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Man with the Voice
by William Harness

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
- Albert Schweitzer

“I need to talk...,” a broken man confessed to a friend one evening. Their talk ran into the early hours of morning as his friend listened to and prayed for him. “I cried as I told him of God’s call on my life. I confessed that I’d not only blown that call, but I’d also blown my Christian testimony and my relationship with my wife and children.”

That was in 1977. That broken man’s marriage and his relationship with his children was – by God’s grace – restored!
I know because I am that “broken man.”

“I’d rather have Jesus than anything… than to be a king of a vast domain....”
Today, as I sing those words in concerts across the USA, I’m reminded of the years of basking in ovations and acclaim of huge crowds as I sang professional opera – “living the good life.” One thing I learned from those years: fame and fortune, without Jesus can never fill the emptiness or satisfy the longing in a person’s heart.

My testimony of salvation begins with my parents. Despite the mid-depression years, my dad had a good job. Life was good and stable…then, Mother upset that stability.” Someone invited her to a church that met in a small, rundown building. She went and gave her life to Jesus! She was anxious for Dad to join her in her faith, but he wanted nothing to do with a church that met ‘on the other side of the tracks. She prayed…and finally, two years later Dad went to church with her. That day he not only met Jesus as Savior, but this man with no church background felt God’s call to the ministry.

That call I had “blown” was revealed to my mother before my birth. In the small church my father pastored, my mother had been deeply touched as the gifted five-year-old son of a visiting evangelist sang. She felt the Lord impressing on her that she would have a son who would be “a singer and bless many around the world.

How she needed that assurance during my teen years!

Even before I could talk, as I sat on the front bench at church, I’d sing to the top of my voice right on key. My family totally lived by faith, therefore it was not hard for me to believe that Jesus really existed. I thought He was actually a member of our family. At the age of five I’d listen to Dad preaching the “old fashioned gospel’ about sin, about Jesus dying for the sins of the world, about death and judgment. But when he gave the altar call, I’d grab hold of that bench with all my strength. Even at that ‘tender’ age, I was not so tender. My stubborn will refused to go forward. Thus early on, I established a pattern that we humans are so prone to – putting up barriers between God and us.

As children often do – I decided what I wanted to do with my life. When eleven years old, I decided I’d be a juvenile delinquent! I had a lot of talent for the job. My parents suffered those next few years as they saw their son constantly getting into trouble. When afraid of being caught, I would pray, “Lord, don’t let anything happen to me. I’ll become a Christian when I get really old.”

In the church my father pastored, the youth “group” consisted of one other boy and me. One day my father called me into his study and bargained with me. “If you’ll go to that large, Presbyterian church near us every Sunday morning, evening and youth meeting every Wednesday night, you won’t have to attend my church". I gladly accepted his proposal. At that church, I learned “how to put on the “holy-joe” outfit. Parents would say, “Oh, Bill, I wish my son was as good a Christian as you.” That went on for several years – years in which I received tremendous Bible teaching, but I wasn’t a Christian. In church, I posed as a Christian; out of church, I was back into trouble.

I grew up knowing the consequences of my sin if I died. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after that the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) – eternal separation from God and everything good. One day in the midst of my teenage rebellion, God’s Spirit graphically reminded me of that. I ran to the pastor’s office. There on my knees I cried and begged the Lord to take away my sin. My burden of sin was replaced with an indescribable peace.

For my final two years of high school, I attended a Christian school. There I had the honor of being chosen captain of the basketball team. But when chosen to sing baritone in the school’s main, male quartet, I considered that an even greater honor.

Following high school and starting a career job, my one great desire was still to be a Gospel singer. In 1963, my company sent me to Denver for further training. There I was asked to serve as president of the career and college class of the church I attended. The class secretary was “the beautiful, Marie Ward….”

Marie and I married that year and moved to Seattle. The music director of our church, Bud Tutmarc , a man heavily involved in the city’s gospel music scene, mentored me as we worked together.

In those years I had a compelling drive to share Jesus Christ in song – always old time Gospel songs. Others, studying and trying desperately to get into opera, sang high classical selections, I would taunt with, “Why don’t you sing real music?” Unfortunately, singing gospel music – and because of my “church-going” habit – made me feel more spiritual than other singers. Had I taken inventory of my life, I would have realized that I was losing my first love for Jesus – and becoming less dependent on Jesus and more and more dependent on Bill Harness.

One night in discouragement, I prayed with Marie. My prayer: “God, show us what You want to do with the voice you’ve given me.”

The next morning Leonard Moore, Conductor of the Seattle Chorale, phoned and asked me to sing tenor solo in a Chorale concert. I was aware that the best singers in the Seattle area sang with the Chorale.

I was elated! During rehearsal Leonard said to me, “Where have you been? You have 20 times more potential than these people you’re singing with.” The other three soloists had master’s degrees, taught voice lessons at University level, and sang professional opera. How can I possibly be as good as that? I’ve never even seriously studied voice.

I had always tended to ignore compliments about my voice. But here was a man I held in high esteem telling me, “You have got to do something with this voice.” I felt God was saying, “You must do this.” But I wondered, What did ‘this’ mean? And where would it lead him?

After the concert, local newspapers gave me tremendous reviews. That encouraged me to do something. But what? A small article in the newspaper caught my attention. In five weeks the Metropolitan Opera would hold auditions in Seattle. The age limit for tenors – “no older than 30.”

That meant now or never for me. I’ll do it! I decided. Leonard agreed to help me.

“How many arias do you know?” Leonard asked. “None,” I said.

