Monday, 4 November 2013

You gotta get a gimmick.....no wait, do you?

I have spoken, at length, in previous Diary entries about trying to second guess audition panels and choosing repertoire that you think they will want to hear. This got me thinking about my time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.


I auditioned 3 times to get onto the Guildhall's postgraduate vocal course. I nearly stopped at 2 auditions and didn't bother the third time but as it was, it really was a case of third time lucky. At that point I was having singing lessons with Mary Moore in Oxford. She, herself, had been taught by a teacher at Guildhall and she was keen to see me have lessons with him when I started my course. He had heard me sing as he was on the audition panel all 3 times I auditioned. When I got accepted she suggested I write to him and ask him if he would consider taking me on. He wrote me a very nice note back to say he didn't have space. Fair enough, I knew he was in demand so I was prepared for this minor setback. I thought no more about this, until my final year at Guildhall. I was in my second year on the Opera Course there so everything had gone to plan. My Guildhall career had been pretty successful and the future looked bright (ha ha ha). However, all of this might never have happened had Mary Moore's old teacher had his way. During a coaching session in my final year with the, then, head of vocal studies the fact that I had tried to get that teacher to take me on happened to come up in conversation. I was bluntly informed that had this singing teacher had his way I would not have got into the Guildhall at all. I felt mortified that I had written that letter 4 years before asking him to be my teacher when he really didn't think I should have had a place at all. However, I digress (already).


You will be thrilled to learn I did manage to find myself a pretty darn good singing teacher in Annette Thompson who I still see today, 11 years after leaving Guildhall. Now, I have always been pretty good at coloratura (in very simple terms I can sing lots of notes really fast) but I also had quite a full blooded (potentially) lyric (maybe bigger) soprano voice. I decided that the coloratura route was the one I should take and would spend my time singing as many notes as physically possible at all times. This became my "gimmick". At this point I kind of regret trying to specialise. It was always in my head that I HAD to have a gimmick, something to set me apart from the crowd, whereas what I should have done is concentrate on getting the core of my voice solid. This very fast repertoire led me to, inevitably, try and take on higher and higher repertoire also. I was desperate to sing the Queen of the Night (from The Magic Flute for those who are unsure). I knew if I could master it I would never stop working. I am a tall, fairly imposing looking person, kind of perfect, character wise, for the this rôle. Unfortunately one thing eluded me. I did not have, and still do not have, a top F (except when I have a cold - weird). This small fact is pretty important, however, for anyone trying to sing this rôle. Unfortunately I would not accept defeat and just kept hammering the high stuff. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I suspect I was a little foolish to limit myself whilst at college. To be fair, I think it is understandable that I would want to show something different. I think I just went a step too far. The fast stuff is fine but my voice really isn't as high as I thought it was. I will happily whack out the odd top D or E (my last job is testament to that fact) but my voice is much more interesting a little lower. 


Had I not been so hung up on having a gimmick who knows where I would be now. Possibly exactly where I am now. We will never know. If I HAD done things differently I may not have had a the interesting, eclectic and exciting career I have had up to now. The moral of this little tale is, for all you young singers trying to make your mark, just sing. You really don't need to have a gimmick. If anything you need to be versatile these days to keep working. I have absolutely thrown away any thoughts that I have any kind of gimmick to offer and have definitely embraced versatility. I urge you to do the same.

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