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Published Tuesday November 10th, 2009 at 5:51pm

Original Article by Jill Callison

Eric Wassenaar (right) has been guided in his musical growth byAugustana College music instructor Monty Barnard (left). Before that,Wassenaar was inspired musically by his adoptive father, TerryWassenaar, who for years was a music teacher in the Parker schooldistrict and at Cathedral Elementary. (Lloyd B. Cunningham / ArgusLeader)
Adoptive parents are thanked for opening doors to adoptee's operatic future

Twenty-one years ago, a young woman asked that her baby be adopted by a family that was musical.

New parents Terry and Marge Wassenaar took that request seriously.

"I think my dad in particular ... felt a bit of responsibility to see that I was raised in an atmosphere that was musical out of respect for my birth mother's request," the Wassenaars' son, Eric, says.

"I can't even fathom a different life than what I've led because it feels absolutely right."

Eric, a senior at Augustana College, grew up surrounded by music. His father, for years a music teacher in the Parker school district and at Cathedral Elementary, filled the house with song.

"He's one of those people who can just sit down at the piano, you can ask to play this hymn, and he'll just rattle off some wild improvisation, really lush," Eric says. "There's a certain spontaneity that, without me really knowing, I picked up in my singing."

Eric's voice is his instrument. A six-month stint with a trombone proved painful for everyone, but Eric first realized that his musical instrument came from within in the Roosevelt High School choir.

That doesn't mean he always took it seriously.

"Probably up until my junior, senior year in high school, I was like, whatever, I sing pretty, the friends in choir are great," Eric says. "I was there to screw around. It just so happens that the teachers would take notice of me, like, what's this voice?"

Monty Barnard, who has guided Eric's musical growth since his freshman year at Augustana, can answer that question.

"Eric has pursued (music) with an uncommon passion," Bernard says. "He has got a tremendous dedication, and that makes it a great pleasure to work with him."

Eric's tenor voice has tried almost every musical genre, but the singer responds most deeply to opera. He dreams of performing in world-renowned operas, but personal goals are much more intimate.

"I just want to really feel that every single time I get up to perform for any audience in any venue with any style of music, it's done with the most honest approach that I can give," Eric says.

Eric is looking at opera apprentice programs and considering graduate schools where he would have appropriate performance opportunities and obtain the necessary coaching and teaching.

"You get yourself exposed to (music) appropriate for your ability, but it extends him," Barnard says. "The student also gets the opportunity to meet people and make things happen."

Barnard has seen how committed the Wassenaars are to Eric's musical education. Freshman year, Terry Wassenaar served as his son's accompanist.

"As Eric's teacher, I have a very great appreciation for the kind of musical support his dad was able to give him," Barnard says. "He's given Eric just a wonderful gift."

Eric's parents always want him and his younger brother, Logan, now 19 and a student at the University of South Dakota, to pursue their interests, Eric says.

When Eric was 14, for example, he won the Iowa State Fair Yo-Yo Championship - for the second time.

The Wassenaars had been married for about three years when they adopted Eric. They never hid the fact that the boys were adopted.

It would have been difficult to do so, actually, because parents and sons came from different ethnic backgrounds.

"I looked at Mom and Dad as Mom and Dad, and it was never complicated, I guess," Eric says. "We might have gotten a couple stares when we came into a restaurant, and here my parents are, a couple little white folks, and here are me and my brother."

Terry Wassenaar is an educational assistant at Lincoln High School and a collector at HSBC. Marge Wassenaar is employed with Volunteers of America and Prairie Crossings.

Eric says his parents have devoted countless hours to their sons. His father once again will accompany him on the piano as Eric sings at Saturday's Adoption & Foster Care Fair at First Baptist Church.

Eric is looking forward to the reunion, but with some caution.

"I can't count how many times I've looked out in the audience, and my dad is just a big blubber face," he says with good-natured affection. "He's just bawling. I could sing two notes, and they'd both be out of tune, and he'd be like, 'That's my boy, I'm so proud of him being up there.' "

Eric's voice will mature during his 20s, Barnard says. But it will continue to improve for decades, not merely because of physical maturity but because of its use and artistry.

Eric just knows that he's doing what he was born to do, and with the parents he was meant to have.

"Whenever I begin singing, I know this is what I'm meant to do, these are the people that were meant to raise me to be able to do this," he says.

"The necessary personality, the work, the support and the love - that can't be just given willy-nilly. There are few people in this world that would sacrifice more than what my parents have done for me."