Award-winning operatic tenor and Stanford MBA Roy Hage spoke with Stanford Live Magazine about the creation of his new performance Finding My Voice which comes to the Studio on November 11.
Where did you grow up?
I was born in Virginia, where my PB&J sandwiches were made with pita instead of white bread. I detested my differentness. Then, when I was nine, the backdrop of my life changed dramatically as we moved to Beirut. Suddenly, I was the American boy lost amidst Lebanese peers. I always felt out of place – too American in Lebanon, and yet, a tad too Lebanese in Virginia.
The challenges were immense. I faced bullying, and often, my voice felt buried beneath the weight of those trying to silence it. But it was within this cacophony that I stumbled upon opera. It wasn't just music to me; it became my voice, my sanctuary. My childhood was a mosaic of two worlds, punctuated by challenges but illuminated by the melodies that helped me find my way. Through it all, I learned to embrace my unique song, finding beauty in the very differences that once isolated me.
Who is the most influential person in your life?
When asked about the most influential person in my life, I'd have to say it isn't a person at all. It's the captivating realm of Disney movies. :) Those tales taught me about the profound magic of wishes and dreams. For a kid who never quite fit in, the idea that you could wish upon a star and change your circumstances was intoxicating. It's this unwavering, almost desperate belief that, if you're stubborn enough, dreams can come true. This belief has been the driving force behind every note I sing, each performance I give. It's more than just a belief; it's the essence of my spirit.
How did you end up in the Bay Area?
I was drawn to the Bay Area's magnetic pull of innovation, diversity, and cultural richness. Of course, Stanford played a pivotal role in that decision. Its reputation for fostering both technology and artistry side by side made it the perfect fit for my aspirations. I saw the Bay Area, with Stanford at its heart, as a canvas of opportunities, a place where my multidimensional interests could converge. Here, I could evolve as an artist while engaging with dynamic communities and forward-thinking endeavors. The Bay Area promised growth, and it has continuously delivered on that promise.
You are currently getting your MBA from Stanford. What will your degree be focused on?
At Stanford, there aren't traditional concentrations within the MBA program, but I've naturally gravitated towards entrepreneurship, startups, and an unwavering focus on strategy and innovation. The journey of an opera singer, dissecting and reinterpreting centuries-old works, parallels my personal journey of constant transformation. Having spent a significant part of my life feeling out of place, yearning to belong, my existence has been a testament to reinvention. Perhaps heartbreakingly, every challenge and adversity has pushed me to innovate on my very being, to evolve, adapt, and grow.
The Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, or the d.school, has been a sanctuary for this intrinsic spirit. It's where my analytical vigor meets my creative heart. The caliber of the professors and the invaluable connections they've facilitated have truly been game-changing. Because of them, I've had opportunities to lead design thinking workshops for some of their portfolio companies, and even more astonishingly, coach chief innovation officers while still a student.
Innovation, to me, is deeply personal. It's not about mere novelty. It's about delving into established systems and thought patterns, understanding their intricacies, and then redesigning them through a human-centric lens. It's about recognizing latent needs, the unvoiced challenges, and approaching them with both passion and pragmatism. As I've reshaped my own narrative over the years, I've honed an acute sense for reinventing and reimagining the world around me.
What inspired you to create Finding My Voice?
Finding My Voice was a culmination of deeply personal experiences and a realization of the power my unique journey held. During my MBA1 year at Stanford, I had the privilege of sharing my story with my classmates through a TALK. The outpour of support and resonance it generated underscored the impact of sharing authentic narratives.
As an Arab-American opera singer, I occupy a niche intersection in the world of classical music. My position offers me an unparalleled platform to not only represent a community often underrepresented in this art form but also to introduce others to the magic and emotion of opera. Representation truly matters. Every time I take the stage, I'm not just singing for myself; I'm singing for every individual who felt out of place, every person who yearned to see someone like them in the spotlight.
Finding My Voice is also my love letter to the community. It's my way of giving back, of sharing the art form that's been my solace, my strength, and my voice. Through it, I hope to inspire, to connect, and to showcase the transformative power of music and storytelling.
What was the hardest part about creating the performance?
The hardest part about creating the performance was striking a balance between vulnerability and artistry. As I delved into deeply personal narratives and experiences to shape the program, I constantly grappled with how much of myself to expose. There were moments that felt almost too raw to share, memories that stirred a whirlwind of emotions. But I recognized that it was this very vulnerability that would connect authentically with the audience.
