Campus & Community

The Big Picture

3 min read

Logan McCarty: Opera singer, chemist

Logan McCarty takes notes in the chemistry lab.

Goodbye chemistry, hello opera! Logan McCarty, resident tutor at Eliot House and a one-time Ph.D. candidate in chemistry, is forsaking his former field to become an opera singer. A ’96 Harvard graduate who received his master’s in 1998, Logan will be leaving Eliot House after this year to professionally pursue his passion for singing.

This seemingly radical career change is no impetuous flight of fancy – McCarty has been singing since he was a boy. At Harvard he sang with the Glee Club for seven years. While he was performing a small role for a Gilbert and Sullivan production, a fellow cast member suggested he sing for her teacher at the Longy School of Music. McCarty did so, and the response was, “Great! Come to Longy and I’ll give you a scholarship!” He took a leave from the chemistry department to attend music school (though he remained the Eliot tutor for chemistry) and appeared in his first professional opera in 1999, with the Cape Cod Opera in Harwich. His new career had begun.

The transformation was not without some turbulence. His parents, both academics, had more traditional expectations for their son. But there was precedent for such a change within the family. Logan’s younger brother entered Harvard in 1996, then left after three months to play double bass at the New England Conservatory. Logan remembers his parents telling him, “At least you’ve got a Harvard degree to fall back on.” The comment reflected an understandable concern – only 2 percent of music school graduates actually perform music for a living (as opposed to teaching or working in the producing of music).

Perhaps more unsettling to McCarty were the responses of many of his colleagues and former classmates, who had trouble comprehending why anyone so close to his doctorate and a comfortable career track would throw it all away. Some, he recalls, genuinely questioned his sanity. McCarty notes the contrast between these responses and those of some older people he talked to, people already well-established in their careers. These folks generally advised him to take the risk, saying that they sometimes wondered what might have been had they followed their dreams instead of pursuing the more traveled path.

For McCarty, his decision wasn’t so much a change of heart as a recognition of his true heart. Music is what he is most passionate about. Happily, despite the discouragement of some, his chemistry adviser was supportive, saying he would always be welcomed back, but to follow his passion, wherever it led.

That passion leads now to a large unknown, with the assured anxiety of low pay and unsteady employment. “I’m not sure I want to lead the life of a freelancer,” McCarty admits, “But I’ll give myself three or four years – until I’m 30 and my voice matures – before knowing if I can have a career in opera. Then I’ll do a self-evaluation.” If the past is any indication, Logan McCarty will have success in his newly chosen field – and he will not have to second-guess himself about what might have been if only he pursued his dream and took the path less traveled.