Vince McPherson is proud to be a member of one of the most successful men’s tennis teams in Elmhurst College history, but tennis was hardly at the top of his list of reasons for enrolling at Elmhurst four years ago.
The senior music business major from Glen Ellyn says he came to Elmhurst because it was the best place for him to pursue his dream of becoming a professional opera singer. The fact that he could keep competing in the sport he loved was just a bonus.
And then there was one more factor that made Elmhurst an intriguing choice for McPherson: He knew the College’s tennis coach pretty well. Anthony McPherson, now in his seventh year leading the Bluejays, is Vince’s older brother.
“He’s incredibly talented, to be able to balance school and tennis and his music the way he does,” the older McPherson says of his little brother. “It’s the kind of thing you could only do at a school like Elmhurst, where you get so many opportunities to grow in so many ways.”
His twin talents have kept the younger McPherson very busy during his time at Elmhurst. In addition to singing in a number of the College’s ensembles, Vince has sung professionally in musical theatre productions, beginning with his turn as Benjamin in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at Aurora’s Paramount Theatre three years ago. Since then he has sung roles in Miss Saigon, Grease and other Broadway musicals at Chicago-area theatres.
At the same time, he has been part of a remarkable turnaround in the Bluejays’ tennis program, which has transformed itself from perennial also-ran to conference power. In 2013, the team won its first College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin men’s tennis championship since 1954.
Finding time for both his sport and his singing has not always been easy. Nine-to-five rehearsal schedules, as many as eight shows in a week, a full load of classes, tennis practice: the demands on McPherson can seem relentless at times.
“It’s a complete juggling act,” he says. “But it has also been a huge learning experience and I have had a blast.”
One of the skills McPherson has mastered is the art of getting from, say, a choir rehearsal to a tennis match in record time.
“I’ve become really good at costume changes,” he laughs. “That’s the story of my life, running from one thing to the next, changing from my tux to my tennis uniform. Sometimes I think the back seat of my car is the best changing room there is.”
Playing for his older brother has also required some flexibility. Anthony, a standout player who earned all-conference honors three times during his Elmhurst career from 2004 to 2007 before becoming the team’s head coach the year after his graduation, says he didn’t recruit his younger brother to play tennis at the College. His reasoning: He didn’t want Vince to feel pressured to follow his collegiate path. In the end, it was Elmhurst’s offer of a music scholarship that helped bring the younger McPherson to the College. Both brothers now say that Vince’s choice has turned out to be a good one.
Not that the relationship doesn’t feature its share of brotherly disagreements.
“I’ve had to censor myself a few times at practices because I know I can’t talk to my coach like he’s my brother,” Vince says. “So I bite my tongue and we work it out later at the house. I think we’ve found a good balance.”
“I’m probably harder on him than anybody else on the team,” he says. “And he’s handled all the ups and downs very well.”
(The McPhersons aren’t the only brother act on the Bluejays tennis team. Senior all-conference honoree Will Jung—a tri-captain along with Vince McPherson and senior Alex Harbert—is the younger brother of assistant coach Andrew Jung.)
Vince McPherson has been playing tennis since he was seven, but it wasn’t until a friend convinced him to audition for a middle-school production of Guys and Dolls that he discovered his vocal talent. Voice lessons introduced him to opera, and McPherson was soon spending hours searching YouTube for clips of performers like Placido Domingo singing arias.
“The first time I heard a recording of Pavarotti singing a high note, I thought, ‘That’s awesome; that guy is screaming at the top of his lungs!’” says the young tenor. McPherson became known among his circle of friends in west suburban Glen Ellyn as the resident opera buff. “The joke was that if you heard a car coming with the windows down and opera blasting, you knew it was me,” he laughs.
At around the same time, his older brother was working to breathe life into an Elmhurst tennis program that had not known success for decades. After Anthony took over the coaching job at his alma mater, he continued to play in professional tournaments, using the tournaments as an opportunity to build connections with youth coaches and instructors. Those relationships helped McPherson attract more talented players to Elmhurst. Recruiting Harbert and Jung, a pair of highly regarded high school players from Michigan, four years ago turned out to be a turning point for the program.
“We needed some prime players to build the program around,” the coach says. “Getting Alex and Will was big. Now we have the deepest talent we’ve ever had at Elmhurst.”
Vince McPherson is already looking forward to auditioning for vocal apprenticeship programs—like the prestigious Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago—after he graduates in February of 2015. But for now, he is focused on delivering an encore on the tennis courts, by helping the Bluejays win a second conference championship.
McPherson still remembers the thrill of finding out that his singles victory in the conference finals against Wheaton College last spring had clinched a conference title for the Bluejays. It’s a feeling he would like to experience once more in this, his final season of tennis at Elmhurst.
“I’d like to help our team make history again by winning conference and qualifying for nationals,” he says.
No Elmhurst men’s tennis team has ever qualified for national competition. “To be able to do that with this group of guys would be special, because we’ve all become so close and worked so hard.”
For an aspiring tenor and tennis player, that would be the grandest of finales.