The Manhattan School of Music Alumn, Lawrence Harris, has led an exciting life. His passion for music was always there, but his first career path was one not generally thought to be the norm for an Opera singer.
Lawrence Harris’ first career was in the NFL. Yes, you read that correctly, the National Football League. He played on the offensive line for the Houston Oilers, back when the Oilers franchise still existed —since then they have moved and now go under the name of the Tennessee Titans, who are +1200 (in the top 7) to win the AFC.
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If you are not familiar with NFL positions, the offensive line is the big guys up front who protect the quarterback and push the other big guys on defense to make holes for the running backs to run through. In his football days, Harris was a 6’5, 317-pound athlete who played for the Oklahoma State University Cowboy after high schools. He was selected in the back half of the 1976 NFL draft
. Picked up in the 7th round, 196th overall, he wasn’t one of the top prospects.
Back in the day as a rookie, there was a sort of light hazing called ‘Rookie Night.’ It’s an event where all the rookies vying to make the roster put on a show for the veterans of the unit and mostly embarrass themselves. If you’re the No. 1 pick, perhaps you’ll get a pass –-though not likely. When your 196th, there is no way you’re getting a pass. Most rookies step up in front of their new colleagues’ and do silly skits or sing basic kid songs. When Larry Harris’ turn came about, he belted out his favorite Italian classic
. Needless to say, the crowd was awe-stricken. Mouths that were open and ready to receive fork-loads of food hung agape; the eating motion paused mid-movement.
The raw talent for opera was already there. But Lawrence Harris was really good at football. He played for a little over nine years as a pro. This included seven-and-a-half years in the NFL, the biggest stage for the sport that there is, and a year in the CFL, perhaps the second biggest stage, as well as a year in the USFL. But playing as a lineman in the trenches of a war between two sides for years takes its toll. Harris’ injuries started to mount, and after nine-and-a-half years of pro ball, he had to retire.
Retirement can lead to a midlife crisis for those in their 50s or 60s, but what about someone who is only in their early 30s? Are you really ready to take up perpetual fly fishing or golf at that point?
For Larry Harris, football was just a stepping stone into a bountiful career as a baritone. Even the NY Times critics touted him as a major voice.
“It was really something I had to do. I just gravitated towards it. It almost feels like football was kind of a detour for me now.” – Harris in an Interview with Access Athletes
His lead performances in such titles as Rigoletto and La Traviata earned him critical acclaim, awards
, and even grants from the Wagner Society of New York and MOG.
In an interview with eh NY Times, Harris compared the likeness of football and opera by stating, “Physical training, breath control, stamina, discipline, focus, teamwork, a sense of the dramatic translate well to opera.”
But after 30 years as a successful opera singer, Lawrence Harris is pivoting to a new challenge. He has a Masters of Science in Psychology and is working towards becoming a licensed psychologist in the state of New York. As a psychological clinician and vocal therapist, his passion is using aspects of music to remediate communication challenges associated with people on the spectrum (Autism Spectrum Disorder).
There is a lesson to be learned here. If you are an artist, don’t begrudge athletes because they are jocks. If you’re an athlete, don’t look down on artists for appearing to be less physical. In reality, you never know what’s on the inside of a person until they show you. In an interview with the Manhattan School of Music, Harris said — “Every level of football prepared me in important ways, for my singing career, and now for my career as a psychologist. Football taught me to work as part of a team and value the contribution of every member.”
We’ll leave you with that as some food for thought.