Bethel College has officially extended its reach into the Amazon. Well, amazon.com, that is. Bethel alumnus Jared Schwartz recently released an album that reached #2 in the Amazon Hot New Releases category and reached #7 on the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart, topping Renee Fleming, who sang at the Super Bowl in 2014. Her album reached #15. The album, released by Toccata Classics (London) and distributed internationally by Naxos, consists of 25 songs by French composer Gabriel Fauré. The album is unique as it is the only time a bass voice has recorded Fauré’s songs in a bass voice. Also, two of the songs are in completely new versions that have never been recorded. Schwartz’s singing career began early. Quite early, in fact. He first performed in second grade when he was in a small production of the musical “Heidi.” “(I) was one of the Swiss boys in the town that yodeled or did some other Swiss kind of thing,” wrote Schwartz in an email conversation. “I also grew up very involved in my church's music program, playing piano solos, violin or horn in the orchestra, leading worship in my youth group (and) going to CDYC...very much a Missionary Church kid!” After moving on from his musical theatre career, Schwartz attended Butler University as a “pre-med, chemistry, French horn and piano major.” He later transferred to Bethel halfway through his freshman year to be involved in the Toradze Piano Studio at Indiana University’s South Bend campus. While at Bethel, he was involved in many musicals, a gospel team and was in a chapel band with Shawn Holtgren. Schwartz also accompanied voice lessons for music faculty member Vicky Garrett, and after a wrist injury sidelined Schwartz’s piano playing, he decided to sign up for voice lessons with Garrett. “I cannot overstate how important Vicky Garrett is in my life,” Schwartz wrote. “God used her to challenge and encourage me to go for this singing thing. I really had no idea it was possible but she knew and supported me in any way she could!” After taking lessons from Garrett for a few years, Schwartz auditioned for a Master’s program in voice at Eastman School of Music. He was accepted, and continued to pursue singing as his career. He currently takes periodic lessons from David Jones in New York City, and has also studied in Europe with coaches such as Jory Vinikour and Richard Bonynge. Making the album was quite the endeavor for Schwartz, since 23 of the 25 songs are in French, and the other two are in Italian. Schwartz has been working on learning all the pieces beginning in July of 2014. He performed 12 in a recital in October of the same year, and worked on the last 13 before his recording session in February of this year. Another thing that made production a bit more complicated was that the songs weren’t originally written for a bass voice, and thus had to be transposed into a lower key. “It is a team effort entirely,” wrote Schwartz of his coworkers, “from my producers and engineers to my photographers and video guys, to the guy that had to transpose a lot of the songs into the lower keys for me. I could never do it on my own---they make everything easier, for sure!” Schwartz shared another difficult part of making the album, and it was one that I wasn’t expecting to hear: “The hardest part, besides all the hours of study and preparation, is probably putting my worth in how God sees me and not how others might comment on my music or singing,” he wrote to me. “Anyone that steps out and puts themselves out there to make art of any kind is also putting themselves out there to possibly be rejected or harshly criticized. I just have to remind myself daily of what is true and step out in courage to do the things God has called me to do.” But those comments don’t seem to be leaning in a negative way at all. As well as the album’s aforementioned high spot on online lists, Schwartz mentioned that his listeners, which range from French song experts to newcomers to the genre, really seem to be enjoying the music. “The best compliment I've had is when (a) native Frenchman (listened) to it and (thought I was) French!” he wrote. When I asked about Schwartz’s favorite track on the album, he mentioned that he loves them all. But he went on to illustrate just how much these pieces went beyond the music, telling me a story of when he recorded the song “Prison” in one take. “After we finished it, we felt like something special had happened. I'll never forget Roy, the pianist for the album, shedding tears when he heard our performance back in the headphones. It was a special moment of two artist just committing to the moment and the music and the text in a way that I think would honor the composer's intentions.” After quite a process, and a few memories along the way, the album was finished. Schwartz had a lot to say about that process and how it affected him. It looks like his work has been appreciated on the Amazon frontier.