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Profile: Brian Moles, organist, teacher, singer and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

My musical beginnings were seeded when I was at a prep school and ended up joining a Parish choir in Windsor. The organist, Rick Erickson, also happened to be my school piano and singing teacher. He introduced a love and respect for choral music, in particular the music of Stanford and Vaughan Williams. He played a pivotal role in inspiring me to pursue music, even when I was having doubts during my teenage years.

Another great influence was Ron Ferris, who had taken on the role of Musical Director of Surrey Heath Choral Society at the time I was leaving school, and I took up the position of accompanist. He encouraged me to pursue my music career and to apply to Royal Holloway as an Organ Scholar, where I met Doctor (now Professor) Lionel Pike.

Lionel was another key influence for me – working with him as both lecturer and Director of the Chapel choir, I gained valuable insight and experience and cemented a love of choral music. I owe all three of them a debt of gratitude for the position I am in today.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Finding the role that fits you as a musician, I would say, has been the challenge. After leaving University I was not entirely sure in which direction my career was going. My twenties saw me acting as a Cathedral assistant organist; teaching primary and secondary classroom music in schools; a peripatetic music teacher; a freelance conductor, and singing as a lay clerk in a cathedral.

It was only in 2009 that, when I moved to Portsmouth to take on the position of Organist and Director of Music at St Mary’s Church, that I found my feet, so to speak. Portsmouth has become my home and I am very happy living and working in the city, contributing to the musical life through teaching in schools, my work at the church, and helping support the outreach work at the Anglican Cathedral. It has also given me time to focus on composing and arranging too.

I’ve always sought those musical opportunities that present a challenge in various ways – be it collaborating to provide music for a new youth theatre production, working with a composer and fellow conductor to produce new music outside in the round in front of a fire for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad, or laying down jazz piano and backing vocals for a rock album – all these challenges present new and refreshing opportunities which I enjoy doing and, I suppose, allowing me to appreciate the many different facets of the musical world.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked with a variety of musicians – both professional, semi-professional and amateur. Singing with a cathedral choir (St Albans) as a tenor lay clerk was a joy and delight: particularly to perform top quality music week in, week out, with a team of top-rate musicians and singers, was a real privilege.

Music is though a universal thing, and it’s been equally rewarding to introduce works to various different choirs and groups and to see them as they journey through from learning to enjoying this music, particularly if they felt it was beyond them. The reward of seeing others develop their musical abilities and confidence is an amazing thing: I’m proud to think I play a part in helping others be enlightened by music.

How would you describe your musical language?

There are definite English influences in my works – probably inspired by twentieth-century composers like Gerald Finzi and Herbert Howells. The harmonic language speaks to me and has always touched me in a profound way. If I could write as half as well as them, I would be happy! I’d like to think I follow in that English tradition. Recently I’ve developed a love of jazz and that idiom, and I am sure as my works mature there is more of an influence of this coming in too.

How do you work?

Often my compositions start life at the piano, exploring phrases and ideas. The ideas then grow out of that – in the old-fashioned way of pencil on manuscript paper! I then refine and often rewrite ideas to improve on what I have scribbled down, and then slowly bring the work together. This is true for all genres that I compose in – not just choral works (although these are my main compositional focus). I’ve written for various different instruments and genres, arranging as well as composing.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I’ve alluded to Howells and Finzi already, but I enjoy much of the 20th-century English world – I would add Vaughan Williams and Holst to that list. I have an appreciation for contemporary composers, but also equally a deep respect and admiration for the language of the Tudor world too. Some of the writing of English composers of the time of Henry VIII through to Elizabeth I (and beyond) is sublime and cannot be equalled.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why?

Strangely, I enjoy performing contemporary works, or ones that challenge me. I think it’s the challenge of the new that I like, and I think respond well to.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

That’s a hard one to answer – mainly due to the variety of performances that I have done, from directing large scale choir and orchestras, down to solo performances, or even working in the pit for staged musical productions, often producing music from scratch.

It’s equally rewarding helping young people take their first steps in performing, and seeing youngsters realise their potential is equally one that I gain great pleasure in.

I’ve been fortunate to work with the Anglican Cathedral in Portsmouth, helping deliver its outreach project to schools across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, and it’s been wonderful to expose schoolchildren to a world of different musical styles they wouldn’t normally encounter – from great cathedral music to folk songs, even some Christmas carols! It’s amazing to be a part of that experience for them.

As a composer, recently I had a work premiered by the choir at St German’s Cathedral on the Isle of Man for their 40th anniversary of consecration – to see a work come to fruition and the response it had from both performers and those in attendance at its premiere has also been memorable.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

I recall many choral evensongs sung and played whilst at university – singing the Great Service by William Byrd on a sultry June afternoon with the sounds of the choir echoing around the college chapel stick in my mind, or the performance of Walton’s Coronation Te Deum, at which I played the organ.

I was fortunate to be able to sing many concerts and services with the Cathedral choir in St Albans, and there are particular ones that stick in my mind, including a performance of the Messe Solennelle by Langlais in a three choirs’ concert, that was scintillating!

Being able to conduct a performance of Duruflé Requiem and Vivaldi’s Gloria with choir and orchestra in aid of the Music Foundation at St Mary’s was another moment that sticks in my mind, amongst many. There are many performances where the combination of the music, the performance and atmosphere have combined in such a way as to leave a mark on the memory.

Sometimes, however, the most memorable experiences don’t come from the singing – there have been moments in concert tours and the associated escapades related to them – quite often the music being enhanced by the musical escapades and anecdotes associated with them!

