Learning recit is HARD

Learning recit is HARD


I’ve just had the privilege to be part of Baroquestock’s first foray into the wonderful world of opera. This is a company that up till now has had the common sense to stick to working with small instrumental ensembles! Until this most recent project they have concentrated on bringing extremely high quality baroque music to the beautiful Hampstead village.

With Lo Speciale (Joseph Haydn’s unfinished three-act opera buffa, Wiki) they bravely and ambitiously set about fully-staging this opera and added in additional music to complete the work. I’m proud of what we managed to produce in a short period of time. It was artistically satisfying, great fun to perform, and we had hugely enthusiastic audiences. It would not have been possible without the goodwill of all involved including the three other singers Alex Pidgen, Emily Gray and Hilary Cronin; as well as the whole creative and production team behind the scenes.

What it takes to be a good singer and a good performer is a complex mesh of skills that include, but are not limited to:

  • remembering all the notes (and what order they come in!),
  • remembering when and where to move on stage,
  • remembering all the words,
  • trying to do a bit of acting,
  • knowing what every word means when you are singing in a foreign language,
  • trying to sing with a bit of style and panache,

and through it all trying to be a nice person to work with!

Now to address this post title – Recitative (Wiki). It’s crucially important in opera of this period and style. Arias are where the lovely tunes happen but it’s within the recit that you can tell a story and it’s where most of the interesting acting can happen. But by-jove is it hard to learn!

It must be memorised, and there are a myriad approaches to this. You think about it from when you wake up to when you go to bed. You sing it in the shower. When you drive the car. You record yourself. You get it out on the tube. You annoy loved ones with it. You put off social engagements and you cut off communication for guilt racks you that you should spend that time working on it! It is a huge, daunting mountain that must be conquered. Repetition is the key to success, but it is relentless and all-consuming for a period.

For me, as long as its gone well, you look back on show day and think to yourself… Is that it? My ~15mins of recit just rolls of the tongue. Why was I ever worried!? The feeling of ease is rewarding when you look back at the long hard slog that got you there. That mountain now just looks like a bit of a hill you managed to climb. And when you hear the audience laugh and clap in appreciation you know that it was all worth it. The moments when you think – is this really the right career choice? – are once again buried deep and the thrill of performance is your being and your reason to pick up the next libretto and go through it all again!

And now I’m happy say that I’m a freelance musician, opera singer, classical singer… whatever you want to call it (postgraduate studies officially over!). I used this project to reflect on the career I am beginning to forge. One thing that really struck me was that

Singing is not just a career, it’s a lifestyle choice.

I’m enjoying the lifestyle and so far people seem prepared to pay me to sing for them, so – onwards and upwards! It’s audition season and how busy I am next year very much depends on the opportunities I create for myself over the next few months. Wish me luck!

A Day In The Life


On the 1st of August 2017 I assumed my role as ‘Vice President of Music’ on the Trinity Laban Student Union team.

Here’s a glimpse at what went on during this year’s induction and freshers’. Two weeks that are some of the busiest the SU has to deal with all year. Following a week-long handover from the previous team we are thrust straight into the task of arranging a fortnight of activities for students with barely any time to think, and definitely very little previous experience to help us cope with the workload!

Sunday

We’ve got no time to recover from a gruelling Saturday having been at McMillan halls helping new students move in and handing over their SU welcome packs (with condoms, chlamydia tests, sweets, baked beans, t-shirt and event wristbands) all day. On Sunday, we’re back at halls helping whilst trying to arrange one of the biggest events of the two weeks – BBQ night at the Laban building. Unfortunately it’s raining and we think the whole thing is scuppered until facilities and security come to our rescue and let us use the ramp at Laban instead of the grass. Hundreds of freshers have a fantastic time. The bar is busy all night, the food is yummy and the dance-offs on the floor are phenomenal! The DJ packs up at the end of the night and we all agree we’ve got a great bunch of students this year – freshers is going to be exhausting but fun!

Monday

The team heads out to buy bar supplies, helium gas and make deliveries in my car. Tonight is Dirrty Disney night at North Pole Piano Bar. We’ve booked a DJ again for this fun dress up party and we decorate our private venue with Disney character helium filled balloons and light-up foam sticks. The event goes off without a hitch and after acting as doorman & photographer all evening I finally get to walk home in the drizzle at 2am.

Tuesday

This is ‘my’ big event! It’s the freshers fair at the Laban Building. Planning and organising the fair has taken months to finalise. Making sure every stand has paid their invoice and has all the details necessary to attend is a mammoth job but on the day everything goes swimmingly. Some of the stands I was most excited to have were the ROH Jette Parker scheme, Equity & the MU and at least three London orchestras to name but a few. There was a great atmosphere at the fair and students seemed interested in what we had to offer. Another success!

Wednesday

Today, some positive reviews came in from an opera project I had been working on in Leeds a few weeks previously. A lovely way to start the day! This was swiftly replaced by the dreaded recollection of planning the evening’s freshers’ event – the annual bar crawl! Despite our best efforts to put everyone into even teams I somehow ended up with about 50 MT students on my team. We went around sampling Greenwich’s finest pubs and had a riot.

