SAN FRANCISCO — Lee Strawn is proving the proverb “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” to be extremely untrue.
The Xenia native is both doing and teaching … and quite well.
The former Shawnee and Central Junior High School student has been a successful voice teacher for more than 30 years — having earned a doctorate and master’s degree from the internationally-renowned Eastman School of Music in New York — and has been on stage a plethora of times, showing off his voice in operas such as “Phantom of the Opera,” “Don Pasquale,” “La Traviata,” and “The Barber of Seville” and musicals “Sweeney Todd” and “Man of La Mancha.”
And on Thursday in San Francisco, he began a three-week run in the 42nd Street Moon’s production of three-time Tony Award winning musical “She Loves Me.” That’s 18 shows (about 2,700 on-stage minutes) while holding down the full-time teaching gig.
“It’s a huge endeavor,” Strawn said by phone from the west coast. “(But) when you love it, it’s easier to do.”
That love began in Greene County when he and his siblings took piano lessons from Marjorie Street.
“That was really a very formative thing for me,” he said, “learning about music and how to do it right.”
As a student at Central, he studied under choir teachers Gary Patterson and Clinton Beane before moving to Mansfield in 1969 as his dad was employed with the highway patrol.
“Wonderful choirs they put on,” said Strawn, who was born in Lima but considers Xenia his hometown.
A bona fide academic, he has taught privately in New York and Chicago and now teaches in downtown San Francisco as well as online. He has taught at the Aspen Music School in Colorado and for 11 years he was a tenured associate professor of voice at Northern Illinois University outside of Chicago. He is currently a member of the faculty of City College San Francisco and the MFA Program at the American Conservatory Theater.
He can trace his impressive teaching pedigree back Patterson and Beane and their approach to the choir.
“It was really caring about what you’re doing and doing it well and right,” Strawn said. “I come from a long (family) line of teachers. It’s a good job to have.”
And according to his students, Strawn is good at his job. Many have posted testimonials on his web page and they are, um, singing his praises.
“I love working with Lee,” posted one student. “He has a strong command of the subject matter and he communicates it so effectively. He understands my individual needs and helps me address them in a positive and fun way.”
“Lee is a wonderful voice teacher,” posted another. “He is affable, funny and always makes lessons seem like fun not work. That said, you will work. His in-depth knowledge of voice mechanics and technique will put you through your paces and teach you how to navigate the most difficult vocals. Lee has helped me recover and expand my voice in ways I never thought possible.”
Strawn was also “highly recommended.”
“I think it comes naturally to me,” he said. “I’ve been pursuing music all my life. Certainly my performing has helped me be a better teacher certainly the other way around.”
He taught strictly in person until COVID. Now it’s all remote.
“The commute is a lot nicer,” Strawn said with a laugh. “No germs. It’s a little trickier with the distance. We make it work. It works out well.”
He coaches singers from as far away as Paris and Hawaii and has seen his former students land roles in operas and musical theaters, much like the ones in which Strawn has been.
In his latest role, he portrays Mr. Maraczek, the owner of a “parfumerie” where employees Amalia and Georg constantly bicker, unbeknownst to either that they have been corresponding via a “lonely hearts” advertisement.
Maraczek also has his demons as his wife is having an affair.
“It’s a sweet story,” Strawn said. “(But) it has its dark stuff too. It’s not just saucy and ‘la la la,’ everything is pleasant. The cast is really strong. It’s a very, very talented group of people. It’s a lot of fun.”
And all that fun has roots in Xenia.
Contact Scott Halasz at 937-502-4507.