Mark Daniels: the Lyric Tenor

One Eastman singer’s journey to the stage
Tomas Flint 585 Mark Daniels 6005
Photos by Tomas Flint

From the first notes of Cavaradossi’s aria from Puccini’s Tosca, “E lucevan le stelle,” you know that you are hearing an exceptional voice. For Mark Daniels, singing comes naturally and, to the listener, appears effortless. 

Daniels has made Rochester his personal and artistic home since he arrived at Eastman School of Music as an undergraduate. He grew up in Kennebunk, Maine, but has family ties to Rochester. His great uncle, Ernest Kimball, owned Kimball Trucking and worked at Hallman Chevrolet on Winthrop Street (the building that housed 2 Vine, where Daniels once worked as a waiter) fifty years before Daniels arrived to study at Eastman. As he likes to say, “My great uncle and I grew up in the same farmhouse in Maine and somehow worked in the same state, city, and building decades apart.”

Like most kids, Daniels started singing in school. His first- and second-grade teachers told his family, “You know, he can sing!” Daniels joined the Boy Singers of Maine and, in junior high, auditioned for the Southern Maine Music Festival. As a freshman in high school, he auditioned for his first musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and was cast in the title role. Life led him to a career in music, and he made his professional debut in Brigadoon in Portland, Maine. He was accepted into the undergraduate program at Eastman School of Music, where he made his opera debut as Sam in Carlisle Floyd’s Susannah with Eastman Opera Theatre. His operatic career has taken him to Italy, to engagements in Buffalo, and all over the Finger Lakes region. 

Musicians chart their professional lives through their teachers, coaches, and mentors much like people chart their family trees. Daniels’s first voice teacher in Portland was David Goulet, who worked with the legendary Sarah Caldwell. On arrival at Eastman, Daniels joined Rita Shane’s studio. Shane, a coloratura soprano, had a glittering career at the New York City and Metropolitan Operas and the great opera houses of the world.

Since 2017, Daniels has worked with acclaimed coach and accompanist Rob Goodling. Goodling’s professional career began as a violinist in the Elmira Symphony and Corning Philharmonic orchestras, but the greater part of his career has been as a coach, accompanist, and trainer of singers. An Eastman alumnus, Goodling spent twenty-eight years teaching at Churchville-Chili High School, where his students included Renée Fleming and her sister, Rachelle. He was an affiliate professor of music education at Eastman School of Music and the music history instructor at Hochstein School of Music and has worked with the board of the Rochester Opera Guild.

Daniels and Goodling met more than three years ago when Daniels was working at Rocco’s restaurant. The pair chatted and  discovered they had much in common;  Goodling invited Daniels to come and sing for him. “After I heard him, I recognized that he had a great, natural voice, but there were things that needed to be worked on and some technique that he needed to be reminded of.” Goodling continues, “After six months of working together, I was able to say, ‘Mark, it’s all there.’” 

Although his voice is reminiscent of that of a young Jussi Björling, for himself, Daniels comments, “I needed to be reminded that I didn’t need to sound like or compare myself to anyone else. It’s important for me to find my own voice (literally).” 

The dynamic between singer and accompanist is a unique one. It is a definite partnership with each artist feeding off of the other—a delicate balance. Like any relationship, this develops over time. A good accompanist must be a good listener, flexible, adaptable, and able to stay calm. Daniels and Goodling’s synergy is apparent. After a recent performance, one audience member posted the following: “Having heard many concerts, what immediately grabbed my attention was Daniels and Goodling’s intimacy, with their flawless sense of each other, and conveying that to their audience. One was caught, drawn in, gathered up, and surrounded by the passion of the music … and it is their genius and duality that is the magic.”

Daniels and Goodling consider the Lyric Theatre on East Avenue  in Rochester their artistic home. Their first concert there in June 2019 with special guests Susan Delly Cotroneo, Marc Falco, and Jessica Ann Best was a hit: the curtain had to be held to accommodate the patrons lined up outside the door waiting to get in. Another concert, originally scheduled for April 2020, had to be postponed until April 2021 due to the pandemic. They have performed together in Syracuse and, most recently, in February 2020 at the Ilse Newell “Forgotten Coast” Performing Arts Series in Florida, featuring artists from all over the globe. In 2019, they collaborated on a CD of arias, The Lyric Tenor in Recital, available on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. 

Recently, Daniels and Goodling have been exploring the work of American composer (and Rochester native) Alec Wilder, a composer with whom Goodling was familiar, but who was new to Daniels. Wilder is best remembered for his songs written for the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra, and Peggy Lee and his definitive book on American Popular Song, in addition to several classical works. Although his songs are rarely performed today, “they really should be included in the Great American Songbook,” comments Goodling. 

One of Wilder’s songs, the stunning “Blackberry Winter,” was sung in a virtual recital of arias and winter-themed songs performed by Daniels and Goodling, which is now available online. This virtual concert is part of the Bravo Night Series, originally presented pre-COVID at the Little Theatre in collaboration with the Rochester Opera Guild. (Daniels was the featured performer at the first of the series last year.) As this concert is virtual, it was filmed by Demian Spindler, himself a musician and filmmaker. “It helps to have a fellow musician film this for us,” comments Goodling. “He brings a unique perspective to the project.” This is the first video on which the three have collaborated and is a bit of a passion project for Daniels and Goodling.

Being an artist in the middle of a global pandemic has been difficult, with no venues open and no audiences to entertain. “This virtual recital gives us something to work toward in this very unsettling time,” says Daniels. “To have a virtual outlet is great.”

What do Daniels and Goodling hope that people take away from this virtual concert? “I hope, during this time when people are confined to their homes, that this gives them something else to focus on—that it’s a welcome distraction,” says Daniels. “We want anyone watching to feel that they are part of a very special, intimate soiree,” adds Goodling.

Every artist has dreams and aspirations. In talking to Daniels about his life here in Rochester, which he has adopted as his home, he says, “Singing gives me an overwhelming feeling of joy. I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing.” 

Mark Daniels and Rob Goodling’s virtual recital is now available for viewing via the Opera Guild of Rochester’s YouTube channel.

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