Cubs

5 Questions with...Jim Cornelison

722738.jpg

5 Questions with...Jim Cornelison

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guesthes been called the voice of Chicago sports, whose stirring renditions of our national anthem continue to send United Center Blackhawks crowds into a frenzy each and every time outhis brilliant tenor voice has earned him numerous accolades in the opera field over the years and his popularity among Chicago sports fans just grows and grows(everyone now) Ooh Say Can You Seeeee!...that its 5 Questions withJIM CORNELISON!

BIO: Jim Cornelison is in his fourth season as the Blackhawks full-time national anthem singer, having made regular appearances singing the anthem at the United Center since 1996. In addition to his countless standout anthem performances for the Blackhawks, Cornelison also sang prior to a Bulls playoff game last season and Bears playoff games in 201011. He also sang at the Bears 2011 season opener on Sept. 11, the ten-year anniversary of 911.

An undergrad from Seattle Pacific Universitymasters student from Indiana University, Cornelison, a native of Vienna, Va., sang with numerous opera companies before coming to Chicago in 1995 to take part in the Lyric Operas Apprenticeship Program where he one of six accepted apprentices among more than 800 applicants. He has performed nationally and internationally with some of the biggest names in opera, such as Plcido Domingo and Zubin Mehta. Known as a heroic tenor for the dark color of his voice but ability to sing in a tenor range, he has sung with opera companies in Bordeaux, London, Brussels and San Francisco, among many other places.

A 1992 graduate of Indiana Universitys Masters of Music program, Cornelison has received numerous accolades for his singing, including the William Matheus Sullivan Foundation Award and the George London Foundation Encouragement Grant, as well as first place in the American Opera Society of Chicagos 1997 Vocal Competition.

1) CSNChicago.com: Jim, its a pretty impressive feat to be a have such a solid fan base as someone who is not a pro athlete or a top sports exec in town, but youve managed to pull that off nicely. Congrats. Lets get right to itat what age did you know you had a little something extra in your voice that separated you from the pack and was music something you knew you wanted to pursue at that time?

Cornelison: When I went to college, I started with music playing the piano and singing in choir. At the end of my freshman year, one of the professors sat me down and asked if I was serious about music. I really didn't know if it was what I wanted to do, but knew I liked it. He said I should consider studying voice because I was not a good piano player! I was such a country bumpkin I really didn't know why people studied voice. From there, the ceiling kept going up and I never did run into anyone that discouraged me.

I sang with Seattle Opera Chorus when I was 20 and realized my voice was as powerful as many of the 40-year-olds. Then, in graduate school at Indiana is where I became one of the leading baritones. I didn't switch to tenor until I was 29. When I came to the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1995, I was a tenor and people really paid attention to my voice. I had an options contract with Columbia Artists Management at the time and when I left the Lyric, I signed with them. My first job was in Bordeaux. I travelled a lot during those early years of singing, working in Bordeaux, London, Brussels, San Francisco, Minneapolis, Hawaii, at the Lyric in Chicago, Seattle, and many others.

2) CSNChicago.com: Your stirring renditions of our National Anthem have become famous around the world thanks in part to the digital age we live in. On any given night at the United Centerwhen the organ begins the first few bars of the Star Spangled Bannerin your mind, do you shut out the thousands of screaming fans during the anthem to help you focus or does the love from the Blackhawks crowd play a role in your performance?

Cornelison: I love the noise of the crowd! I have to pull into myself if I get too excited. There are very noticeable differences in the volume level on different nights. On some nights, the enthusiasm really fires me up. I'll sometimes find myself on the edge of overdoing it and then I have to settle down.

3) CSNChicago.com: Speaking of the National Anthem -- as many celebs and even pros have done countless times before -- it has to be asked, have you ever screwed up the words while you were singing it?

Cornelison: No! Ha! I wish people would quit asking me that....it makes me nervous!

