Jubilant Sykes: Called to Excellence

by Jody Godoy '05

At a school committed to God-honoring excellence, there is nothing more exciting than someone who has achieved such excellence sharing their gifts. This was the case on an evening in January, when Azusa Pacific University's School of Music hosted one of the most passionate singers of our time. It was chilly outside, but Munson Recital Hall resonated with the warm baritone of Jubilant Sykes, who performed a wide selection of pieces in his own unforgettably personal style.

The delighted audience let out a grateful applause and then silenced as Sykes stepped onto the small stage with the peaceful look of one who does what he knows he was made to do. He introduced each piece of music, briefly explaining the context and meaning of its lyrics. The pieces ranged from Brazilian and Portuguese compositions to Schubert and Gershwin to traditional spiritual ballads. The mood of the numbers varied widely, including the somber "Like a Sick Eagle" by Charles Ives and Aaron Copland's "I Bought Me a Cat" - a tune reminiscent of "Old MacDonald Had a Farm." Sykes brought each to life with a superbly artful voice and intentional expression.

"...I am what I am: I am a Christian who sings, and who does many things. I don't compartmentalize them..."

The singer attributes his talent to God, and said that his "commitment to Christ is foremost." To Sykes, faith and art are inseparable parts of his life.

"Singing and being a Christian spills over into every aspect of life. So, not all songs are sacred, but hopefully everything I do has a God-consciousness to it. While I sing and pick material, I hope there's some truth in it someplace. But I don't separate the two, I am what I am: I am a Christian who sings, and who does many things. I don't compartmentalize them," he said.

Sykes grew up in Los Angeles where his vocal experience and love for music began. His career, which has included performances with groups such as the Metropolitan Opera, Boston Symphony Orchestra, and Los Angeles Philharmonic, is based on classical training at local universities as well as study in Europe. When asked to recall a highlight from his education, Sykes reminisced about an affirmation he received early on, in the midst of an intimidating experience common to every voice student. "It was my freshman year in college and I was singing for my jury, and I was really very scared. After I sang, I remember walking out to the hallway. And a professor who taught violin came out into the hallway and he kissed me." Sykes was taken aback at the time, but remembers "looking at his face and seeing the sincerity.

I was awed. Because you know, at that point you're not sure if you're making the right choices, you're just doing your thing and you're just hoping it's worth something. But when he did that, it was really cool. At the time I was really embarrassed, but inwardly I knew he really liked my singing. And that really pushed me further."

The day after the concert at APU, Sykes was able to share more of his experiences during a discussion forum held by the School of Music. The forum gave voice students a chance to learn what the life of a Christian vocal performer is like. "It was extremely helpful, because students had a chance to ask very particular questions about vocal careers," said one graduate student in vocal performance. "I was very encouraged and inspired. This discussion helped me to have more focus in what I'm doing in the program."

At the root of all Jubilant Sykes' success is a particular view of what it means to live for God. In his advice to students, Sykes said that, "The key is to strive to be excellent, and the great temptation is to strive to be successful. Those two don't always go together. I think God has called us to be excellent. You know, Mozart was excellent. If you look at the end of his life, was he successful? Probably not. But was he excellent? I think that's our highest calling."

Jody Godoy ’05 is an editorial intern in the Office of University Marketing and Creative Media. gojogo@apu.edu