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The man behind the mic

Cam Tait writes about Oilers anthem singer Robert Clark

by Cam Tait / EdmontonOilers.com

It may have been a little out of his wheel house, but Robert Clark certainly did not show it. Rather than being dressed in a tuxedo or opera wardrobe - a clown's costume, to be exact - there Robert was: in a bright orange Edmonton Oilers jersey and jeans among Oilers fans in the Rogers Place stands singing O Canada before the first Oilers playoff game of 2017.

It was, says Robert, a surprise. And they seem to keep coming since he sang the first note as Oilers anthem singer in 2013.

"I thought it was the coolest idea ever singing with the crowd before Game 1," Robert said, adding he was asked to come into Rogers Place a few days early for a dry run. "I was excited, and I thought it was really going to work so they tried me in different spots in Rogers Place and they said 'OK, show up an hour early and we'll figure out where you are going to go in the stands'. It's never been done before and I think it was very effective."

So effective, in fact, Robert has been singing in the crowd for every home game since. During one surprise placement for Game 5 of the series against the San Jose Sharks, he was in the Molson Canadian Hockey House in Ford Hall and shared the singing of O Canada with Oilers dressing room attendant Joey Moss, who was in the stands in Rogers Place.

"I remember thinking we couldn't have given Joey a better honour. I almost cried when the Oilers said they were going to give Joey a mic as well," said Robert.

"He's a hero and a gem to the Oilers, and to have him sing, it was really cool."

Robert says he's now a die-hard Oilers fan. Quite the transformation.

Robert grew up in Sherwood Park and sports were not a part of the family. Oh, sure - when the Oilers were in the playoffs, games would be on the family television, but Robert wasn't glued to it. He had other interests - music.

Not rock. Not rap. Not hip hop.

Classical.

"My dad would play it often in the house and so in Grade 6 I started playing clarinet, and played that right to the end of high school," Robert said. He was very active in his high school - Bev Facey High School: singing in the choir, lots of acting and drama. "When I started my degree, at the University of Alberta, it was in music."

He chased a music degree and gave voice lessons. A teacher introduced Robert to opera and it was a frosty relationship at first. Robert admits he didn't love it in the beginning.

"For a lot of people it (opera) is an acquired taste," he said. "I love acting and classical music and what's the best way to combine those, its opera. I love the whole story behind the opera. The sets, the costumes, and being a part of the whole story. Being able to tell that story and being able to do it with an orchestra, for me, is the prefect combination of acting and classical music."

Robert can sing in English, French, Italian, German, Russian and Spanish. A favourite?

"German," he said. "When I was in my undergrad and participating in the University of Alberta choir, it was led by Leonard Ratzlaff. He is German and he truly instilled in me a love for German music and the language.

"A lot of people think that it is a harsh language but, honestly, I really enjoyed singing in it."

In a wonderful bit of irony, Robert met the late Paul Lorieau - long-time Oilers anthem singer - in 2011 through the opera Pagliacci. Robert played the role of Beppe, a clown, the same role Paul previously played.

Robert sang for three different opera companies, including Edmonton Opera. That's where he was contacted by the Oilers who were listening for a "big voice" to sing the Canadian and American anthem at home games. After sending in a recording of the anthems, Robert was asked to go in for a sound check.

He began singing for the Oilers at the start of the 2013-14 season.

 ''I knew that I had to know more about the sport. I have friends that were very excited that I was going to do it, they were huge Oilers fans and hockey fans. So I would talk to them a lot, ask questions, do research."

In fact, it wasn't until the 2015-16 campaign that Robert really understood what icings and offsides were.

"Now I am a 100 per cent fan and so is my whole family," he said. Robert and his wife Meaghan have four children ranging in age from five to 13 years old: Sam, Ben, Josh and Ellie. 

Robert says nerves aren't really present when he sings or performs in an opera. Now, singing O Canada before an Oilers game? Different situation.

"I was nervous because it was something completely different from opera, and knowing that I was going out there doing both American and Canadian anthems for my first game," said Robert. "Going out there to sing these anthems, knowing that it's how an official hockey game starts and I felt almost completely out of my element because I've never done anything like that before. 

"But at the same time, - because I have the professional background of singing - I went in with a mindset thinking that I want to sing them well and right, and I want to be proud that I'm singing this."

He was walking on sunshine when the anthem was over until…

"It was funny," said Robert, "because I finished and usually just before the anthem is done, everybody starts cheering loudly. But I didn't know that that was just because they were excited and ready for the game to start and I thought they were cheering for me, which some of them could have been.

"So I remember thinking, 'Wow! They really love me!' It was a totally egotistical moment. I walked off the carpet, went through the tunnel, and they were all like, "Hey, that was great! That sounded awesome! And I said 'They really liked that, didn't they?' and one person said, 'Oh, they always get loud like that.'"

Robert quietly chuckled. "Seriously, I remember just thinking, I hope I get to do this all the time because I really love it and here I am today, and honestly, that feeling has not changed.

"I love it."

Robert gives voice lessons in his home. Together with Meaghan, they have run a house cleaning business for seven years.

So, while many kids grew up asking "Where's Waldo?", it appears the question at Rogers Place on Sunday will be where is Robert Clark?

 

Three favorite songs to sing

  1. Nessun Dorma (Tenor Aria)
  2. La Fleur Que Tu M'avais Jetee (The Flower Aria, from the Opera Carmen)
  3. Oh Canada - The Canadian Anthem
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