4) CSNChicago.com: Its probably safe to say that many fans in the Chicago sports community are unaware of your standout opera backgroundand its also pretty safe to say many of them have never even been to the opera (present interviewer included). In your opinion, do you think the opera community works hard enough to bring in new and younger fans to see and hear the performances of some of the greatest voices in the world?

Cornelison: No I don't. Some companies do better than others, but the new operas being written seem to be written to impress academics. I have a fantasy of seeing new opera that is irreverent comedy, something like "Animal House: the Opera!!! Comic opera has almost disappeared in new works. If you created interest with younger people with something like that, then it is a small jump to classic comic opera or the most popular works like La Boheme, or I Pagliacci. I am amazed at the number of native Chicagoans I meet who have never been to the opera. Conversely, I'm amazed at the number of people I've met at hockey games who also are opera fans.

5) CSNChicago.com: If you walked into a karaoke bar and decided to give it a go, name some non-opera song or songs would we most likely hear you belt out.

Cornelison: Believe it or not, I have only done karaoke one time and it was an abysmal failure according to all reports from my supposed friends who were present. I sang "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me" by Billy Joel, not my usual cup of tea. If I do it again, I will do one of my party tunes which could be My Way, Besame Mucho, O Sole Mio, or I might try my hand at Don't Fall in Love with Me by John Legend.

Karaoke is a great way to pretend you are a singer other than what you are! Weddings are fun that way, too. I don't do them often, but I've performed songs that were requested by the bride and groom, as long as I thought I could pull it off: Sinatra, show tunes, occasionally pop and even some country!

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything youd like to promote Jim? Tell usCSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it!

Cornelison: I like to put a plug in for the USO that does so much work to support our troops. They and the Blackhawks provide a great opportunity for our military people to come out on the ice with me when I sing and it has elevated the meaning behind the Anthem tradition at the games. It is great fun to see them in the third period on the big screen when all the fans are cheering for them. Great stuff! I'm friends with Tom Tuohy at Dreams For Kids as well. They do incredible work with kids that are disabled, come from poverty or maybe, along with the Illinois Patriot Education Fund, help kids who have lost a parent in the wars. The Blackhawks support them, too. I try to help either group out whenever they ask me.

Cornelison LINKS

Chicago Blackhawks official website

Jim Cornelison on Facebook

Jim Cornelison on Twitter

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

Cubs go quietly into winter, their reign as defending champs finally over

The armchair psychology went like this: Force the Los Angeles Dodgers onto the plane, let them think about it during the long flight to the West Coast, get in their heads during Friday’s day off and feel all the momentum and pressure shift in this National League Championship Series.

At least that’s what the Cubs told themselves and the media, whether or not they actually believed it, playing the kind of mind games designed for lesser teams. From Theo Epstein and the top of baseball operations down, the Cubs had enough connections to the 2004 Boston Red Sox to hope they could become only the second team to overcome an 0-3 LCS deficit.

That dream officially ended at 10:15 p.m. on Thursday when Willson Contreras lined Kenley Jansen’s 93.3-mph cutter at backup shortstop Charlie Culberson, another symbol of Dodger Way game-planning and the overall depth to withstand the loss of All-Star Corey Seager as he recovered from a back injury. The mosh pit formed in the middle of Wrigley Field, where it got very quiet except for a few sections of Dodger fans cheering and Gary Pressy playing the organ.

The Cubs are no longer the defending World Series champs after an 11-1 loss that had no drama or suspense and felt more like a getaway day. There will be no Game 6 or Game 7 this weekend at Dodger Stadium.

“I only experienced winning,” said Albert Almora Jr., a rookie outfielder on last year’s forever team. “Jon Jay told me: ‘Look at the expressions on their face when they’re celebrating on your field and let that sink in and learn from that and build from that.’”

