Lawrence Harris: From NFL Player to Opera Singer to Vocal Therapist

Alumnus Lawrence Harris (’94) began his career as an offensive lineman with the Houston Oilers. After his career with the NFL was cut short due to injuries, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in opera. His singing career has spanned over 30 years. Mr. Harris has performed with Houston Grand Opera, San Antonio Opera, Hawaii Opera, Fort Worth Opera, Opera North, appeared at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, and won awards and grants from the Metropolitan Opera Guild as well as the Wagner Society of New York. Lawrence stepped back on the playing field in 2013 to give his highly acclaimed rendition of our national anthem for the World Champion Green Bay Packers. In 2014, his CD recording Romanze: Songs of Tosti was named Native American Music Awards Record of the Year.

Lawrences career has recently taken a new direction. In 2016, he completed a Master of Science degree in Psychology and is now practicing at the Montefiore Medical Center, Department of Neurology, Autism and Communication Disorders. He co-authored Prosody Intervention for High-Functioning Adolescents and Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder, a book to help autistic young adults find their voice and improve their speech prosody using opera singing techniques. We asked Lawrence some questions about his newest career: 

Tell us about your work as a psychologist and vocal therapist at the Montefiore Center for Communication Disorders and Autism.

With a Master of Science degree in Psychology, I have been able to reach my goal of helping individuals with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Along with my work as psychological clinician and vocal therapist, I also administer neuropsychological tests, in order to gain a necessary knowledge of these disorders. My work involves remediating deficits in timbre, volume, melody, and rhythm within the speech of individuals with autism. I create interventions that teach effective communication skills by using rules and physical sensations associated with verbal and nonverbal communication. 

What is one of your goals in your newest profession?

One of my five-year goals is to become a New York State licensed psychologist, allowing me the opportunity to help these teens with ASD to achieve their potential, produce positive impressions, and transition into a productive adult life where they will serve their communities.

How did your football and opera careers impact or prepare you in your current work? 

Every level of football prepared me in important ways, for my singing career, and now for my career as a psychologist. Football taught me to work as part of a team and value the contribution of every member. This is an essential lesson, necessary to be effective when working as a psychologist with a multidisciplinary evaluation and treatment team, which includes clinical and administrative staff members, teachers, counselors, school staff members, and community service providers.

My careers in football and singing (spending thousands of hours in the vocal studio) served to help me understand the workings of the human anatomy. This gave me the knowledge and ability to analyze motor behaviors and how to communicate important methodological concepts, as clinician and as presenter/lecturer, for autism conferences. Practically speaking, the opera stage and the NFL arena are places where, as a lifelong student, I was also given the opportunity to learn about the concerns of the human psyche, including sociological, biological, behavioral and emotional.

Why did you decide to attend MSM?  

I went to MSM because I liked the instructors and the family atmosphere. Considering that I came in as an atypical voice student, my experience there gave me the opportunity to share my talents with the community on many levels. I was able to build a vocal technique that would serve me as an international singer.

What is your favorite MSM memory?  

My favorite MSM memory was hiding out with Renee [wife and MSM alumna] in the balcony of Borden Auditorium where Luciano Pavarotti was rehearsing for his Central Park concert. 

Do you continue to keep music in your life? If so, how? 

Music has and will always be in my life and in the life of my family. All three of my children are talented musically. My two children here in New York are both auditioning for MSM this year. My son, Quintin, age 17, is a jazz musician (piano and voice) and my daughter, Sydney, age 20, is a young dramatic soprano, studying the operatic repertoire.

What is something surprising people may not know about you? 

While playing in the NFL, during my off-season I worked on offshore rigs, beginning as a roughneck [oil rig worker] and advancing to the derrickman/assistant driller drilling directional wells, preventing blowouts, and monitoring poisonous hydrogen sulfide wells. Working on one of the rigs 300 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, I had an epiphany and decided I'd rather be an opera singer.

Name something outside of music and your career that you are passionate about? 

My favorite “other thing” to do is hang out with all three of my children.

What career and life advice would you give to new grads entering the “real world”?

Be curious.