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Law school offers classical singer a chance to give performers more legal leverage

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An underappreciated benefit of a legal education is being part of a peer group with varied educational backgrounds and professional pursuits. There’s no such thing as a typical law student.

Law schools attract engineers, physicians, PhDs, and social scientists; traditional students and mid-career professionals. But even within this diverse group, Christian Ketter stands out. Ketter is a 3L at The John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

A Chicagoland native and the son of a lawyer, law school doesn’t seem like a particularly surprising place for Ketter to be. But how Ketter got there is unexpected. Ketter is a professionally trained classical singer and pianist.

His interest in classical music began in high school; he studied as a baritone under Sherrill Milnes, an internationally acclaimed operatic baritone who was associated with New York City’s Metropolitan Opera for more than three decades.

A little torts, a little Verdi

By the time he arrived at DePaul University as an undergraduate, Ketter was serious about a career in classical music, taking five lessons a week to hone his craft. “Hard work surpasses talent 9 times out of 10, maybe 10 out of 10,” he said.

That hard work paid off. Awards and honors quickly came his way, including the Freidrich Schorr American Prize in opera and selection as a 2013 international finalist in the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Lotte Lenya competition.

That success has brought Ketter to some of the world’s biggest stages. He made his Carnegie Hall debut in 2014 as part of “The Song Continues” with Marilyn Horne, a legendary mezzo-soprano vocalist. Ketter’s debut classical recording, “Beloved,” is available on iTunes and Amazon.

As Ketter’s star continued to rise, he noticed what little leverage classical artists had as they negotiated performance contracts. “I dreaded receiving the contract,” he recalled. “More often than not, if I turned down a gig, it was based on the contract.”

Frustrated, Ketter considered law school. “I wanted the credibility to be able to complain about these contracts,” he explained.

A delicate balance

Ketter was accepted into his father’s alma mater, The John Marshall Law School, and has spent the last two years balancing a full course load and a music career. Last February, March, and May, Ketter sang with The Symphony of Oak Park and River Forest, the Chicago Bar Association Symphony Orchestra in addition to its chorus, and The Kishwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He even finds time to give voice and piano lessons.

“It’s tough,” admitted Ketter. “Last year was my hardest course load, and I had the most orchestral gigs I’ve ever had. But I use my down time to do music. I work on my craft.”

Ketter also serves as the presiding magister of John Marshall’s chapter of the Phi Delta Phi legal honor society. The organization’s mission is to promote ethics and professionalism in law schools and the legal profession.

Pursuing dual careers in law and classical music at the same time is possible in only a few places, and Ketter is quick to credit his hometown of Chicago for what it has to offer. “Chicago is a culturally rich city and one of the few places I could do both,” he noted. “Chicago has a wealth of law schools and a strong legal community.”

And while law and classical music may not seem like a natural match, Ketter has been able to combine his interests to serve others. He’s worked with the Beat Tom & Bill Foundation to raise money for Chicago families with a loved one suffering from cancer. He’s also partnered with Misericordia, which provides services for persons with physical and mental developmental disabilities, as a performer in its annual fundraising concerts.

Balancing all these interests is no small task, but Ketter wouldn’t have it any other way. “It’s tough,” he states. “But it’s definitely more of a blessing than a burden. I’m just as gung-ho as ever.”

Rick Adams Rick Adams is a 3L at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law and a member of the Law Student Division Editorial Board. He currently works as a law clerk at the Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney in Jefferson County, Ky. Rick is the Executive Editor of the University of Louisville Law Review.