Everyone's Got to Start Somewhere

Carl Ruck, M.M ’81, helps Adam Strube ’08 to begin his professional career — at the White House.   by Alex Meril ’07

If there is one thing that makes you strive for more, you should pursue it,” says Adam Strube ’08. The vocal performance major should know about lofty pursuits: in December he gave a solo performance at the White House. Adam, a bass vocalist from Long Island, New York, sang 18 holiday classics accompanied by pianist Carl Ruck, M.M. ’81; their offerings included holiday standards “O Holy Night,” “The First Noël,” and “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”

While an invitation to sing at the White House is no small feat for even the most experienced performers, it’s a tremendous accomplishment for 29-year-old Adam, whose road to success has not always been smooth. After high school, Adam attended Suffolk Community College in New York, but with money being tight after his parents’ divorce, his focus was on paying the bills. He did so by working in construction, at a restaurant, and at a bank. Finding none of these jobs fulfilling, Adam thought about returning to school for a music degree.

“I stayed home [to avoid spending] thousands of dollars not knowing what I wanted to do,” says Adam of his decision to wait to attend a bachelor’s degree–granting school. In 2001 Adam applied to Ithaca’s School of Music but missed his chance after turning in his forms late. He tried again a few years later and was accepted into the music education program in 2004.

Finding student teaching less than gratifying, he felt pulled towards a performance degree. Under the guidance of professor Kelly Samarzea (who has since left the College), Adam switched to a vocal performance major and found his place as a bass in the IC Choir.

In spring ’05 Carl Ruck was a visiting lecturer in Adam’s career orientation class. The two met up again the following November while Adam was on tour with the choir. A frequent performer at the White House, Carl played a CD recording of one of the choir’s performances at the White House social secretary’s office. When people were blown away by Adam’s voice, Carl was convinced that the young performer had a shot at landing a White House gig. When he and Adam next met up about a year and a half later, Carl mentioned the idea. Adam sent in a demo — and the rest fills out a rather impressive chapter one in his career history.

Before the holiday open house, neither man knew who would be in the audience. And although to their knowledge no one from the Bush family was there, the invitation-only event required all guests to go through a detailed Secret Service screening. 

“I was pretty calm,” Adam says of passing security and driving through the White House gates. “It felt like OK, I’ve now entered the land of Oz.”

Once inside, Adam and Carl set up on the ground floor in the East Wing: a perfect location between two marble-floored hallways, which, says Adam, “offered the acoustics of a bathroom.” Adam says he “harnessed my extra [nervous] energy” into putting on a stellar performance.

And he and Carl were a huge hit. Carl estimates that 50 guests stopped everything at one point just to watch Adam. “Technically and musically, he was virtually flawless,” says Carl. Adam simply says, “The audience was very receptive.”

One of the standout moments was when he sang “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,” and gave a stuffed Grinch doll to a little boy. “The parents and the boy were thrilled beyond words,” says Carl. “It was gratifying to see how a musical performance could touch the lives of total strangers.”

As the performance came to a close, Adam remembers “heaving a happy sigh of relief” and taking a moment to reflect. Carl says, “I hope that he always remembers how his music made many people's Christmas pilgrimage to the White House an unforgettable experience.”