Campus Closeup: Rob Engelhart

With a mom who plays the piano and a dad who sings, it’s no surprise that Rob Engelhart (Music) showed an early interest in music. He sang in his church choir and had piano lessons by the time he was in second grade. He was also strongly influenced by his brother, who played the violin.


“It just stuck in my brain that music was important,” he said. “The school that I went to had a music program, and I just flowed right into it. Music just seemed to be where my aptitude was.”


Although Engelhart is primarily a singer and has been teaching singing courses at NMU for 20 years, he didn’t specialize in voice until the end of his freshman year of college. “I was a clarinet player throughout school and majored in it during college,” he said. “Singing was always just something I did on the side.”


Originally from Grosse Pointe Woods, Engelhart was halfway through his doctorate at Ohio State University when he began teaching at NMU. “I had all of my course work done when I applied to teach at NMU. Technically speaking, it’s called ‘ABD’—All But Dissertation. It’s not uncommon for people to take jobs at this stage.”


He added that it took him an additional three years to finally complete his dissertation. “Getting on your feet as a college teacher, having a young family and doing extensive research for a Ph.D. all at the same time was quite challenging, but I was satisfied with the decision that I made.”


The highlight of Engelhart’s career came in 1995, when he co-wrote the musical “Haywire” with Shelley Russell (Communication and Performance Studies). The musical received regional and national honors in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, and won the grand prize of being performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington.


“It was the musical equivalent of the football team winning the national championship,” he said. “It was a big deal for me.”


Engelhart has also created the tradition of having an annual comedic opera performance at NMU. For the past three years, he has selected Gilbert and Sullivan productions, starting with “The Pirates of Penzance” in 2002.


A Gilbert and Sullivan opera will take the stage again later this month. “Patience,” a satire about the aesthetic poetry movement, first opened in 1881 and ran for 578 performances.  Engelhart said that these “light” operas—full, comedic operas with orchestra accompanimentmake sense for Marquette’s audience.


“When building an opera presence, you want to have a good audience.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s plays are funny, performed in English, not boring, and less strenuous on young singers. All of those things are important to incorporate when you’re just getting started in the opera area,” he said.


Although Gilbert and Sullivan wrote a total of 14 light operas, Engelhart said that after this year, there are probably only three more that he’d like to bring to NMU. “After that, the operas will still remain light and comedic,” he said. “Due to the strain that it would bring upon the music department’s overall resources, I don’t think that we could do a grand opera like ‘Carmen’ or ‘Madame Butterfly.’”


“Patience” will be performed May 18-20 at Forest Roberts Theatre. Tickets are $13 for adults and $8 for senior citizens and children under 13.


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Updated: May 5, 2006

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