Corey Crider is on the brink of what could be an explosive operatic career.
Lauded by the likes of Opera News for his “rich, dark baritone; a sumptuous, steady stream as smooth as silk,” he is rapidly attracting a following throughout the industry for his portrayals of such leading roles as Escamillo in Carmen, Marcello in La bohème, Sharpless in Madama Butterfly, Scarpia in Tosca, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, and Sweeney in Sweeney Todd, among others.
But offstage, away from critical acclaim and the call of the limelight, Crider is simply known as “Dad” to the four children he shares with wife, Michelle: Cade, 10; Grier, 5; Holt, 4; and Rhodes, 1.
Though not unheard of, juggling the demands of a thriving career in the performing arts with raising a family frequently can be a controversial topic among industry professionals, along with posing unique parenting challenges. Some performers risk spending so much time en route to and from engagements that quality time spent with family is a rarity. Others opt to forego marriage and children altogether to focus on honing their craft while developing and maintaining their career.
But, Crider says, choosing one over the other is something he has found to be nothing but a myth.
“Between having kids and not having kids, it was never a question,” the 39-year-old baritone and graduate of the prestigious Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago says. “And, it was never something that was calculated. We didn’t want a career to prevent us from having a family. So, Michelle and I decided that we’d just let things go and see how they went. We always knew we wanted a family. We knew it was going to be hard. But the fact that it was going to be hard didn’t make us afraid. Michelle and I got married because we actually like each other and like being around each other. We didn’t get married to be apart, and we didn’t have children so that we couldn’t raise them. Not having children was never something that was on the table. And I imagine that if we would have waited and not been able to have had children, we would have adopted.”
Recently wrapping up the first half of his first full performance season—“I had breaks but no holes, which is a good place to be,” Crider says—going on the road in the name of making music has become a family affair. When Crider is booked for an operatic role or concert performance—as he recently was for Handel’s Messiah in Jacksonville, Florida—his family accompanies him. The children are homeschooled, attend Crider’s performances, and revel and learn in the surrounding community—wherever that community might be.
That’s the way it has been since 2005. When Crider was training with various Young Artist Programs and completing his artist diploma, along came a bouncing baby boy named Cade.
The Start of a Family and a Career
Crider and Michelle—who also has a background in classical voice—were five years into their marriage when Cade was born. And, in an ironic twist of fate, the couple’s familial beginnings were perfectly aligned with the beginnings of Crider’s performance career.
“What’s interesting is that my family started around the same time it was becoming evident that [singing] would become the thing that I’d be doing,” Crider says. “I spent a lot of time as a young artist before eventually getting a manager and gaining the interest of people in the industry.”
However, it wasn’t long into Crider’s professional career that the time demands of the profession became evident.
“I was just finishing up as a young artist in Miami, before being accepted into Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center,” Crider recalls. “I was talking with a singer about how much time he divided between traveling for his career and being home; it wasn’t much time at home. The idea of me being away all the time and home so infrequently—maybe two months out of the year—was just out of the question.”
And, so, the decision was made.
By the time Cade was 2, the couple had decided to lay the groundwork to implement homeschooling.
The Road as a Classroom
When Cade was 4, the couple welcomed Grier, followed by Rhodes and Holt.
Today, the family of six hits the road together, with the backdrop of each community Crider calls his temporary home during rehearsals and performances serving as a kind of classroom.
“We’ll add things like the local libraries, museums, galleries, and other places of interest and historic significance to the curriculum we’ve developed for the kids,” Crider says. “Many libraries will offer a temporary library card for visitors, which we always take advantage of during our time wherever we happen to be. Michelle is a saint and is a huge part of this operation. She’s not only ‘Mom’ but she’s their teacher. During longer performance stretches, she’ll take the kids out from the hotel in the morning so Dad can get some sleep. The kids kind of know when it’s time to let Dad get ready for his performances.”
Upon his hiring, companies are made aware that Crider will arrive with his family in tow and make accommodations accordingly to help meet the family’s needs.
