116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Tejas Gururaja, 17, of Cedar Rapids, is among the top five students Bradley Barrett said he has encountered during 43 years of giving voice lessons.
And now Gururaja, a senior at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, has reached the pinnacle of success, winning the Class 4A Lower High School Classical men’s division in the National Teachers of Singing competition July 1 in Chicago. He also qualified for nationals in 2021.
Gururaja began training with Barrett Vocal Arts Institute in Cedar Rapids as a freshman, shortly after his voice changed — a pivotal time for young teens.
“Everyone’s voice is different,” Barrett said, noting that Gururaja’s vocal range has been gradually increasing with age and instruction.
“When he came to me, he was more limited — still a tenor, but more limited. And now we’ve opened up the top (which) allows us a much wider breadth of repertoire. That’s where we’re at right now, and at a very exciting time, because his voice has never been better and his range has never been better.
“He is truly one of the top five students I’ve ever trained, with musical knowledge and musical skill and understanding — and work ethic.”
Barrett’s studio had a banner year in the men’s high school classical division, with Gururaja, Owen Kilgore from Cedar Rapids Kennedy and Jesse Flaherty from Cedar Rapids Prairie high schools qualifying among just 14 semifinalists nationwide. After the first semifinal round in Chicago, the top three advanced to the finals — including Gururaja, who placed first, and Kilgore, who placed third.
(Theatre Cedar Rapids fans will remember Flaherty’s star turn in “Billy Elliot” in 2017, when he was just 11 years old.)
Winning NATS, as the organization is more commonly known, was “a really good feeling,” Gururaja said.
For his three qualifying video submissions, he chose “Freschi luoghi,” by Stefano Donaudy; “Whither Must I Wander,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams; and “Stanchen” by Franz Schubert. He chose the Donaudy to sing for the in-person final round, since it’s the “flashiest” of the pieces.
“I've really worked very hard on these three pieces,” Gururaja said. “I’ve been singing them for months, and it paid off in the end. All the lessons and all of the work that we’ve put into my voice and everything kind of culminated in that.”
Winning has been a goal since the day Barrett began working with Gururaja. Even though the pandemic turned lessons and competitions into virtual events, Barrett knew his student would do well in front of the judges at the finals.
“He’s the total package,” Barrett said. “He’s got this great stage presence, great personality, great energy, and he sells his pieces much better live than in front of a camera. And so that’s paid out, because a couple of people that heard him sing came to me and said his stage presence is just amazing.”
The win also will open doors for Gururaja as he continues his studies after graduation.
“It’s definitely a big point on my musical resume if I want to go to a conservatory later down the road,” he said. “It’s like a benchmark (saying) this is the level that I’m at. … (NATS) is a well-reputed organization … so I feel like it validates whatever level of music that I make.”
It also included a $1,200 prize that he’s saving for now. After graduation, he hopes to find a program where he can pursue a dual degree in vocal performance and some aspect of STEM studies, like chemical engineering or biomedical engineering.
The two disciplines aren’t so far apart, he noted.
“I read an article (saying) musicians make the best doctors. It’s all tied together, right? Like, the better you are at music, the better you are at math, the better you are at chess. There’s a correlation there, but I think it’s just like two skills that I’ve honed. Just like anything — like math — you practice it and you get better at it. Music, you practice and you get better at it. Science, you read more, you learn more, you get better at it.
“Pursuing both of my passions is the goal that I’m looking for,” he said, adding that his dream would be to perform with an orchestra in a big-city opera house.
Barrett also sings the praises of Gururaja as an all-around student, musician and performer, noting he maintains top grades; is a three-year All-State musician, twice for vocals and once for violin; played the lead in his high school production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”; and will be the featured soloist this year in his school’s show choir. He also plays jazz piano at Linn-Mar.
As a first-generation American, he’s also in tune with the culture his parents brought from their native India. He performs locally, and travels regularly to Chicago to participate in Indian musical events, playing the mridangam, a percussion instrument he learned from his father, who also sings.
During the pandemic, Gururaja founded the nonprofit Take Action United, to collect non-perishable goods for the Catherine McAuley Center’s food pantry, gathering more than 7,000 food items and about $2,000 in the past couple of years. Nominated by the center, he received the Outstanding Philanthropic Youth award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in November 2021. He also volunteers with the Cedar Rapids Noon Lions Club, where among his various tasks, he’s helped with the group’s annual variety show the past four years, including the show planned for Sept. 11 at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids.
“With everything he does, he tries to take it to its absolute fullest,” said Barrett, who also had Tejas’ older brother, Akash, as a voice student.
“He and his whole family have made my life much richer,” Barrett said, citing the way he’s observed immigrant parents placing a high value on work ethics, manners, education and the arts.
“For them to be able to share a lot of their culture with me, it’s just been so enriching.”
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