Thursday, November 5, 2015

Revival: How a Tenor Lost his Voice, but Found his Calling

Today, being November 5th, I would normally be talking about Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the houses of parliament in London many years ago. We English have been burning him in effigy for a very long time.  However, it is my pleasure to allow Mark Koopmans to tell you about his Memoir which I was lucky enough to read already and which I found to be an excellent book and sympathetic story. I am delighted to count Mark as a very good friend and I do hope this book has the success it deserves.

Continuing the Book Tour for REVIVAL – The Donald Braswell Story, I am heartily grateful to Jo
for allowing me to share a recipe and explain a little about why I wanted to write about Donald in the first place.

I’m a person full of curiosity (all my friends are nodding), and as I watched Donald on America’s Got Talent, I simply wanted to know more about this “Texas Tenor.” (Living, as I was then in the San Antonio area, one was not likely to trip over many home-grown opera singers.)

When I discovered Donald actually lived within the readership area of the newspaper where I worked as a staff writer, I felt like a little kid in a candy store. (Now I could ask for an interview, without fear of attracting my usual “weird Irish stalker” label!)

As previously mentioned in Melissa’s post (Monday), it was the backstory of Donald’s journey that appealed to my writing chops.

Over time, Donald and I met for numerous interviews, and thank goodness I always brought my recorder, because my jaw and pen would often fight for the first one to hit the floor.
On many occasions, I would think there’s no way this could have happened, but it did, and now I truly believe in miracles—especially musical ones. (You’ll see what I mean when you meet Walter on page 142 of REVIVAL.)

Tomorrow, I’m off to Eva Solar’s blog to discuss “why I write” (and she also has a sweet story to share about our writing/blogging history.)

PS: Thanks again, Jo, and happy Guy Fawkes Day to everyone in the realm of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. (In honor of the foiled plot to blow up the House of Lords in 1605, I humbly offer up the traditional English Shepherd’s Pie as my recipe.)

REVIVAL - The Donald Braswell Story Subtitle: How a Tenor Lost his Voice, but Found his Calling Authors: Donald Braswell with Mark Koopmans Release Date: November 03, 2015

From Juilliard to jumper cables; from wasting all the talent in the world to America’s Got Talent, this is the story of the Texas opera singer who lost his voice—but found his calling.  Five years removed from his 1990 Juilliard graduation, Donald Braswell is set to be “the next Pavarotti.” Braswell’s successful career ends, however, not with a standing ovation at Carnegie Hall, but alone, lying in a dirty ditch. Following the hit-and-run accident that steals his voice and future, the “Texas Tenor” struggles with depression and despair—until the night his daughter, Aria, is born. Understanding this new and immediate life change, Braswell fights to relearn how to speak, sing—and share this gift of second chances with others. Working as a plasterer, a car salesman, and many jobs in-between, it takes thirteen years—and a musical miracle—for Braswell to battle back and sing on a professional stage. His dreams and ambitions collide with a tired and angry crowd when he auditions for America’s Got Talent. For his family, his faith and his entire future, can the Rocky Balboa of the operatic world find the courage and strength to win just one more fight?

To buy, follow the links below.
Barnes and Noble   

Mark Koopmans is originally from Ireland. After working in Holland, Spain, France and England, he
won his U.S. “Green Card” in 1994, and is an American by choice since 2003. Koopmans began his writing career with a feature for a regional magazine in California. Since then, he’s worked as a staff writer for newspapers in Florida and Texas. Koopmans is also a proficient blogger and is working on his next book, a novel. Koopmans lives in Virginia and is a married, stay-at-home dad to three active boys under the age of nine. He writes at night. Find his blog at :