“Well,” Leonard sighed, “you’ll have to work super hard – but you can do it! You’ll need to master at least five arias.”

If mastering at least five arias wasn’t enough of a challenge, Leonard also told me, “And you’ll have to sing in three different languages.” From the public library I checked out music and records of French, Italian and English arias. Leonard helped me with pronunciation and grammar. At home I practiced and practiced for hours and hours….

But no one told me that I was supposed to know the meaning of the words I sang. So at the audition, not realizing I was singing a tragedy, I threw my arms around, smiled and acted happy. The audience loved it! It’s a sure thing, I thought, I’ve won!

But I was not one of the three chosen. A chorus of boos from the audience brought the judge, the Metropolitan Chorus master himself, on stage. “Ladies and gentlemen, this is the voice I’ve been looking for,” he began, “but this man knows nothing about what he’s doing. You people must get behind him.”

Discouraged, I prayed, “Lord, this must not be what you want for me.” Two days later the audition chairman phoned saying that people in Seattle had raised $900 for me to take voice lessons. And so it was that in 1971, I began lessons with a former Metropolitan Opera star. In the spring, after auditioning with the San Francisco Opera, I was invited to go to San Francisco for intensive training. That summer, I learned the Opera “La Boheme” in seventeen days and sang the tenor lead for 22,000 people at the San Francisco Stern Grove. Newspapers gave me rave reviews. And from there it was all the way up! The head of the San Francisco Opera told me, “I’ll do everything in my power to get you into opera – if that’s what you want.”

I, “the self-appointed president of the I-Hate-Opera-Society – gave a resounding, “Yes, that’s what I want!”

Things happened fast after that. I quit my career job. The opera raised $20,000 to get me started. I’d spend a month of six to seven hour days in training, then go on tour. Through the years, I sang with famous opera singers – Leontyne Price, Joan Sutherland, Birgit Nilsson, Jerome Hines, and many others. Singing with Beverly Sills resulted in international reviews.

I’ll be ‘salt’ to these needy people in the opera world, I told myself. But that didn’t happen. I was away from family – both my wife and children and my Christian family, sometimes for a stretch of eleven months. Instead of being a testimony to my colleagues I adopted their lifestyle – even became a leader. My living in sin broke Marie’s heart and was fast breaking up our marriage. And I was also having problems with our children. I found that “a person cannot know the Light of the world and live in the darkness of the world and be happy.”

In 1977, I sang the title role in the Opera, “Faust”. Jerome Hines, the man I had made my debut with in the Metropolitan Opera also sang in “Faust". And it was to Jerome that I said, “I need to talk...”

I went home determined to fix up my life. I knew the mechanical things to do: begin reading the Word again, start fellowshipping with Christians, mend my marriage and solve the problems with my children – stop sinning! I tried and fell flat on my face. My endeavors resulted in a three week depression so deep that I didn’t even want to live. In that state, I did something that was beyond my power. I called out to God, “You take it all – my life, my voice, my career.” I had no assurance doing that would give me back the love and respect of my wife and children. But I didn’t bargain with God – I just gave everything to Him.

That evening the Lord spoke to me. No writing on the wall or thunder from Heaven, but I knew it was God speaking. He impressed on me to go back to my first love – singing Gospel songs. And still I had the audacity to argue with Him. “Lord, how can I do that? When singing gospel, sometimes I’d get $25, sometimes $100, sometimes a handshake and a thank-you. I have five children and a wife to support. And besides, I have no church contacts. No one knows that years ago....” The Lord was silent. He wasn’t impressed with my arguments. He had spoken!

The following Monday, a man from California phoned. “I read in the San Francisco Examiner that you used to do Gospel concerts....” Apologetically, he added, “Do you think you could come to California and sing a gospel concert?”

I must have raised six inches out of my chair!

That week, five people called asking me to do Gospel concerts. But more miraculously than that, the Lord showed Himself as the Healer of depression, broken hearts and broken relationships. He put our marriage back together beautifully.

Today Marie travels with me in this faith ministry of presenting the Lord Jesus in song. Since we have no guarantee of salary, it’s exciting to look into the future and say, “There’s no way, absolutely no way whatsoever, we can meet our bills and eat too.” Yet the Lord Jesus is on our side and has never failed us.

As we’re getting older, at times the wear and tear of going out weekends is a bit tough. Sometimes I think, If only we did normal things, we’d make more money and have more time to ourselves. But the concerts have become more than just a singing ministry. People are blessed, some are saved, some are even healed. This makes me know I can’t quit. Singing for the God of the universe is far more exciting than it ever was singing for the god of this puny little world.

I now realize that just as Romans 8:28 says, the Lord has used all that happened in my life to allow me to minister with music in a special way. Before going through the opera experience, people would say to me, “You have such a beautiful voice” – now they come with tears in their eyes and tell me that God touched their life through my singing and sharing. I consider that the highest compliment anyone can receive.

Our travels lead us throughout the United States and Canada. We have also had ten concerts in South Africa, many trips to former Communist countries, also a very dangerous trip to India. Many trips to prisons have also been in our schedule.

Our heart is to use music as a tool to change hearts for our Lord Jesus Christ.



Prayer Requests

Continued direction for the ministry

Guidance in scheduling

Health and energy for Bill

Safety in travel

Healing for Marie's niece who has a rare and unusual disease

Praise Report

The Lord's leading

Friends around the world

The Lord's provision

Safe travels

Miracles seen and unseen

Contact Information

Mailing Address:

William Harness
P.O. Box 328
Washougal, WA  98671











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