Additionally, as an artist, there's an innate desire to achieve perfection in every note, every phrase. Yet, this performance required me to sometimes embrace the imperfections, to let the raw edges show because they were a testament to the journey and the authenticity of the narrative. Merging the personal with the artistic, ensuring the integrity of both, was a challenging but incredibly rewarding process.
In the performance, you will use spoken word, poetry, and music. Are all the pieces featured written by you or by others?
In Finding My Voice, I've artfully intertwined spoken word, poetry, and music, mirroring the diverse chapters of my life. While I took the helm in producing this entire work, I didn't write the music. Instead, imagine it as an “autobiography in concert” — each piece, although not authored by me, deeply reflects a specific period or emotion of my journey.
The pieces I've chosen were meticulously selected to elevate the narrative, to deepen its resonance, and to serve as a bridge between spoken and sung expression. Songs by Duparc, for instance, were instrumental in my realization of the immense power of connecting with something far greater than oneself. His perfectionism, mirrored in each musical notation, was a revelation about the role of an artist — being in service to the composer's vision. This understanding was profoundly humbling. It shifted my focus from self to service, anchoring my interpretations in the composer's intent. This experience not only heightened my respect for stalwarts like Duparc but also kindled my passion for interpreting contemporary pieces, connecting with living composers, and championing their vision.
Similarly, works by Schumann offer snapshots of my personal and artistic evolution. I've chosen each composition because it tells a tale, and within these tales, I've discovered reflections of my own narrative. My hope is that as audiences journey with me, they'll engage with each piece, resonate with my 'aha' moments, and partake in the joy of these musical discoveries.
What do you hope audiences take away from your performance?
I hope that those who witness “Finding My Voice” leave not only with a greater appreciation for the transformative power of music but also a deepened understanding of the intricate tapestry of human experiences. Every note I sing, every story I share, is an invitation to embrace our unique journeys, to celebrate our individual struggles and triumphs, and to acknowledge the universal threads that bind us all.
By showcasing my journey as an Arab-American opera singer, I want audiences to see the beauty in embracing our identities, however multifaceted they may be, and to recognize the strength in vulnerability. If someone walks out feeling more seen, more heard, or inspired to share their own story, then I'd consider the performance a success. At its core, this performance is about the power of representation, the magic of connection, and the belief that each of our voices, no matter how different, has the power to resonate, inspire, and change the world.
If you could describe Finding My Voice in 3 adjectives, what would they be?
Unique. Vulnerable. Intimate.
What are your plans for the future in terms of performing?
While at the GSB, I've undertaken a deep introspection about the role of music in my life. The conclusion has been unwavering: music is an integral part of my being. In affirmation of this, I am poised to return to the operatic stage this April, embodying the role of Vladimir Lensky in Tchaikovsky's “Eugene Onegin” in NYC. This role resonates with me deeply, drawing parallels with Tchaikovsky’s own struggles of identity and belonging. To be collaborating with esteemed artists, visionaries in their own right, is both an honor and a privilege.
On the entrepreneurial front, I'm at the helm of a pioneering startup that's currently operating under the radar. While I wish I could divulge all its intricacies, I'll provide a hint: we're positioning ourselves to significantly disrupt the mental health landscape. Drawing upon innovative technologies, groundbreaking research, and a keen understanding of contemporary needs, our vision is to craft solutions that haven't been seen before in this domain. It's an endeavor that's incredibly close to my heart, and I'm confident that once revealed, it will resonate deeply with many and catalyze meaningful change.
Alongside this venture, I'm co-developing a talent cultivation agency with my esteemed partner — a distinguished voice teacher, pedagogue, and researcher. Our mission is to hone and champion the next wave of artists.
My commitment to strategy and innovation remains steadfast. Whether it's launching a new CPG brand with the likes of RuPaul or driving impactful social change for the City of El Paso, my scope of work transcends boundaries. Leveraging my multifaceted experiences, I'm actively exploring opportunities to guide businesses—be it through leading design thinking workshops, diving deep into P&L analyses, or orchestrating transformative strategic shifts. I'm always on the lookout for forward-thinking clients and partnerships that align with this mission, offering both breadth and depth in strategic consultation.
Whether I'm on the operatic stage or strategizing in a boardroom, my core mission remains: guiding organizations and individuals to discover their authentic voice, amplify it, and ensure it resonates with transformative impact.