Thursday

With so much to do to ensure both weeks run smoothly the whole SU team has to work together seamlessly. We are very lucky this year that we all get along so well and get stuck in when things get tough. With four events out of the way but 10 more still to go we were feeling the pressure by now. We persevered to run the quiz night planned for the evening and yoga class during the day.

Friday

One of our big budget events was the Casino Night at Blackheath Halls on this evening. We had professional croupiers with a variety of casino tables and a live jazz band from the hugely talented Ben Vize Sextet.

I am very proud to hold my position on the SU. Of course freshers’ is the one time of the year when we get to be party planners. The rest of the year is nowhere near as glamorous and the team and I work on student welfare, academic and fundraising issues which are just as satisfying.

Reflections on the first term at Trinity Laban

Much to my delight, in 2016 I was accepted on the postgraduate performance course at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance in Greenwich, London with a scholarship. This is mostly thanks to my fantastic teacher, Lynton Atkinson who suggested I put and application in at the college (having been made redundant at my work and wondering what the next chapter might hold in store)! I’m glad to say that having been accepted there a term has already flown by with much accomplished to boot.

Being absent form the academic world since graduating from Royal Holloway in 2009 I was a little apprehensive to what may lie in store at the beginning of the course in September of 2016. My apprehension was of course soon forgotten as term began with a flurry of welcome lectures, introductions and concerts. From the first day there was an atmosphere of creativity, a passion for exploring new knowledge and for pushing boundaries. It was, and still is a fantastic environment to be a part of and contribute towards.

The head of the vocal department, the wonderful Linda Hirst, kicked of the term by holding an improvising workshop with Douglas Finch a member of piano department staff. Looking back at this early experience I see that it epitomises part of what Trinity Laban tries at all times to engender within their students – curiosity for learning and without worrying about failure. There was no right or wrong here, simply lots of ideas coming together. New postgrad students and pianists working together to crate new music at the very start of term and performing to each other. There were no preconceived ideas of perfection or right or wrong because all the ideas were new and original. While we study at the conservatoire we are all preparing for a professional career but this is our chance to try new things, to explore our instrument and ideas within an academic framework.

Other firsts for me have included intensive language training in Italian, German and French. I have been introduced to IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet. This is becoming an indispensable tool to help standardise and perfect my pronunciation, although I still have quite a way to go yet!

Our language classes are informative and helpful and something that was clearly missing from my training toolbox prior to staring the postgraduate course. I’m glad to finally be filling the gap in my knowledge. From information in these classes it is vital I transfer over the skills and apply to any current or new repertoire by adding translations to all my songs and IPA symbols to help with the pronunciation. In the past I have been guilty of singing in a foreign language without knowing the full meaning of the text – this is something as an aspiring professional I cannot allow to continue. It requires hard work (of course) but pays off in performance as you are more convincing and connected with the text. Embodying and connecting with the text will translate into better body language and story telling to communicate with the audience effectively.

As well as language classes we also have weekly song an performance classes taken by Lind Hirst and other professional singers. These classes are on a sign-up basis and I took part in my fair share over the term. One stand out song class was a German class taken by Richard Jackson. His passion for performance and the German repertoire is infections and his feedback was invaluable. It would be remiss of me if I forgot to mention that I am of course still with Lynton Atkinson as my primary teacher. Under his tutelage I am making strides forward with my technique and vocal timbre. I also have coaching sessions with the brilliant Anna Tilbrook who is helping me with new repertoire and preparing for the daunting professional world of opera auditions.

More exiting projects in the first term included opera scenes. As one of only a handful of men on the course I was lucky to be included in two scenes – as Tamino in The Magic Flute and Quint in The Turn of the Screw. The director for the term was the extremely talented and informed Julia Hollander. Her insights into both scenes were invaluable and I believe we pulled off a successful production with a taster of the event below.

I successfully auditioned for Trinity Laban chamber choir and have been rehearsing twice weekly for various concerts and recordings since. The choir is run by Stephen Jackson who works us hard but gets extraordinary results, I am singing first Tenor in the choir. Some highlights in the first term included a lunchtime concert at St Martin in the Fields and two performances of Will Todd’s Mass in Blue at St Alfege’s Church and Blackheath Hall. I have a long background of performing with choirs, although it had slipped over recent years. It feels good to be back singing with other talented choristers producing some high quality music. There are lots more exiting gigs coming up in 2017 too so watch this space.

I was also accepted onto the Rubythroat chamber vocal group led by Linda Hirst. We performed Berio’s Cries of London at the Bonnie Bird auditorium in the Laban building in a 4th year dance student showcase evening. The project was a challenging one as I have not have much experience with such contemporary chamber music, however I relished the experience and also got to work closely with the dances which was a wonderful experience. I have a great deal more respect for dances and their art having been closely involved in their process to create a new piece of work. I’m happy to say the event was a sell out performance at the theatre and a great success. I’m looking forward to working towards the next Rubthroat project with the other 7 members next term.

2016 at Trinity finished for me with a lunchtime concert organised by the student run Puzzle Piece opera company. This was a great way to end the term and we had a decent audience at St Alfege’s Church in Greenwich. 2017 is turning out to be even busier than the first term so watch this space for an update on what I’ve been up to when I have time to put pen to paper, or should i say finger to keyboard, again.