Donald Braswell II is an American actor, classical crossover tenor
and composer. Braswell was on a fast track to become an internationally acclaimed opera singer when he suffered a car accident in 1995 that made him unable to speak for almost two years. After that, he lived a quiet life
outside of the spotlight until his appearance on the 2008 season of America’s Got Talent where he was a Top 5 finalist, which gave him another chance at a career in entertainment. Since then, he has entertained audiences both internationally as well as shore to shore in the United States in concerts, television appearances, inspirational speaking and radio. He boasts an international fan club with fans from over 25 countries. Braswell has reentered the world of music by singing in concerts starting with the Symphony of the Hills in Kerrville, Texas in June 2009. He performs a variety of musical genres ranging from pure classical repertoire to soul to mainstream pop. He engages people of many cultures by singing in various languages outside of English, including Spanish, Italian, Neapolitan, French and Russian. His concerts are generally multilingual, and he has performed pieces that are themselves in more than one language. Some of these include: Mario Frangoulis bilingual version of “Nights in White Satin” (Italian title “Notte di luce”), originally by The Moody Blues; “The Prayer”; and Andrea Bocelli’s “Vivere” (English title “Dare to Live”). His other non-English repertoire includes Aqustin Lara’s “Rosa” (Spanish), Mario Frangoulis’s “Vincerò, perderò” (Italian) and the Neapolitan standard “O sole mio”. Some of his many compositions can be heard on his recent album We Fall and We Rise Again. Donald is a testament to the powers of the human spirit in difficult times and he inspires all who come to know him. Find him at Braswell finished in the top 5 of America’s Got Talent, Season 3 (2008). Watch his inspiring first NBC audition here.

Mark tells me his favourite comfort food is Shepherd's Pie. This recipe is called Irish but to me it's a traditional English dish. However, this is a very upmarket version of this staple British dish. Once upon a time, in traditional England, a roast was served on Sunday, then, because it was washday on Monday so the housewife didn't have time, it was served sliced cold. Tuesday the meat was then ground (minced to us) and made into a pie. There is some argument over whether, made with beef it should be Cottage Pie, and made with lamb makes it Shepherd's Pie. However, I checked in the Oxford Dictionary and, according to them, the name is interchangeable.

Traditional Irish Shepherd's Pie

About This Recipe

"Posting this per a request. I've said it once and I'll say it again there is nothing Irish about Corned
Beef and Cabbage, but Shepherd's Pie has always been and still is a staple of traditional Irish cooking. This is a really easy, but tasty recipe that the whole family will enjoy. It's nutritionally sound with all the major food groups represented. The British use lamb in their Shepherd's Pie, but we've always used beef. Do whatever you prefer or even try turkey if you're watching fat content. This sauce is lovely and rich and should go well with any meat. You can use fresh or leftover mashed potato. I usually use 3 tbsp of ketchup instead of the 2tbsp of tomato paste as I like the hint of sweetness, but traditionally the paste would be more sound! You can also make individual pies which are always a hit with the kids. This freezes beautifully too, so make two and save one! Just let it defrost and glaze with the egg and pop into the oven as directed. Enjoy! :)"


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 lb ground beef or 1 lb lamb
  • 1 large onion, finely diced
  • 3 -4 large carrots, finely diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 -4 sprigs fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 glass red wine
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 large quantity mashed potatoes ( estimating 1L or 6 cups, fresh or leftover)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • grated parmesan cheese (optional)


  1. Pre-heat oven to 200C/400°F.
  2. Sauté carrots in the olive oil until starting to get tender.
  3. Add in the onions and sauté for a minute or two then add the meat.
  4. Season with black pepper and thyme.
  5. Cook until browned then drain fat.
  6. Add the butter and peas.
  7. Sprinkle with flour and stir through.
  8. Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce.
  9. Let this reduce slightly then add the chicken stock. Allow to reduce down until you have a thick meaty gravy. Season to your taste.
  10. Remove from heat. Grease an oven proof dish (9x13 works for me, as does an oval baker) with butter and add the sauce.
  11. Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top. Brush with egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese if using.
  12. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the potato is nice and browned on top.
  13. Serve as is or with some crusty bread to mop up that yummy sauce!

Have a great day


  1. Hey Jo,

    Thanks very much for all your support and for caring so much about this story and Donald's journey (even if I drive you mad, sometimes :)


    (Hey, what's that "e" doing here... we didn't ask for no stinking "e" :)

    1. You are very welcome dear Mark. I think it's a wonderful story and that you have made a wonderful book.

      "e" ??

  2. Hi Jo and Mark - Guy Fawkes day is a good day to have Mark here. Ah - just worked out the "e" bit!

    It's amazing what you've done to bring Donald's story to life .. and congratulations on the book release. A plate of Shepherd's Pie would be a good accompaniment ... though I'd probably spill it on the pages ...