“All we really need is a good Internet connection, so we can hook up the kids’ school work,” Crider says. “Of course, it’s always ideal, for those longer engagements, if we can have enough hotel space. But we’ve learned to pack very minimal and do a little more laundry.”
It’s an arrangement that has been made all the more possible by company and even patron support.
“To my surprise, companies have been very supportive and very positive, and that’s great to see,” Crider says. “Traditionally, I think the perception has been that companies aren’t always as kind or as willing to be supportive of singers with families, and that’s not the right mentality for the survival of the industry. But I think they see the good in what Michelle and I are trying to do.”
And despite the misconception of children who are homeschooled not having the same social opportunities that other kids might have in a traditional classroom setting, Crider says that’s lost on his children.
“We’ll be at a gathering after a performance, and there are my older kids—3, 4, and 10—holding court with the singers from the chorus or the musicians from the orchestra. It’s a real joy to see,” Crider says, with a chuckle. “They are very socially adept. They have amazing opportunities to not only get a well rounded and unique education, but they get to meet and interact with really wonderful people from all over the world. And, they get to be raised in theater, surrounded by so much richness, beauty, and creativity.”
A Future in Opera?
The influence of music and theater is, without a doubt, meaningful to these young minds. One need look no further than Crider’s eldest son to see it.
“I think it’s amazing,” Cade says of getting the chance to see his dad perform on stage. “I feel like I have a very special childhood. Traveling is fun. I get to see a lot of great things. I think I’ll look back when I grow up and think that I’ve gotten to do a lot of things that other kids will never get the chance to do.”
Recently taking up singing in a children’s chorus in the family’s hometown of Marion, Kentucky, Cade has his sights set on following in his father’s footsteps. He’s gotten a head start, treading the boards with Crider in La bohème and L’elisir d’amore, in addition to performing in Amahl and the Night Visitors.
“I think I’d definitely like to be a singer too,” Cade says.
“I’m still trying to talk him out of it,” Crider jokes.
At the End of the Day . . .
When the curtain falls and the Crider family checks out of the hotel and piles into the family van to head home, Crider says it never fails to occur to him how fortunate he is or how grateful.
“It can be done, one step at a time,” he says of balancing a performance career with a family. “It’s the kind of thing where you meet singers with big careers who say they’ve chosen that over having a family. Some have this tacit look in their eyes. They chose because they believed they had to in order to give 100 percent of themselves in front of the curtain every night. There’s others that do try to balance it and end up, in some twisted way, resenting their children for it. But then there’s the other side of the coin—what might have been. To think that you can’t have both is simply a lie. It’s not easy. But it’s not impossible.”
Aside from company and patron support there is also the advent of technology, which has lent Crider a hand when it comes to auditioning.
“There is so much you can do now with YouTube and recording,” Crider says.
He also has the support of his parents, who also reside in Marion and who—in addition to offering to assist Crider in flying him to audition hubs like New York City when needed—maintain a close relationship with their grandchildren.
“I think I do a better job because of my family,” Crider says of his family’s influence over his career and life. “I don’t carry around the same insecurities in terms of constantly being worried about how I sing or what I sound like. Granted, anyone can have them, and we all judge how we sound. But for me, singing facilitates and supports the life I have with my family. It’s not my life.”
And while Crider says it certainly might have been easier to turn away from singing, that—like passing on the opportunity for a family—was never an option either.
“I’m not a Plan B kind of guy,” Crider says, with a laugh. “But I wouldn’t trade any part of my family for any amount of success. Without them, I don’t know where I’d be. To be able to come home to a family and kiss my kids on the forehead at the end of the day instead of coming home to an empty hotel room, I’m rewarded. I’m more myself, am more grounded in real life, and am better for Michelle and my children because of that and not the parameters of my job, even though it’s a job I love. I do the best I can—and I do it all for them.”
To learn more about Crider and his upcoming performance engagements, visit www.facebook.com/coreycriderbaritone or follow him on Twitter @BravoCCRider.