"I'm a singer first, actor second, dancer never." - Philip Himebook
Say, "Hello!" to Opera Memphis Company Artist Philip Himebook. A tenor who grew up in Huntsville, AL and Atlanta, GA, and a self-proclaimed rookie in the professional opera realm, Himebook grew up surrounded by music. His parents both have degrees in Music Education, his mother's parents were symphony musicians (violin and cello), his father's father was a member of the United States Army Chorus, and he and his siblings all performed with their parents in "the family band."
"Growing up it was, 'You will take piano and you will take voice, and what other instrument would you like to play?' I was six, and I picked trombone because my dad played the trombone."
The family toured performing brass quartet shows until Himebook was 11 years old. His father had signed the family up for a bluegrass festival and handed Himebook his first guitar. He learned four chords, twenty songs, and the family brass quartet became a bluegrass band with his father on banjo, Himebook on guitar, and his siblings playing spoons and penny whistle.
"Music was...how my family bonded. We would tour, we would do conferences all over the Mid-South. I didn't really know a time when I wasn't on stage, performing music, but I didn't study opera until I came to [the University of Memphis] in 2010...My mom would play her V.H.S. copy of Three Tenors on the television while she would do laundry, and I'd stand in the middle of the room and belt out the songs, but I'd never even considered performing opera."
After completing his undergraduate education at Toccoa Falls College in northeast Georgia, Himebook moved to Memphis to pursue his master's degree at U of M. It was here when he was first encouraged to consider pursuing opera from one of his professors. Himebook then auditioned and was cast in operas such as The Crucible, Idomeneo, Summer and Smoke, Don Carlo, Tenderland, and many others. His journey to receiving his degree has had it's fair share of challenges and pitfalls, though, some of which had Himebook stepping away completely for a few years, but thanks to generous sponsors and the support of his wife, he is back on track to graduate in the spring of 2019.
During his time off from school, Himebook kept himself busy with musical theatre productions in the area. His extensive resume covers all the major players in the Memphis theatre scene: Playhouse on the Square (Les Misérables), Circuit Playhouse (Assassins), Germantown Community Theatre (Ring of Fire), Theatre Memphis (The Producers, Into the Woods), The Harrell Performing Arts Theatre (Beauty and the Beast), and DeSoto Family Theatre (Secret Garden) just to name a few.
It was during the production of Les Mis at Playhouse where Himebook first met Ned Canty, Executive Director of Opera Memphis, and heard about the company artist program. "Opera has always been that 'unfinished business' chapter in my life," says Himebook. He ultimately took that leap of faith into the professional opera world and views his time with Opera Memphis like the physical conditioning a 5k runner undergoes to train for a marathon.
"I'm in a room with all my heroes! Chelsea Miller, for example - I'm such a fan. I remember seeing her in shows and thinking, 'Wow, she's good,' and now I walk into rehearsal and it's like (giggles) 'There she is!' And she's very gracious about it (laughs)...I think this is a priviledge, so I'm honored to be a part of it."
And even though Himebook can't say for sure where his professional opera career may be headed, he knows with absolute certainty that music will always be a part of his life.
"Music breaks down walls...I see music as something that can be used so powerfully to unite people, to cease division. I mean, good heavens! Walk into a crowd of people and hum the first part of Bohemian Rhapsody or Hey Jude or something, immediately everyone's going to jump in and you've automatically taken a million different views on how life should be lived and united them, because music has connected them."