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The Magic Hoot

July 26, 2020 — 43 Comments

I want to share with you this week a collaboration I did recently with Arcadian Opera. The musical vocal piece is their adaptation of the overture to ‘The Magic Flute’ by Mozart. There are some witty lyrics in the different vocal parts so I hope that you enjoy listening and that it spurs the odd chuckle. Fingers crossed that this production will be able to open to audiences soon.

I always find returning to my home recharging, and I love catching up with my Mum and Dad. They are constant inspirations as they work so hard and with a high level of dedication to whatever task they take on. When I was younger, I loved watching them explore new ideas. Now as an adult I see how they are always pushing their limits, improving their current working methods and experimenting with creative pastimes. It reminds me that time always flows on and as one door closes another opens.

I’m looking forward to putting my foot back on the gas next week and brainstorm new ideas and learn new music that I’ve had on my aspirational to-do list. It was great to have a rest, but tomorrow brings new challenges and opportunities.

Last Friday I had a lovely surprise, I received a gift box from Amazon Smiles.  They read that George and I had to cancel our wedding in June and sent through a few items which really did bring a smile to my face.

A strong childhood memory for me is watching The Phantom of the Opera with my parents on a Sunday afternoon. We would sing along with the 2004 film adaptation of the musical starring Gerald Butler and Emmy Rossum. To me, it is a beautiful film, with sparkling costumes and sweet moments of intimacy between the Phantom and Christine.

This Tuesday I was invited to watch a friend Eleanor Sanderson-Nash perform in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of The Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. Ellie and I shared the stage in Mansfield Park, whilst working for the Waterperry Opera Festival and we were also students at the Royal College of Music.

Ellie is one of the company’s ‘Swings’. A Swing is a member of the company who understudies several chorus roles, this involves memorising multiple parts (or as they call it in the biz “tracks”), which can involve different vocal harmonies, entrance and exits and actions. It is a very demanding role and needs an artist who is not only talented but one who is organised, able to remember multiple tracks and able to accommodate flexibility within their scheduling, (as they may the called upon with short notice). It was great seeing her rock her stuff on Tuesday!

Ellie also took me on a backstage tour before the show began. I was able to stand on the stage, see iconic props and moveable set such as Christine’s dressing room, Phantom’s organ, and boat, the life-size masquerade props – which click into the stairs to give the impression of raucous party-goers and of course the iconic, and very large, Elephant from the Hannibal rehearsal scene.

I was interested to find out that this show has a team of 130 people involved (cast, crew, and orchestra). The Show has been at Her Majesties Theatre for over 30 years and because the theatre is historically listed it still uses many old-fashioned techniques to manually change the sets. In modern theatres, these changes are normally done by a computer but at this theatre, stagehands are positioned at particular pullies with specifically timed queues to ensure the show runs smoothly. There are truly many phantoms who create this magnificent show, who the audience never gets to see!

Eleanor Sanderson-Nash in her costume for the Hannibal Scene

I had a fantastic time seeing a different side to this show that holds a special place for me in my heart. Go to see it if you’re in London you won’t be sorry.

Happy New Year For 2020

December 31, 2019 — 75 Comments

I’m back in London now after A truly magical Christmas at home with my family and loved ones. I took some time off from technology and I enjoyed playing board games with my brothers whilst the fire was crackling. I’ve been reading a great book, “Eve of Man”, which my friend Elspeth lent to me. Of course, I ate far too much food and I’m ready to get back into the dance studio to shimmy off a few pounds. But mostly it reminded me of how much I have to be grateful for and how lucky I am.

Firstly I’d like to say thank you for supporting me on my blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram this year. My blog allows me to record my crazy life and remind myself weekly of the many joys of being an Opera Singer. Thank you for letting me share them with you. My blog friends, you’ve given me so much support which has allowed me to continue and has given me the energy for the new and exciting year which is just on the horizon.

