I LOVE his response to “do you miss it (being a police officer) at all?”
After Sept. 11, 2001, Daniel Rodriguez, then a member of the New York City Police Department and one of its designated singers of the national anthem, became known as the “singing policeman” for his stirring renditions of both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”
In the aftermath of it all, Rodriguez received an invitation to study under Placido Domingo, who helped the “singing policeman” become confident enough to retire from police work and pursue his lifelong dream. Rodriguez has since become one of America’s most recognizable tenors. He has appeared onstage in symphony concerts and operas and as a solo artist, as he will on Oct. 24 at Great Mills High School.
Rodriguez’s national tour included 17 stops in September. He has 19 dates set for October, at performing arts centers, high schools and churches. While on tour in the Midwest, Rodriguez talked by phone about his solo concert repertoire and how his career has been shaped by what he witnessed on Sept. 11.
Q: Do you set the table with “God Bless America” or sing it as an encore?
Q: But you sing all kinds of music. Can you tell me a little bit about your set list?
A: I’m on my fourth album now, so most of the songs come from those recordings. … I pick and choose depending upon the occasion and what people want to hear. I could be called a classical crossover singer because I was Broadway operetta starting out and then went to classical and then went back to Broadway operetta. … Most true opera singers do not have the ability, or it is very difficult for them, to do more of the poppy and lighter operatic stuff, whereas I can transfer between both.
Q: Will you change up your show for different parts of the country?
A: I try to get a feel for the audiences, but for most of the shows on this tour it’s an older crowd — 50-plus. The older crowd loves the real romantic era of music — the Jeanette MacDonald, the Mel Sanetti — as well as classical. And they always love when I throw in an aria or two.
Q: Your father and grandfather were singers. Did they pass along any good singing wisdom?
A: Not so much Grandfather, because I was a young man when he passed away. He passed down the voice. … But my father taught me that music is a celebration, and my father was always a happy man. … So my father taught me to enjoy music and to sing with passion.
Q: You had put your singing career on hold to do odd jobs and support your family, and you had been doing a variety of jobs during the five-year period before you became a police officer. Why did you decide to take the route you did?
A: First of all, it was one of the jobs that came up when I took the [state civil service exam] … I had been working in the post office; before that, I was doing jobs that had no benefits or real future. … I thought it would be an exciting job; it would be a real experience for someone like myself, who is now driving around to 117 cities in a conversion van. I am not one who shies away from new experiences … I really had to work hard. I had to, in six months, lose 50 pounds to become a police officer. That kind of determination showed me that it was something I really wanted to do.
Q: Do you miss it at all?
A: Every time I get cut off on the highway.
Q: What was your sense of patriotism before Sept. 11 and how did it change after witnessing what you did that day?
A: I think I always had a sense of patriotism. I had a sense of patriotism for my country. I think it’s a great country. But I also felt very enlightened …because I was given a broad spectrum of understanding of the world and people that taught me to accept all people as children of God. … But after 9/11, I think my life changed in that I saw firsthand that there is a very significant presence of evil in the world. … It’s very important that we do something about it: even in our personal lives, that we live a more positive life so that we can counter the negativity.
Q: You just spoke about music being a celebration. Did the way you sang “God Bless America” change?
A: I think it took on more meaning. When you sing a patriotic song before 9/11, particularly “God Bless America,” it was patriotic from the point of it being a beautiful song from our country. After 9/11, it was patriotic from the point of it being a prayer from a country in need of a prayer.
Q: Literally, would you pour more passion into the song?
A: Absolutely. Directly after 9/11 there was more passion poured into the song because there was more passion in me. I lived the horrors of 9/11. I wasn’t watching it on television. I was at Ground Zero when the towers came down. I lost friends at Ground Zero. I got to know their families as I sang at their funerals. (I sang at more than 100 funerals.) Absolutely there was more, because my whole persona was involved in it and I had to express that in the music. That was my outlet.
Q: Would you have made it this far if 9/11 had not happened?
A: I would hope that I would have continued to do what I was doing. If you look at my history before 9/11, I was singing every day and I was … trying to pursue a Broadway career. I was determined to get to a point where I was singing for a living and back to my first love. … Sept. 11 hurried things along, but it also changed it, too. I think if 9/11 had not happened I would have been just another singer. If I had achieved fame, I don’t think I would have appreciated my situation as much as I do now. My career is much more significant than it would have been. My career really stands for something much bigger than myself.
If you go
The Leonardtown Rotary Performing Arts Series will continue Oct. 24 with a concert featuring Daniel Rodriguez at Great Mills High School. Tickets are $25, $15 for children younger than 15. The high school is at 21130 Great Mills Road. Call 301-475-6999.
By DICKSON MERCER