    Enjoy the book everyone .. cheers to you both - Hilary

    1. I'm glad you worked it out Hilary, I haven't figured it out.

      Don't eat and read, always gets the pages messy.

    2. Hi Hilary:) Thanks very much for stopping by and for all your support!! (Plus, you just made me hungry:)

  3. I make my shepherd's pie quite a bit's not the 'traditional' English kind but my husband absolutely loves it.

    1. Doesn't matter what it is if hubby likes it JoJo

    2. That's a rule I live by, too, Jo :) If it tastes good, don't fix it :)

  4. I'm sure by the third interview, Donald realized you were indeed a weird Irish stalker.
    Will you be making Shepherd's Pie for everyone, Mark? And will there be wine?

    1. Oh yes, Mark, what a good idea Alex. Obviously there will be boxed wine.

    2. Actually, should we ever meet - and there is a pot-luck dinner, you know I'm bringing the shepherd's pie - and possibly 2 boxed wines... (Melissa will steal my first one:)

      Donald didn't think I was a stalker until I presented him with an official business plan. (I think it was then that he realized I was serious about writing the book:)

  5. That sounds like a fascinating story! I might have to pick up the book along the way. I do agree with Mark; Shepherd's Pie is a good comfort food.


    1. You should read it Betty. I thoroughly enjoyed the story. Actually I haven't had Shepherd's Pie in years.

    2. Thanks for the kind words, Betty, and Donald's story really is an inspirational one. I know you'll enjoy it:)

  6. Shepherds Pie would be a good choice for tonight ... typical Guy Fawkes Night - its tipping down with rain in Kent!

    1. Poor kids, damp squibs eh Sue? You should try this book too, it is really good.

    2. Rain on Guy Fawkes' Night... ahhh the kids are going to be so sad!

  7. I want to get my mom the book for Christmas! I know she'll appreciate it. :D

    I was telling Mark how my mom always made Shepherd's Pie (she's a Britophile), but she's definitely never used a sauce. Now I have to try it!

    1. Well of course Deborah, Mark and I are both from that part of the world and yet I never make Shepherd's Pie. Not sure why.

    2. Hey Deb! I know your mom will love the book, and let me know how the shepherd's pie works out!

      @Jo: That's interesting! I wonder why...

  8. Another awesome post, Mark! I'm sure Donald had an *inkling* of your stalker tendency, but being the good man that he is, he let it slide because he knew you guys would accomplish something great together. And you did! :)

    OMG, GMD that Shepherd's Pie looks so good. I haven't had it since my twenties. Now that says a lot. *Sigh*

    Love and hugs to both of you!!

    1. Thanks Eva. It is a great book isn't it? I don't remember the last time I made the pie either. Not since the UK I think. I used to make a fish pie a lot when I lived in NC and all kinds of fish was readily available.

      Love and hugs to you as well.

    2. Thanks Eva! You're so sweet - and OK definitely sign me up for the shepherd's pie when we all meet up one day.

  9. Loved this book and love Shepherd's Pie!! Thanks Jo for having Mark on here, and thanks Mark for the recipe!!

    1. Yeah Lisa, but where's the boxed wine to go with it?

    2. Thanks for the kind words, Lisa!!!

      @Jo: Er, well, it's funny that you mention that....

  10. What a fabulous post! It has everything including a recipe. Sounds like a wonderful uplifting story and the Irish can spin a yarn better than anyone in the world as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for hosting Mark on the blog, Jo

    1. Mork, sorry, Mark, is a very good friend of mine and I absolutely loved this book. Do hope you can get it in your neck of the woods Pinky. Help keep you from going nuts whilst Scotto isn't there. Thanks for the compliments. Did you get Mork and Mindy in Oz?

    2. Hi Pinky: Thanks so very much. Really appreciate the kind words! (I know my brother in Ireland was able to order the book on Amazon Ireland (Europe?) Hopefully, your "local" Amazon will have it, too.

      PS: My publisher, Pen-L Publishing, does ship to Australia!

  11. This does sound like an inspiring story for sure. It sounds like Mark-you were so happy to have met this man. As for Shepherd's pie?.....I shall pass:)

    1. It is Birgit. Hope you get to read it. Sorry you won't try Shepherd's Pie though.