Please let me know if there’s anything that you’d like me to expand on in the coming New Year. I’m keen to hear your thoughts and always love your questions.

I’m a very tough self-critic and moving from one project to the next I haven’t had the time to fully appreciate and savour all the exciting things that I’ve done this year. So I want to take this time as one year ends and a new one begins to look back and cherish all of my memories, give thanks for my good health which has enabled me to complete all these wonderful shows, and thank all my friends and family who helped me learn the countless words and melodies! 

Operas 2019
The Christmas Elf ( Pfitzner )
Romeo & Juliet ( Gounod )
The Fire Of Olympus ( Benjamin )
Mansfield Park ( Dove )
Much Ado About Nothing (Stanford)
Puffy McPuffer And The Crabbit Canals
A Little Bit Of The Magic Flute ( Arr. D Clarke )
A Little Bit Of Iolanthe ( Arr. D Clarke )

Competitions
Veronica Dunne Int Singing Competition.
Seoul International Music Competition.

Seoul Was A Wonderful Place To Visit

Things I am proud of in 2019
I sang alongside Rolando Villazón at the Llangollen International Eisteddfod Classical Gala.

I drove in London for the first time, which gave me the confidence to use my own car when I took on touring work in Manchester and Leeds.

I moved out of my room in a shared house and moved into my flat, and I am so happy to now have a permanent home in London.

This week’s post is in celebration of the marriage of my dear friend Ellie to her kind-hearted Husband Rory. The ceremony took place yesterday, 18th May 2019 in Criccieth, which is a beautiful part of North Wales.

Criccieth, North Wales

For me the day started with a mad dash mammoth drive all the way down to the venue, it was like a scene from a romcom, I literally abandoned my car in the car park and ran across the lawn to where the ceremony was taking place arriving with only minutes to spare.   But I wasn’t going to miss it for anything and was so proud to be a part of her big day.  It was an honour to sing as part of their wedding celebrations and I wish them both many happy years to come.

Rory & Ellie

I’ve known Ellie from childhood when we used to be sparring partners at Karate together. Over the years we entered and won national Karate competitions together and completed both our 1st and 2nd Dan Black Belts before I had to leave to take up my training at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. It took over ten years of hard work, determination, and perseverance to complete all of our gradings (exams) but we had lots of fun along the way.

Ellie and Me

She was my rock, in and outside of the dojo. A friend to turn to at times in need and continues to be! She has time for everyone and always thinks of others before herself as her father said in his heart-warming speech during the celebrations.

To close tonight I would like to ask if you have any words of wisdom or sound advice that the happy couple may like to read here on my blog post?

Cracking Inspiration

January 13, 2019 — 41 Comments

From a young age, I have many happy and vivid memories of performing in front of audiences. I was always thrilled to know that I could tell a story through dance, music, singing, acting, or speaking to a group of people, both large and small. I felt lucky that for every performance a selection of the audience would always be my supportive family but it was always special when a stranger came up to me and commented on my performance, especially if I had a small role and they noticed my constant focus and smile. This is why on Monday I attended the LSSO (London Schools Symphony Orchestra) New Year Concert at the Barbican. The young orchestra is a collection of children aged 12-18, who have been selected following an audition process to participate in courses that culminate with a concert. On this occasion, the LSSO performed ‘Death and Transfiguration’ by Strauss. Following which the performers were joined by soprano Rachel Nichols to perform three orchestra songs by Strauss then the Brünnhilde solo’s in ‘Twilight of the Gods’ by Wagner. At the start of a new year, it was energising to watch these players because they bowed, plucked and breathed life into the music with sheer enjoyment and wild enthusiasm. Their playing enthused my practice with risk-taking and the goals of seeking fun. It is always important to remind yourself of these two aspects when making music – especially when constantly focusing on the technical aspects of my singing. I felt lucky to have seen this performance and I’m glad that I went. The LSSO is funded by the FYM ( the Foundation for Young Musicians ) which also funds the Centre for Young Musicians.

