Deputy to New York City
native Jon Robert Cart will sing at Carnegie Hall
Robert Cart was just 4 years old when his naturally-tuned musical
ear helped him begin playing the piano. Thirty-five years later
that musical talent has taken him to Carnegie Hall in New York
Cart, who sings tenor and typically performs in operas, will
perform a series of Spanish songs with a fellow music professor on
the famous Carnegie Hall stage in Weill Recital Hall.
“The stuff I’m performing is called art songs. They’re like
songs that you might hear on the radio, except they’re classical
music so they’re a little different than opera,” said Cart,
who hails from Deputy. “They’re meant to be performed with
piano in a small setting.”
Cart’s day job is an assistant professor of music and chairman
of the music department at Shippensburg University in
Pennsylvania. His colleague, Margaret Lucia, will play the piano
for their June 17 performance.
Cart became interested in Spanish music after a friend asked him
to perform at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. “I never
had Spanish, but I said yes because I wanted to perform,” he
said, noting he took German in high school and college. So, he
quickly learned a new language.
“I learned some Mexican songs for that and they were so
beautiful and I enjoyed them so much so I decided to start
learning some more Spanish language stuff,” he said, noting
Lucia helped him compose a program called “Spain and the New
World.” Half of it is Spanish and half is Cuban, Latin American
and other “new world” styles.
“We had this program set up and we had nowhere to perform it,”
he said with a laugh. It just so happened that Carnegie Hall
announced it was accepting auditions for performers. “So, just
on a whim, we pulled together a few on things on a CD really
quickly and they asked us to perform there.”
Of course, that was a year ago, so Cart said he’s very excited
about the pending performance. However, he said he was glad for
the extra preparation time, too, so they can perfect the language.
“My performing has been focused around German music. I sing a
lot of German opera and the pianist performs a lot of music by
Chopin, which is sort of French and Polish combination,” he
said. “Neither of us had intended to perform Spanish music, we
just sort of fell into it, but we both love it and actually we
find a lot of elements of the music we were originally drawn to in
the Spanish music.”
Cart said he has worked with several native Spanish speakers to
nail the proper diction, but also so he will understand the true
meaning of the song’s words and phrases. There are 11 pieces for
the performance, which include some solos for both parties.
“Both Margaret and I had to do a lot of research into the songs
so we know a little bit about the composer, how the songs are
composed so we can perform them a little better. When you’re
performing songs each of them is like a small drama so you have to
work a lot on the acting side too,” he said.
The change in singing styles is also a bonus for Cart because he
can enjoy the performance in a different way. “I think of opera
as an extreme sport. It takes a lot of physical effort that you
actually don’t see. I like to do concert singing because you can
really enjoy singing,” he said.
A love of music
A true enjoyment of music began when Cart was about 6 or 7 years
old and he began taking piano lessons. “I started taking piano
lessons in Deputy from a woman named Thelma Henry. She was
primarily a ragtime pianist, so I learned everything in ragtime,
but it was a lot of fun. Studying with her I really grew to love
music, which I think is important instead of being pushed to be a
great musician but to love it first,” he said.
“He wasn’t the sort of child you had to make practice, he
liked to play the piano, that’s what he did for fun,” said
Cart’s mother, Alta. Alta and Richard Cart still call Deputy
Though he loved playing the piano, he wasn’t always so keen on
singing in front of a crowd. “I can remember when he was like 5
years old at church services I would stand him on a piano stool up
front and make him sing and he wouldn’t like it at all,” Alta
Cart said. “He had a beautiful voice even at five, but he
didn’t really feel like he could sing until he was a sophomore
or junior in high school and some of his friends convinced him to
try out for show choir.”
Cart made the show choir and his parents began taking him to the
University of Louisville every Saturday for voice lessons.
His love of music was nurtured by the school band also. Cart
originally wanted to join the band when he was in fourth grade,
but no one younger than sixth grade could play. So, his mother
convinced then-band director Mark Johnson to hear her fourth-grade
son perform when he was recruiting band students during the
“He didn’t have an instrument at that point, so I had a
clarinet I had played in a junior high band so that’s what he
started out with is my old clarinet,” Alta Cart recalled. Once
in junior high Cart played the flute and piccolo. “Then in high
school he kind of played whatever they gave him that they needed
filled in,” she said.
During his junior year, Alta Cart said she decided it was time to
seriously pursue music scholarships for her son — an experience
that Robert Cart also remembered. “My mom checked out what
instrument could get me a scholarship and it was the bassoon or
the tuba and I already liked the bassoon,” he said, noting he
still plays the bassoon in an orchestra in Washington, D.C.
Cart went to DePauw University on a music scholarship, thanks to
the bassoon, with the intention of majoring in instrumental music.
However, another whim changed his mind and has paid great
“In college, just on a whim, I decided to audition for a musical
and I got the role and enjoyed it so much I decided to be a voice
major,” he said. After DePauw, he obtained a Master of Music
from Indiana University and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in
voice from the University of Maryland.
Today, he teaches full-time and performs with a few operas. He
regularly performs with the Amato Opera in New York, which is
close enough to drive three hours for practice and still maintain
his teaching schedule and care for his newly adopted 8-month-old
son. He’s also performed with the Opera Institute of California,
the Albany Symphony, Baltimore Opera and recently performed at the
Shaker Mountain Music Festival.
His favorite composer to perform is Robert Wagner. “I love to
sing his operas, though he wasn’t a particularly nice person. I
love to sing Russian music,” he said, again noting he doesn’t
speak the language but loves the music. “It’s really
passionate and dramatic so you can sort of let loose and have a
Singing in a language that you don’t speak is rather difficult,
but Cart said his enjoyment of the music outweighs the work. “I
just visualize the words and spend a lot of time learning the word
and the meaning. I have to practice speaking the words like
you’re speaking to someone so I have a sense of what I’m
saying,” he said.
His proud parents will be among those in the audience who make the
trek from Indiana. It will be the first time Alta Cart has seen
her son perform professionally. “So far he’s been doing these
things in Germany, Italy and California. The interesting thing
about all of this is he grew up on a farm, kind of an isolated
farm, in southern Indiana, and it’s a bit unusual,” she said.
“He never feels like what he’s doing is that special, he just
does what he likes.”
Tickets and information about the performance can be accessed on
Carnegie Hall’s Web site at www.carnegiehall.org.