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'It's About Connections'

Singing opera is a bit like playing tight end says football player Josh Lee, who does both with grace.

"There's a total focus," he says. "In music, you concentrate on how you'll hit a note, rather than how you'll hit a player from the other team. You might be nervous, but you've worked out all the details in the practice room, so when you perform you don't have to think about it -- it just flows.

"The same technique happens on the football field. You've already put in your time and effort so you don't have to worry about the next step -- just where you're headed."

Right now, Lee is headed for a teaching career, working on a Master of Arts in Teaching through Willamette's one-year graduate program. He's hoping to conduct choral music, teach math and coach football. "The combination could shatter some paradigms," he smiles. "I think music is an extremely important part of education, especially today, when so much of what we value as a society is communicated through music."

Lee didn't get a good dose of classical music until he got to Willamette. In between football practice, the Willamette Jazz Singers, Male Ensemble Willamette, and a student a cappella group called Headband, he signed up for Chamber Choir and started voice lessons, where he was introduced to composers like Bach and Handel.

"One of the things that attracted me to classical music was the difficulty," Lee says. "And there's just a lot of classical music that's really beautiful. 'Beautiful' means different things to different people in different settings, but it comes down to how it makes you feel. Opera focuses on communicating a depth of feeling through music. There is a lot of mental and emotional engagement."

Lee has been engaged with music since boyhood. At home the family sang before bedtime. He found folk hymns and rock music in church, and at Christmas his father recorded singing cards. During high school he fit musical theatre and choir into his football schedule.

When Lee left home for the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, he formed an a cappella group, which practiced in between mechanical engineering classes and glider training. "A glider is like an airplane without an engine," Lee says. "You fly behind the plane, and gravity is the only thing that moves you when they cut you loose."

It seems Lee landed in a good place. On break from the academy, he spent a semester at Willamette, where he shifted from mechanical engineering to music, and decided to stay.

"Now the doors have opened here to pursue music teaching," he says. The career may also enable him to use summers off to perform at summer opera festivals.

"I want to do something where I can see a difference," says Lee, who sees a common thread to running football plays, singing arias and teaching students. "For me, it's all about people. If you don't do something as a means to love people, it's meaningless.

"I love football, but if there wasn't a team and the camaraderie and shared goal, I wouldn't enjoy it. And I could perform an aria better than I've ever performed in my life, but if it's just about being the best performer, I've missed the point.

"It's more about treating everyone as children of God, who have dignity and worth and need to be loved. It's about connections."