Last Friday I bought some ‘Friday Rush’ tickets from the Royal Opera House to attend their performance of the Nutcracker. Even though my ‘seat’ was standing, I was chuffed to have got the ticket as I remember watching several touring ballets as a child with my Mum. We would go for my birthday if the company came to our local hall. I loved the glitter, the extravagant tutus, and the impeccable footwork and I was not disappointed with the ROH’s performance.

The Nutcracker

The character Drosselmeyer, entered the children’s home in a vivid blue cape with gold decoration and a splash of glitter, each time he entered he would clap his hands together creating an explosion of glitter creating a golden cloud on the stage. It was so magical, the first time there was a mutual gasp of enjoyment from the audience! I loved it and now I want to enter every room with a glitter cloud! Although hoovering it up afterward could become a chore, haha. Every dancer jumped with elegance and occasionally humour across the stage. Each arm gesture flowed from shoulder to fingertip – inspiring my practice for musical phrasing. I wanted to imagine that the air danced away from my mouth like a Ballerina’s gesture and arm line. The King and Queen of Sweetie land had exquisite onstage chemistry; their movements were so in sync and slick you that they seemed conjoined!

ROH-Nutcracker-Sugar Plum Fairy

I took so much personal enjoyment from the performance and many new ideas for my own work. It just shows you that sometimes looking at other genres and work can help inspire you and lift you forwards closer to your goals.

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I read an article in The Guardian about music disappearing from the English school curriculum as research has shown the number of schools offering the subject at A-level (Advanced Level) is in sharp decline, and fewer students are taking Music at thirteen to sixteen years of age which I believe is down to the new English baccalaureate putting more emphasis on STEM subjects (Science, Technology and Maths) and a humanities plus a foreign language.

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How long could it be before Geography or History and other humanities are considered subjects people can ‘study outside of school hours’ and they get dropped, and why not? You can read these books alone outside of school! The majority of 16-year-olds are now expected to stay in compulsory 16-18 education but the options for what you can study is becoming restricted to what ‘The Government’ want to pay for.  I’d love to read your opinion even if it differs from mine.

Violin and piano

With music, you need help to read the musical language and set you off on how to play musical instruments. Music technology has also declined by more than 32% in the last two years.  The problem with only offering music ‘out of school hours’ is the cost for parents and I suspect that if checked the schools that don’t offer a full music provision are those in most deprived areas.  In 2012, when I left school, music was a compulsory subject for 11-13 year-olds (up to Year 8), this survey says it is only compulsory in 47.5% of schools now.  Music department staffing has fallen by 36% which is a concern for music graduates as a whole employment route is being closed down.  Humans don’t just make music for work and career purposes, for many it is their enjoyment, their hobby, a way of socialising and meeting likeminded groups of people.

Classic music Sax tenor saxophone violin and clarinet vintage

At my primary school basic singing took place in groups but if you wanted to play an instrument you had to pay extra for a half-hour lesson during breaks or after school.  At High School musical instrument tuition and solo singing were outside of the music lessons, I have been truly blessed that my parents paid for these classes but they were supplemented with free GCSE’s (General Certificates in Education) in contemporary dance, drama, and music and I doubt you could fund sufficient lessons privately that would be required without any performing arts in the curriculum and you would be missing out as a student in key skills.

I was the only student taking Music A (Advanced) level at my 6th Form college 16-18 so I took the lessons in a BTEC music group (which is mainly performance based without the music literacy) which restricted the academic rigour of the Advanced Level course and once again my parents stepped in to pay for several private lessons to fill the gaps I discovered I had after my first year of study, this is not to take anything away from my music teachers they were both wonderful, however, they didn’t have the time or funds to help any more than they did.  I would not like to have started at a music conservatoire without the full music theory grounding, in fact I’m not sure I would have got in.