You believed Almora, a baseball gym rat, when he stood at his locker and said: “It hurts.” But when the clubhouse doors opened to the media roughly 30 minutes after the final out, you didn’t really feel any tension in the room, more like a collective exhale, a time to sit around and drink a few Presidente beers and realize that the Dodgers deserved to go to the World Series for the first time since 1988.

“They just flat-out beat us,” said Kris Bryant, who got the first hit off Clayton Kershaw, a garbage-time homer in the fourth inning when the Cubs were already down 9-0.

Bryant is everything you could ever want in a franchise player – diligent on the field, polished off the field, even more productive in many ways after his MVP campaign, someone who doesn’t even drink during clinch celebrations – but even he admitted he still felt the World Series hangover that bugged the Cubs.

“I was just looking back at last year,” Bryant said. “I didn’t get home until like November 10 last year with all the festivities after winning and stuff. I think that really caught up to some of us this year. So I don’t know, maybe the extra time to recoup, maybe train a little harder. I am getting older, so I got to watch that.”

The reporters chuckled along with Bryant in a room where the sound system played classic rock like Dire Straits and Tom Petty. The Cubs know they should be good again in 2018 – and for years after that – and didn’t exactly sound devastated.

To be honest, Wednesday’s thrilling Game 4 win felt like the Super Bowl for this team, Jake Arrieta getting a standing ovation and tipping his cap before signing his free-agent megadeal somewhere else, Wade Davis having the guts to finish off a 48-pitch, two-inning save and the Cubs feeling the adrenaline rush of staving off elimination for another night.

When Jon Lester saw the media gathering by his locker, he joked: “What? I didn’t do s---. Why the f--- do you want to talk to me?”

“Obviously, nobody likes to lose, but we’ve been in the NLCS for three years in a row,” said Lester, who raised the bar for expectations when he signed a $155 million contract with a last-place team after the 2014 season. “You know how special that is. I know everybody kind of goes back to the first half of the season and they like to nitpick. But we won the division, made the playoffs and made it to the NLCS.

“Sometimes, you’re not always going to be in the World Series. The Dodgers are a really good team. They’re playing really good baseball right now. This series showed it. Sometimes, it is what it is, and you just kind of move on.”

The Cubs had Lester, a three-time World Series champion, lined up for a Game 6 that is no longer necessary. Jose Quintana – who shined against the Washington Nationals in the last round and battled Kershaw to a draw in Game 1 – didn’t give his team a chance this time.

Quintana, a signature trade-deadline move made with multiple playoff runs in mind, allowed runs in the first and second innings and left the bases loaded in the third for Hector Rondon, who watched Kike Hernandez drive the second of his three home runs into the right-center field basket for a grand slam.

The Cubs were desperate enough that John Lackey, five days before his 39th birthday, pitched two innings in what was likely his last game in a big-league uniform. Lackey kept walking out of the clubhouse and declined to speak with reporters: “No, I’m good, man.”

“It’s not easy to be the best,” outfielder Jason Heyward said, “but that’s what you want. You don’t want easy. You don’t want to expect to be going home every year. You want to be in October. You want to have a chance to win the World Series. And you want to be one of the teams that expects to be there.”

That’s what the Cubs will be next year, when the last day of the season won’t have the same big-picture perspective. It will be either a stinging loss or spraying champagne.

“Seems like a hundred years ago, right?” Lester said about his decision to sign with the Cubs. “It’s one of those Catch-22s. You look at it as it’s a disappointing season for the simple fact that we didn’t make it to the World Series. But you got to look at the positives, too, in that moment whenever you get on a plane to go home.

“We gave ourselves a chance. It just didn’t happen this year. We got beat by a better team. We beat them last year (in the NLCS), and they beat us this year, so you got to tip your hat sometimes, and you move on. We’ll be ready to go in spring training.”

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Sluggish offense plus Dodger pitching equaled disaster for Cubs in NLCS

Your National League Championship Series final: Cubs 8, Enrique Hernandez 7.

