The Sunday Football-Related Music Post

In last week’s post  I laid out, in mind-numbing detail, just how difficult it is to combine music and football. So I’m unlikely to find current football players who are doing any music as more than an avocation, although I will continue to try.

But I do have for you today a young man who played in the NFL, albeit for a short time, and became a professional musician afterwards.

And talk about irony—he played for both the (real) Cleveland Browns and the newly minted Baltimore Ravens. Fortunately he didn’t manage the trifecta and play for Cincinnati as well, or I would have had to seriously reconsider this post.

Ta’u Papu’a was drafted in the fifth round in 1995 as a DT but played defensive end under head coach Bill Belichick. Wait—maybe this is already the trifecta. But I’m committed now…

It was not a good year for the Browns—they went 5-11, which put them in fourth place in the AFC Central, just one spot above the Jacksonville Jaguars.

I was also not a good year for Papu’a, who sustained two injuries to the same foot which shattered the arch. After rehabbing he played in the CFL for a time to get back into shape at Belichick’s suggestion. But he didn’t make the Ravens roster, and presumably spent the 1997 season on the scout team, where he was injured again.

He had always loved to sing, and decided that he would dedicate himself to a singing career. After about ten years of singing small roles at undistinguished venues, between being working at an upscale restaurant, he had the good fortune to meet Kiri Te Kanawa, the famous New Zealand soprano. She recognized a wonderful voice hampered by a lack of technique, and took him over to the Juilliard School of Music to sing for the head of the vocal department. They offered him a full scholarship, and the rest is history, I suppose you could say. Although that history is still being written.

Papu’a has been written up in numerous prestigious publications in the past five years, but here’s his story as he tells it himself:

You can read more about his journey on his website.

Here’s a very recent video of him in concert in New York City:

And here’s why, according to this article in the Telegraph (UK), American football and opera are a match made in heaven:

Music and sport have a deep affinity, shown by the fact we use the word ‘play’ for both activities. As Pupu’a himself points out, opera and football have much in common, beyond tearful fans and hyper-inflated pay. “You need to pace yourself, so you don’t over-sing or blow yourself out in the first quarter,” he told The Times. “You don’t go out and party the night before. The diet is the same. You learn how to sing with finesse and with power and the same time deliver a message.”

These affinities are borne out by the psychology of so-called ‘peak performance’. Opera and sport both require the ability to raise performance to stellar levels, and numerous studies have shown that character attributes play a much bigger role in this process than native talent…

This long, patient effort has to be applied in two areas; working on skills and increasing the knowledge-base. You don’t meet great football players who know nothing about the history of football, or great violinists who are ignorant about harmony. Also the effort has to be sustained over a prolonged period. Ten years is typically required to achieve real excellence across all kinds of skills, from chess to surgery to piano-playing.

There’s lots more in this excellent article, and I highly recommend you check it out.

And finally, just so you understand the psychology of tenors, here’s a video of a piece written and performed by American tenor Russell Andrade. It’s hilarious and revealing:

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