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MIT retirement benefits assistant sings National Anthem at Commencement

CAMBRIDGE, MA--Benefits manager by day, baritone by night.

Philip Lima, MIT assistant benefits manager for retirement programs, combined both careers by performing the National Anthem for the first time in public at Commencement.

To prepare for the performance, Mr. Lima said, "I read and re-read the poem, so I could communicate its message. Its original intent -- to inspire patriotic fervor, perseverance and determination to overcome obstacles -- comes through a very powerful text. Then, I had to make it feel fresh and new."

Mr. Lima, who has worked at MIT since 1994, returned to singing about nine years ago, taking up once again a youthful joy. The New Bedford native sang in choirs at school and in his family church, St. Lawrence Parish.

He received the BA in literature from Yale University and played the viola in the Yale Symphony Orchestra. He is an alumnus of the Tanglewood Music Center, and is a master's degree candidate at Boston University's School for the Arts where he has received the Vocal Achievement Award. His teachers have included Richard Conrad and Phyllis Curtin.

His musical approach to the National Anthem draws on his own extensive performances in recent years and on the inspiration of Robert Merrill, an American opera singer of the 1940s and 1950s whose renditions of patriotic songs were "stirring, heartfelt and gloriously sung." Mr. Merrill's version of the National Anthem was a staple before New York Yankee games at Yankee Stadium.

"The Star Spangled Banner," noted Mr. Lima, uses "techniques long associated with eliciting a sense of grandeur. The long musical distances within the anthem -- distances in which a low tone gradually climbs, so the phrase ends with a high tone -- can give a sense of traveling a long way emotionally."

Thus, the music can have a powerful effect on listeners who may not know or understand the English lyrics.

Mr. Lima credits the support of "family, friends, and my colleagues at MIT" for helping him pursue his growing musical career.

Mr. Lima was a finalist in the 1995 New England Metropolitan Opera Auditions, as well as a recent national finalist in both the National Association of Teachers of Singing's Artist Award Competition and the Joy in Singing Award competition. In December, 1994, Mr. Lima made his debut at Carnegie Hall's Weill Recital Hall in a concert of recent winners of the Leontyne Price Vocal Arts Competition.

Mr. Lima's diverse opera credits include appearances as Germont and Baron Douphol in La traviata with Faith Esham at Opera North, as well as Parson Alltalk in the New England stage premiere of Scott Joplin's Treemonisha. During the 1995 96 season he appeared as the Surgeon in La forza del destino with legendary bass Jerome Hines, as Zuniga in Carmen with Longwood Opera, and as Jake in Porgy and Bess with Boston's Opera unMet at Jordan Hall.

In 1995 96 concert performances he appeared as soloist with conductors Murray Forbes Somerville, F. John Adams, and Allen Lannom in performances of Elijah, Messiah, and selections from Copland's Old American Songs.

During the 1996 97 season Mr. Lima made his debut with Boston Lyric Opera as Sciarrone in Tosca, appeared as the title character in The Mikado with Boston Academy of Music, and performed as a soloist with Boston Baroque and the Boston Cecilia.

On July 4, Mr. Lima will appear in a Pops Concert with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, to be held outdoors at UMass/No. Dartmouth. In August, he will perform in Boston at the Hatch Shell with Opera unMet, led by Marshall Hughes, MIT Program Administrator for Undergraduate Academic Affairs.

The Boston Globe has praised Mr. Lima for his "big, wide ranging instrument of individual and beautiful timbre...and highly developed instincts of a musician and an artist."

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