When the Cubs look back at why they struggled in the NLCS and what they’ll need moving forward, many questions are likely to involve fixing an offense that was dormant for almost all of the postseason.

Thursday night’s 11-1 loss in Game 5 of the NLCS to the Los Angeles Dodgers put an exclamation point on a lopsided series, one in which the Cubs were outscored 28-8. Hernandez nearly matched the Cubs’ entire output in the clincher with three home runs and seven RBIs. While the pitching shares much of the blame, a Cubs offense that produced a .168/.240/.289 slash line and scored 25 runs this postseason is perhaps an even bigger culprit.

“(The Dodgers) pitched very, very well from start to finish,” said utility man Ben Zobrist. “It was tough to overcome that. We are going to get our homers. But as a whole, I felt like they kept us off-balance and they kept us from having good quality at-bats consistently. When we did get something going it wasn’t much. It was one run here or there or a couple runs here or there. But they pitched a great series, kept us from really exploding like they can as an offense.”

The Cubs’ bats have been ice cold for the entire postseason. Aside from a nine-run showing in their Oct. 12 NLDS-clincher over the Washington Nationals, the Cubs never appeared to be as formidable a bunch as they were in 2016.

Their scores by game entering Thursday’s loss were: 3, 3, 2, 0, 9, 2, 1, 1 and 3.

By the time the Dodgers plated two early runs off Jose Quintana, the Cubs looked to be in for an uphill battle against three-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw. That condition was upgraded to next-to-impossible by the time Hernandez blasted a grand slam off Hector Rodon in the third inning to put the Dodgers up 7-0.

As it were, the Cubs finished with four hits and didn’t score until Kris Bryant homered to make it 9-1 in the fourth inning. It was Bryant’s first round-tripper of the postseason.

The struggles of Bryant and teammate Anthony Rizzo were well-documented. The pair produced a combined .169/.210/.206 slash line with two home runs, nine RBIs, three walks and 28 strikeouts in 81 plate appearances. Bryant thought it had to do with a team that was worn down running into outstanding pitching.

“It’s a little of both,” Bryant said. “It took a lot out of us that first series, some really good pitching with the Nationals. Obviously with the Dodgers, too. I think they had a group of players that really turned it on at the right time and were clicking whereas we didn’t. That was the difference. But a ton of credit to them, they just flat out beat us.”

Bryant and Rizzo weren’t alone in their struggles.

The leadoff position alone went from a force of life in 2016 with Dexter Fowler to virtually no production this postseason. Jon Jay, Albert Almora and Zobrist went a combined 4-for-36 with three hit by pitches from the leadoff spot.

Catcher Willson Contreras (.748) was the only Cubs regular to finish with an OPS above .700. Javier Baez produced a .451 OPS, Zobrist registered a .416 and Jason Heyward finished at .403.

By comparison, the Dodgers have six players with at least 20 plate appearances this postseason with an .800 or better OPS. That doesn’t of course count Hernandez, who made only his fourth start of the postseason and went nuts. He homered off Jose Quintana in the second inning to give Los Angeles a 2-0 lead. His grand slam in the third after Quintana exited put the game out of reach. And Hernandez’s ninth-inning blast off Mike Montgomery to center was icing on the Dodgers’ cake.

Figuring out how to remedy their offensive issues figures to be one of the Cubs’ top priorities this offseason. One way the team could help jumpstart Bryant and Rizzo is by acquiring a better leadoff hitter, something they lost when Fowler departed via free agency last winter. The team saw its production from the leadoff spot drop from an .815 OPS in 2016 to .745 in 2017.

“We did enough to beat Washington and that’s all you need in the postseason,” Rizzo said. “We didn’t do enough to beat the Dodgers. They pitched better than we hit. End of story.

“They’re good. There’s no excuses. You’ve got to play better. But at the end of the day, it is what it is. It’s baseball. You hit the ball at the guy or you don’t.”