, drink, games and culture, including music and artist demonstrations, Keating says.
"One of the vistas in China features food, beverages and dragon dancing," he says. "There's also one from France and then another from the United Kingdom with a pub, and then a meadow in Scotland where a bagpiper will be performing." Keating and his wife will host their native country's vista.
"At the Canadian one you'll be able to hear music by Celine Dion and Shania Twain during Canadian karaoke, and there will be Mounties and lumberjacks," Keating says. "The neat part is the festival combines all vistas together."
Parking at Wildwood is rather limited, so shuttles will run nightly during the festival. Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children ages 6 to 12, and free for children 5 and under. Information and tickets are available online at wildwoodpark.org or by phone at (501) 821-7275. Ticket prices increase to $12 and $7 at noon each day of the event.
Amid the vistas, Keating's eyes are finely focused on Wildwood, which he wants to be seen as a positive influence and tool in the education of young people.
"I'm excited to see the city growing into this part of the community," he says. "What we build here now will be so important in 10 to 15 years. It will be an oasis.
"I love Arkansas because of its family atmosphere and its culture. Canadians can be very polite but are a cool people -- their approach is 'I don't want to intrude on your space.' I love the warmness of the Southern hospitality that's found here," he adds.
His friends back in Canada still ask incredulously, "You're still in Arkansas?"
"I tell them, 'The notes on Mozart sound the same in Little Rock as they do in Vienna.'"
DATE AND PLACE OF BIRTH: Oct. 10, 1968, London, Ontario, Canada
WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I WANTED TO GROW UP AND BE a hockey player.
MY FIRST JOB was singing in St. Paul’s Cathedral treble choir in my hometown of London, Ontario, as a paid soloist when I was 7.
ONE THING MOST PEOPLE DON’T KNOW ABOUT ME: I really enjoy listening to British ska and early punk music from the 1980s.
GUESTS AT MY FANTASY DINNER PARTY WOULD BE my mom and dad, Canadian author and historian Pierre Berton, Johann Sebastian Bach and Wayne Gretzky.
IF I WERE STRANDED ON A DESERTED ISLAND, I WOULD HAVE TO HAVE my music and a glass of Crown Royal (it’s how I relax).
MUSIC IS who I am and what I am. It has shaped my life.
MY HEROES ARE my sister Brenda (I would not be doing what I am without her influence) and my entire family.
FAVORITE SONG: the choir piece “Sing Me to Heaven.”
I’M PROUDEST OF the successes of the people I’ve come in contact with as a mentor.
IF I HADN’T BECOME A PERFORMING ARTIST, I’D PROBABLY BE an educator.
ONE WORD TO SUM ME UP: energetic
High Profile on 02/05/2017
Print Headline: Bevan Todd Keating