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Perhaps we in England may need to stop school 6th forms if they can’t offer a full enriching curriculum. Then channel all 16-year-olds into County colleges to consolidate several schools A level cohort (16-18-year-old) giving more student numbers per course?  What do you think?

We now have the UK Government deciding what English pupils learn, I wonder how many of them have Music degrees? Perhaps this is a new job prospect for music graduates   – enter politics in order to ensure creatives are represented in the seat of power.

I would add that both of my brothers are in professions considered ‘academic’ STEM-related study areas now, yet both were allowed to study the performing arts, Drama and Dance and both took singing lessons and this has enriched their characters, enabled them to enjoy working in teams, and given them the ability to make presentations to big groups of people without too much fear.  Both of them still ballroom dance and most of all it taught them persistence, dedication, and not to give up on hard to learn skills.  The arts can also provide a relief from stress and is good for their mental health and well being that they can find escapes in art and creative pursuits.

Music Teachers, Chalkboard, Apple

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Me with my singing Teacher, Rosa Mannion

During my studies and training, I have found the help of my music teachers and mentors invaluable, they have each guided my development and progression to date and helped me achieve goals that would have been unattainable without them. I am currently studying with Rosa Mannion who is both an inspiration and encouraging taskmaster.  We are currently studying together the importance of the soft palette in vocal technique and I’m excited to hear more about her research and put into practice the recommendations.

Destinations

February 4, 2018 — 60 Comments

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Allie and Me At Olympia

During the week I was invited to join my blog friend Cate McDermott and her sister, Allie on a trip to Destinations: The Holiday & Travel Show at Olympia London in West Kensington. So, I agreed to meet them outside the exhibition centre today as I thought it would be an excellent opportunity to take a break from my studies and musical preparations and spend a couple of hours in the company of friends exploring all the exotic destinations on offer at the show. Unfortunately, Cate was taken ill and was not able to make the trip to London but Allie explained that she would still be coming in so we made arrangements on where to meet.

We had a wonderful time walking around the different stalls soaking up the worldwide culture, whilst sharing our dream travel destinations. We also discussed how visiting and researching different towns, cities, and countries influence our work, myself as singer and Allie as a writer and chef. This was really fascinating to me as I love to hear about people’s working methods and how fine details from History, architecture, personal memories, art can influence creativity.

The exhibition is a brilliant opportunity for people to get great deals on trips. Expert speakers were on site to inspire, some of these were Best Selling Travel authors such as Rick Stein, Katie Bowman, Mark Brownlow (producer of Blue Planet II) and many more. If you are set on embarking upon a backpacking trip, cruise or you have an ideal destination in mind, this is the place to go and the exhibition takes place every year, so keep an eye out for the next one.

Destinations

Inside Olympia

As well as informative talks, the Destination show had street food stalls, travel health advice, and Experience The World Stages (Europe/Asia/The Americas) where we tried Isikate – South American Natural Energy drink, Soju Rice Wine, Mead and Low & Slow BBQ Pulled Pork.  Allie had booked herself on the Travel Photography Masterclass where Steve Davey and Paul Goldstein were giving advice on how to improve your pictures whilst on holiday, which I hope she found thought-provoking and inspiring. I can’t wait to discuss what she learned when I next see her.

I am now filled with excitement and I will begin saving for a holiday getaway. I am still undecided on what would be my dream destination as there are so many beautiful and inspiring places to visit but any recommendations would be gratefully received. Let me know what you think.

I have always enjoyed reading and sharing the experiences and travels of friends I have met through their blogs, here are a few that you may want to check out:

https://toffeefee.wordpress.com/

https://walesforever.cymru/

https://bespoketraveler.com/

https://cindyknoke.com/

https://retireediary.wordpress.com/

https://badfish2.com/

https://coastingnz.wordpress.com/

I hope that Cate is feeling better soon and I am looking forward to catching up with her and Allie again soon.

The Role Of Observer

April 30, 2017 — 22 Comments

This week I had the pleasure to attend two musical events both of which allowed me to watch some outstanding singers.

