Every Edmontonian knows that this is an exciting time for the Oilers, having finally made it back into their first playoff series after 11 long years.
One Edmontonian who’s become the centre of attention is Robert Clark, a graduate of the U of A Department of Music. He is the official Oilers singer of the national anthem who, on April 12 at game 1 against the San Jose Sharks, quickly went viral online after turning the anthem over to 18,000 fans in Rogers Stadium.
Next to breaking their 11-year drought, Robert’s stunt was the most powerful moment in recent Oilers history, because the last time the Oilers had been in the playoffs was also when the late Paul Lorieau — who had sang the anthem for the Oilers for 30 years — also turned the anthem over to the fans, so it was a fitting tribute.
Amidst hundreds of interview requests from all over North America including CBC and USA Today about his newfound viral fame, Robert kindly made time to chat with me about it.
“When [the Oilers and I] were discussing what I was going to do for the anthem, they brought me in and they said ‘we’re going to do something that’s never been done before: we’re going to put you in with the fans, you’re going to be wearing an Oilers jersey (normally I’d be wearing a suit and tie), you’re going to start the anthem, you’re going to hold up the mic and let the fans take over.'”
“I honestly had no idea how big it was going to be in the sports world.”
Born in southern Alberta, Robert credits his father for introducing him to classical music as he was growing up. Playing the clarinet and other instruments from grade 6 to 12, Robert didn’t actually start singing until high school.
“Grade 10 was when I joined choir, only because they had no men. I kind of got lured slash bribed into it, but I discovered really quickly that I enjoyed singing.”
Flash forward to the U of A, when Robert enrolled in Education to teach music at the high school level. In his first year, he started taking voice lessons, and that’s when he found a connection with singing, and discovered opera.
“My love for opera wasn’t… immediate,” he laughs. “It took a while.”
Under Leonard Ratzlaff, Robert sang with the Madrigal Singers, and credits Ratzlaff for teaching him so much about musicality.
His love for choral music and opera grew to the point where Robert switched from Education to Music Performance after his first year, and eventually graduated with his Music degree.
After pursuing his Masters at the University of Western Ontario, Robert moved back to Alberta to do an apprenticeship with Calgary Opera, and has been performing professionally ever since.
Robert eventually returned to Edmonton with his family and performed in several shows with Edmonton Opera.
Then, in 2013, he got the call.
The Oilers were looking for a successor to the great Paul Lorieau, and Edmonton Opera had suggested Robert. The audition process began with Robert sending the Oilers recordings of him singing both the Canadian and American national anthems.
“Then they called me in to test me inside Rexall Place, and basically the rest is history.”
Since singing with the Oilers isn’t a full time gig, Robert is able to continue performing with other groups like Edmonton Opera, Vocal Alchemy, and Chronos Vocal Ensemble, with whom he has his season finale performance on May 7.
Robert looks back warmly on his time at the U of A.
“Everything that happened there was a new experience for me. I look back very fondly on my years at the U of A and everything I learned there,” he says. “Had I chosen something else, I would not be where I am today, so I owe a lot of that to the instruction and the passion I felt from the teachers there.”