From an underground parking garage at the University of Maryland at Baltimore, the smooth, sweet strains of Julian Matthew's tenor voice echo and then float into the city's streets.
In a formal double-breasted black overcoat trimmed in gold, the 28-year-old is an official "greeter" for UMAB, and he offers a song and a smile to those who pull into the Plaza Garage on West Redwood Street across from the University of Maryland Medical Center.
To some, he has become a melodious fixture on campus. To others, who visit sick relatives at the hospital, his lyrics offer comfort. To strangers who pass the garage, the vibrato is startling and refreshing.
It's all part of a vow Mr. Matthew made to help make his community a kinder, more positive place to live and work. And so far, it is working.
"He has a voice like an angel," said Patricia Murphy, who often visits the UM Medical Center with her 13-year-old daughter, Sarah, an oncology patient. "At first, I was looking for a radio. Then I saw him singing. He gives us a lift, and I really enjoy it."
A UMAB employee for 18 months, Mr. Matthew aspires to become a missionary and is studying at the Maryland Bible College & Seminary in East Baltimore.
His music reverberates off the stark, concrete walls of the garage, drowning out sounds like ignitions and squeaky brakes. A devout man, Mr. Matthew mainly sings hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "How Great Thou Art" while on the job as a way to inspire others, he said.
"For many people, it's a strange place," he said of downtown Baltimore. "It's a great comfort to them to hear someone sing in the midst of a city where there are great negatives. There are so many thoughts -- good or bad -- but when I sing, it orients me to godliness."
Sometimes, he goes into the hospital to perform for patients. Once, a woman whose husband was being treated for a terminal illness at the medical center approached him with thanks.
"She said she had heard me singing 'How Great Thou Art' in the garage and she knew that things would be all right for her," he said. "Others are coming here to the Shock Trauma Center to see very sick friends or relatives and when I sing, it's a comfort zone."
As a child on the island of St. Lucia in the West Indies, Mr. Matthew started singing in a church choir at age 7. After his family moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands in 1980, he continued to sing in choirs, developing a rich tenor voice, known professionally as a countertenor.
Last semester, he took voice lessons before going to Africa for a month on missionary duty. Mr. Matthew said that after he graduates from the Bible college in May, he plans to continue working at UMAB until he can save enough money to become a full-time foreign missionary.
He said he decided to sing publicly as a way to block out thoughts that were "good or bad."
"I first think of my singing as a prayer to God," he said. "Song is a prayer -- it keeps me pure when there are so many things happening here that are negatives. I see people begging on the streets. I see university students walking by and I know they have a professional skill, but their life is void of God. So I sing
religious songs because it's the only thing that gives us hope."
Most people know Mr. Matthew not by name, but as "the singer" around the campus that is near Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Frank Williams, associate vice president for marketing and communications at UMAB, says Mr. Matthew's talent has given the university a unique personality.
"This was not something you would expect at an institution like this," said Mr. Williams, who parks daily in the garage where Mr. Matthew performs. "It's one of the upbeats of my morning, an added value that makes coming to work a little better."
Mr. Matthew's singing -- which begins with his shift at 6 a.m. -- is popular with the other employees of UMAB and the UM Medical Center. As for the garage patrons, it has endeared him to some while others are thrown off guard.
"He drives me crazy," said Nicole Brown, a 19-year-old who has made frequent trips to the UM center for medical treatments. "It sounds like he's hurt. It's a little strange."
Most others, though, disagree.
"It's beautiful," said Jesse Harris, dean of the School of Social Work, who parks in the garage daily. "Every so often, you see someone standing on a corner waving at people and that's nice. Here, he is singing, and it starts people off on a cheerful morning."