On Wednesday I attended the semi-final for the 62nd competition for the Kathleen Ferrier Awards. It was held at the Wigmore Hall in London and the atmosphere felt full of energy and bursting with life thanks to the wonderful supportive audience. I attended the event with my dear friend Harvey, in which we were serenaded by 11 performances from young professional singers. They each had to prepare a varied program lasting up to 20 minutes, which included works from different periods of music. These 11 singers had been selected by audition following the preliminary round. From the 11 singers, the judges had to shortlist 6 for the final that was to take place on Friday 28th April. It was interesting to be able to observe these fine singers as I could relax and enjoy as they created beautiful music. I was thankful for the opportunity to show my support for these amazing young professionals as I know first-hand how important it is for the performers to have an enthusiastic audience in a competition such as this.

The singers selected for the final were:
Eduard Mas Bacardit, tenor accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano
Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone accompanied by Gamal Khamis, piano
Patrick Terry, counter-tenor accompanied by Somi Kim, piano
Francesca Chiejina, soprano accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano
James Way, tenor accompanied by Natalie Burch, piano
Daniel Shelvey, baritone accompanied by Dylan Perez, piano

Following the final on Friday the winners were announced as:
First Prize – Julien Van Mellaerts, baritone
Second Prize – James Way, tenor
Song Prize – Patrick Terry, counter-tenor
Accompanist’s Prize – Gamal Khamis, piano

Congratulations to them on their achievements and special thank you to all of this year’s performers

Exterminating Angel ROH April 2017

Then on Thursday, I was able to get a student ticket for the performance of “The Exterminating Angel” at the Royal Opera House. This performance was part of the UK premiere of the opera written by Thomas Adès. It was especially electrifying, as Adès conducted the music himself. The piece was written and sung in English which allowed me to understand the chilling story more easily. The house was very full of excited observers and before a note was played I was bewildered and amazed to see *SPOILER ALERT* real live sheep on the stage! I have no idea why this excited me so, especially after my recent trip home to the English countryside. I was intrigued to see if they would be used whilst the live music was blaring full thrust but just before the conductor took to the podium they were guided off stage.

The opera took place in a mansion in which sophisticated guests are expected for dinner. The large star-studded cast performed the dramatic music and remained on stage for the majority of the performance. Which was wonderful for a student of opera as I could watch the singers acting and analyse their performance throughout. This helped me to see all aspects of the on-stage skills of the performers, from how to draw focus in a busy scene, prepare an audience for a solo, to providing support and ambiance to another character. It was skilfully played throughout and very enjoyable. As the run is still taking place I will not discuss the plot too thoroughly in detail just in case any of you get to see it, but I just want to say that the technical singing of the performers was outstanding. The composer had written huge dynamic and pitch variety which was demanding even for these experienced professional singers. For example, one soprano was singing all of her lines at the extreme of her range – very very high! It was such a feat and I can’t wait to work technically in the practice room so that I may one day be flexible enough to performance pieces like this in the future.
All in all, it has been a fabulous week 😊

I read that Kasper Holten the Danish Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House, who left Covent Garden, London last month, claimed that the British are prejudiced against opera, perceiving it as elitist and not for them.  The new Director Oliver Mears agrees that the perception exists.  So how does my generation change and challenge this?

Lots of people I went to school and college with would never think to go to an opera, the State schools that my family attended never arranged trips to see an opera although there were trips to watch drama, dance performances, and musical theatre. It’s as though the State schools are keeping this perception going and not trying to make high art accessible to a wider audience if only to make a once in five year visit to the dress rehearsal of an opera performance so that each child has the opportunity to attend once in Primary school and once in Secondary education.

