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When you own a record store, everyone wants to stump you. I can’t tell you how many times people have come in asking for a record that only three people in the world have ever heard of and are totally flabbergasted when I haven’t got the slightest idea as to what they’re on about. Most of the time, I suspect that they didn’t even come in to purchase the record. Ostensibly, they just want to know if I’ve heard of it. More likely, they want to know that I haven’t heard of it, and, hey, I get it. 

Sometimes, though, they really do want the record and are asking in earnest. Case in point: the other day, my doctor asked me if I could find him a copy of Ivan Rebroff’s, A Festive Christmas. “Who is Ivan Rebroff?”, you may be asking yourself. You might not be. Maybe you don’t care, or maybe he’s way more popular than I thought he was. If you do want to know who he is, I’ll tell you.

Ivan Rebroff -- Guywets, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

When I was offered the chance to write this piece you’re reading, I was grateful to be able to accept. Then, I sat down and looked at my computer screen for about a half hour and did the cliché, “What in the hell am I going to write about?” thing. Then, I started thinking, “Am I even an authority on music?” Starting to spiral out, I then thought, “Am I an imposter?”. Okay, okay --maybe, I’m exaggerating my insecurities a little bit for effect. Point is, I was at a loss for what to write about. After I deleted a few three-sentence drafts, I shut my laptop. I sat back on the couch. I looked around, and then I stared at the Ivan Rebroff record that I sourced for my doctor (that I still need to give him –mental note), and I remembered that I live music. It permeates everything I do. It’s the centerpiece of my world.

Then I remembered that the reason I own a record store is not because I want to be an authority and not because I know everything about music. I do it because I love music. I love to listen to it. I love to talk about it. I love to learn about it. I love learning about new things like Ivan Rebroff’s vocal range and I love sharing things like that. I don’t really get annoyed at those people coming in looking for an album that only three people have heard of, because I am always happy to be the fourth.

Now, I’m fully aware that there’s a good chance you may not care at all about Ivan Rebroff. Or maybe you already know who he was, and your eyes hurt from rolling them so hard. You might find my extremely terse overview of his life banal or inconsequential. But, if you’ve gotten this far in my article and you didn’t know who Rebroff was before, you do now. And boy, would I like to be there when you bust out the “San Antonio’s winters have more range than Rebroff” line. Because as much as I love to learn about music, I love to share what I learn. Music is my life, and I’m so grateful that I get to share it with you.

What I’m listening to:

Blonde Redhead – Misery Is A Butterfly

Garrett T. Capps – I Love San Antone

The English Beat – I Just Can’t Stop It

Forthcoming vinyl releases of note:

Shovels & Rope – Manticore  2-18-22

Khruangbin – Texas Moon EP  2-18-22

Sleigh Bells – Texis  2-18-22

Ivan Rebroff was a German born in 1931 who claimed to be of Russian-Jewish decent –which, for some reason, is disputed (by whom, I have no idea). He was gay. He sang Russian folk songs even though his Russian was awful. He sang the opera. He was a workhorse who performed in over 6,000 concerts throughout his career. He could play the violin and organ and/or piano. Most of all, though, he was known for his vocal range.

Although the question of who has the greatest vocal range ever is hotly debated by people who care about that sort of thing, Ivan Rebroff was, at one point, cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as having the greatest vocal range at four and a half octaves. This means he was able to go from soprano to bass registers. In other words, he could sing extremely high notes and extremely low notes in the same song. It’s beautiful to listen to, and I highly recommend checking him out. A quick YouTube search should do the trick.

So, that’s Ivan Rebroff in a purposefully small, Wikipedia nutshell. The hard-working Ivan was a German who might’ve also been Russian, and he had range. Did I know any of this before my doctor wrote his name and the title of the record on a little torn piece of paper for me like he would a prescription? Absolutely not. My brain is not a boundlessly streaming fount of musical information. But when my doctor asked me to find it, I found the album, listened to it, and researched it. When anyone asks me about music I’ve never heard, I always look it up and listen to it. I may like it, I may not, but I want to experience it. My love of music and my pursuit of musical knowledge are boundless.

Tommy Newman is the owner and operator of Southtown Vinyl.

I live music. It permeates everything I do. It’s the centerpiece of my world.

Who is Ivan Rebroff?

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