Jonas Budris is on his way making beautiful music
File photo by Ralph Stewart
On Their Way is an occasional series in which The Times introduces people who grew up on Martha's Vineyard and have moved on to establish themselves in careers on or off Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in the arts, business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way. Your suggestions are welcomed by The Times.
Jonas Budris, Martha's Regional High School (MVRHS) class of 2002, received his degree in environmental engineering from Harvard University in 2007. He entered the world of finance and appeared to be on a traditional career track until his love of music prompted a career shift.
Now he is a professional singer, a tenor. He has the support of his parents, John Budris of Brockton and Danguole Budris of Edgartown, and he has no plans to go back.
This past holiday season found him "surfing the Christmas wave," as he described it, rehearsing and performing choral music. He sang over the holidays at Emmanuel Episcopal Church and at the Church of the Advent in Boston, were he lives.
Prior to Christmas, he performed Cantatas I, II, and VI from Bach's Christmas Oratorio in a series of concerts as a soloist with the prestigious Handel and Haydn Society Chorus at Boston's Jordan Hall.
Jonas is a versatile artist, with experience in opera, oratorio, musical theater, and jazz. He performs as a soloist, cantor, and choral singer for churches in the Boston area. For fun, he sometimes sings Karaoke.
His love of music came in part from exposure to his father's music collection, from the Beatles to folk music, Jonas said. He has fond memories of sitting around the fire and singing in New Brunswick, Canada, with family and friends as a youngster.
Now 29, Jonas was born on the Vineyard. He spent all but one year living on the Island before he departed for Harvard. While a student at the Tisbury School, he won the All Island Spelling Bee in the seventh and eighth grades, and competed in Washington, D.C., where he had respectable results.
He said that Julie Schilling, his music teacher at the Tisbury School, was influential in his musical development. He played the clarinet in grade school and high school and sang with the Minnesingers at MVRHS.
At Harvard, Jonas started as an applied math major but switched to environmental engineering. "While I was immersed in a mathematical-quantitative aspect of the world, I wanted to apply it in a way that was particularly helpful," he said during a recent conversation.
As an undergraduate, he studied voice privately with Boston singing coach Frank Kelly, and he sang as a choral fellow in the University Choir.
He worked in finance after college for a few years with a friend's start-up doing technological research. "We were doing pretty well until the housing bubble hit and a major investor died," he said. "I took that as a sign that I should be doing more performing."
Jonas recalls meeting his father for lunch and telling him that he was going to be singing in a musical.
"Oh good, I wanted to broach the subject," his father said. "You are wasting your life in this go-nowhere finance job, and you should really become an artist."
The reaction was not unexpected. "That is pretty indicative of my relationship with my parents as far as my career is concerned," he said. "My dad thought I should spend my life creating beauty instead of money. With any kind of luck I will do both."
He supported his singing doing research on patient safety at Brigham and Women's Hospital until what he described as "a wonderfully, exciting development" took place last year: he was able to live off of the money he earns from singing.
Performing as a church musician is the mainstay of his singing income to date. He has done a lot of concert work. This year he was hired to sing in all of the Handel and Haydn Society concerts, including a California tour in the spring.
Working toward what he hopes will be a successful solo career, Jonas hopes to be able to travel occasionally and teach. He said it requires a willingness to make it work. Keeping expenses trim is part of making it work.
Constantly looking for singing gigs and a willingness to sing things that might not be your favorites and singing in places that might not be your favorite places to perform are all a part of the job. "If you are willing to travel, if you are willing to scrape together five concerts in a couple of days, if you are willing to be lame and go home early and take care of yourself, you can make it work," he said.
"You have to take opportunities where you can learn, which sometimes requires a sacrifice," he said. "Of course one of the best ways to become good at anything is to do it all the time, at a high level, and to be surrounded by people who are at the top of their game. I feel like a small fish in a big pond."
Jonas's girlfriend, Adrienne Boris, shares his love of music and musical background. They met when he sang for Opera Boston, where she was the artistic administrator. She is a graduate student studying stage directing at The School of Theatre in the College of Fine Arts at Boston University. "She is brilliant," he said.
So far, he has not thought too much about going back to a career as an engineer. "I have been so happy as a musician, despite the fact that it is a terrifying career," he said. "I have never looked back."
The mathematician in him once calculated how many days he has left in his life based on average life expectancies. "It's a scary thought," he said. "It's a five digit number. It makes you think how important it is to make all of those days count. When on a given day you sing at Emmanuel Church in the morning, the Christmas Oratorio in the afternoon, and you get home and cuddle with your girlfriend, it's a good day."