Although I’ve never been invited back to my High School to discuss training in a conservatoire, perform or undertake a demonstration with the music students I would be happy to,  the classical singing teacher that taught me at the school is no longer available to the students. Jayne led to several people in her short time teaching extra-curricular singing at the school to undertake classical training, and several of her students are now either working in the crossover industry or undertaking training at prestigious Conservatoires.  If she gave just ten of us this transformative experience that opened our minds and expanded our knowledge, then that’s a good thing, isn’t it?  Together we are all introducing new families to classical music, people whom prior to our involvement may have had no knowledge of this beautiful music other than the occasional advertisement on the TV, or when they are used in a film score they like.

Everyone talks about wanting social mobility for all, the chance to progress on merit and talent yet so many doors are kept firmly closed that I feel need to be opened.  Last summer in Scotland, Scottish Opera put on ‘The Little White Town of Never Weary’ for primary school children on a tour of Scotland, I can’t tell you how much it meant to me to see the children’s excitement and the smiles on their faces as they interacted with the performers. The Scottish Opera Education team also regularly put on Tours throughout Scotland, bringing pop-up operas to even the most remote areas, they are getting this right.  I’m excited to be part of a creative team on a new project with them again this summer.

In England, we read that music lessons are being cut out of the school curriculum in too many State schools thanks to the new requirements and testing to the EBacc formula that the schools are judged against, there was a controversial piece that I read, written by Charlotte C Gill in the Guardian “Music education is now only for the white and the wealthy”

I saw this at my own High School, they had too few students wanting to take A level Music at the start of my sixth form preferring to take the easier BTEC Music which wouldn’t have given me the skills I required for my next step of training and would have ended my progression were it not for the Head of Music and Music teacher agreeing to allow me to undertake it by self-study within the BTEC class with some extra support from Mr. Leigh. However, I found the breadth of the course really challenging to do on my own and I was so lucky to come into contact with a music teacher outside of school, Suzanne Harvey, a graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire, who lived close to me and helped me so much.  With her help, I improved my understanding and appreciation of music plus the theory which gave me the foundation I needed to move on to a conservatoire. So, I don’t agree with the premise that the teaching of music should be dumbed down and made easier in every instance.

I would be interested to hear how the teaching of music is organised in different countries and if it encourages children to explore classical music and have a more open mind towards the beauty of opera and classical music.

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It was great to catch up with one of my friends today, Katie Oswell, from my time at the RCS, Glasgow. We had a lovely afternoon together and I enjoyed finding out about what she has been up to since I finished at the RCS last summer.

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Katie Oswell and Me

Spring Term Exams

March 19, 2017 — 67 Comments

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I have had a fabulous day today, both productive and entertaining.  It is Spring term exams next week and everyone is busy preparing repertoire for assessment.  I was up early to get some rehearsal time in with my very talented friend, Prajna Indrawati. Prajna is from Indonesia and is currently studying for her Masters in Piano at the RCM and kindly agreed to accompany me in my exam.

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Prajna and Me

It was a lovely bright spring morning and the RCM looked very majestic in the sunshine.  I enjoyed the rehearsal and it helped me to get a feel for how the pieces are developing. My exam slot is 10:00 am on Wednesday but on Tuesday I will be singing an aria with Prajna as part of her assessment, and also singing two Lieder with another student Laura Ayoub as part of her accompaniment assessment. It is going to be a busy couple of days.

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The Royal College Of Music

This afternoon we were offered the opportunity to watch the dress rehearsal of ‘Faramondo’ which the RCM is staging in conjunction with the London Handel Festival. The Festival runs from March 18th through to April 24th and also hosts a number of amazing concerts and recitals.  You can watch  ‘Faramondo’ on Monday 20th March, Tuesday 21 March, Thursday 23 March and Saturday 25 March, in the Britten Theatre at the RCM.

It was wonderful to watch the dress rehearsal and see my fellow students from the RCM and the RCM International Opera School perform this fabulous opera.  They brought the story to life in a dynamic interpretation under the watchful eye of the conductor Laurence Cummings and accompanied by the London Handel Orchestra. What a way to spend a Sunday afternoon 🙂