One such experience was helping page turn for an organ whilst holding up the front panel of the pedalboard which had come off mid concert! The organ was situated behind the audience, but the choir was able to see the whole thing and fought hard not to laugh at the sight of me comically holding the organ together. The organist was unfazed however, and finished playing to a resounding cheer. Moments like that sometimes make a concert.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Don’t give up! It’s a hard graft and it will take you on a path you sometimes don’t expect. Be prepared for challenges, opportunities and also things to go in strange directions at times – sometimes things don’t go the way you would like, but don’t despair and keep doing what you believe in and love, and you will persevere.

How would you define success as a musician?

The legacy we leave as performers, composers, and teachers – helping inspire others through our contribution to life and society through our musical endeavours. Whether big or small, the impact can make a difference to people, and to be able to do that, in whatever means, I think is a measure of success and is something I strive through, by directing, teaching, performing, and composing.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

Teaching on-line, recording, and through rehearsals over Zoom. It’s great to be able to see people in choirs on the screen and have that sense of connectivity. To help them with some kind of musical element to their lives is important, and whilst it can be strangely eerie playing through a piece and then the silence that follows, it’s reassuring to turn back and see faces smiling back and appreciating the music. It is the thought that there IS an end where we can get back together to make music that acts as a beacon of hope – music is a unifying force and it’s vital to keep people engaged with it, even from afar.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I honestly don’t know, but I hope I am still able to educate, inspire and encourage people through music, wherever I am!

What is your present state of mind?

Probably similar to many others! Frustrated, but hopefully we’ll weather this and looking forward to the future with hope.

 

Brian Moles is an organist, teacher, singer and composer, based in Portsmouth. A Masters in Music Graduate from Royal Holloway, University of London, he was both an Organ and Choral Scholar and, for a time, acting Director of Music of the Chapel Choir. For many years he had a diverse career, including the posts of Assistant Organist at St David’s Cathedral in Cardiff, Tenor Lay Clerk at St Albans Cathedral, whilst maintaining a busy career as a teacher: teaching both in the classroom and as a peripatetic, and as a freelance musician directing, performing, composing and singing with various choirs and musical groups.

He is currently Director of Music at St Mary’s Church in Portsmouth, where he leads the mixed voice choir, alongside a career teaching across the city, as well as helping deliver a successful musical outreach programme at Portsmouth Cathedral.

His work as an accompanist has seen him play with a variety of different choirs and group and in various genres, from working with small chamber choirs to Choral Societies, across all ages and abilities. He has made several performances on both Radio and TV, most notably as accompanist on BBC Songs of Praise, recorded at St. Mary’s. He is currently the accompanist for Fareham Philharmonic Choir.

As a musical director, he has also worked with a diverse variety of different choirs and musical groups – from acting as MD for shows presented by young people in theatres in Portsmouth and Winchester, to helping direct the shows for the National Youth Music Camps, based in Milton Keynes. He helped conduct a performance of Fire by David Bruce, as part of the cultural Olympiad in 2012, with Jeremy Backhouse and the Salisbury Community Choir – which was broadcast on Radio 4 that same year.

His work as a composer is widespread, with a variety of different works for various different genres, and performed across the UK and abroad, with many pieces commissioned, composed and performed by cathedral choirs, choral societies, and mixed ability school choirs. His music and style have been described as “sympathetic and approachable, and yet musically interesting and often with a complexity that encourages and enthuses performers of all abilities, often allowing them to realise their potential.” Works extend from simple choral motets, to a full-scale symphonic Requiem. Recent works have included a mass setting written for Portsmouth Cathedral choir, and a setting of the Te Deum Laudamus commissioned by Peel Cathedral on the Isle of Man, for the 40th Anniversary of their consecration.

Brian will be giving a recital of organ music from St Mary’s Church, streamed on the Organ Project’s page, on Thursday March 4th at 7:30pm. Please do visit www.theorganproject.org for more information.


Profile: George Burrows, Reader in Performing Arts, University of Portsmouth

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I’ve been lucky to come from a musical family and to have had excellent musical schooling, thanks to Bedfordshire’s peripatetic music services. I sang in choirs from a young age and learned piano, violin and trombone.

I wasn’t particularly dedicated to personal practice but very much enjoyed ensemble music-making. The brilliant thing about learning the trombone was that I discovered it is an instrument that crosses most musical style and genres and that has always been important to me.

I read music at the University of Birmingham, where we were encouraged to connect music-making with scholarship. I’ve done that ever since. I went to work for the Royal Opera House and to study conducting with Michael Rose and others before I moved to Newcastle to take a job at the university there, organising concert series and conducting their orchestra. It was a brilliant apprenticeship to work on scores by Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky, Gershwin etc. and I was encouraged to pursue postgraduate studies that linked research and practice in exploring the functions and meanings of music that defy genre boundaries.

As a trombonist, I’d always dabbled in jazz but my study of Gershwin led me to Duke Ellington and other composer bandleaders, who formed the subject of my PhD. I’ve always been interested in what music means for people and how it functions as a vital tool for expression – its power is often underestimated – and I became especially interested in how musical styles relate to understandings of race and resistance to racism. I have my PhD supervisor, Richard Middleton, to thank for that.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There have been so many because I am inclined to take on fairly difficult projects for amateur musicians to pull off but, when they do come off, that’s part of the reward for everyone involved.

Sometimes it’s a question of scale – I’m not scared of BIG projects that are a challenge to organise, like Carmina Burana with film projection in Portsmouth’s King’s Theatre or the Pompey Messiah with the Solent Orchestra, the choirs of the University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth Cathedral and St Mary’s Church, Portsea (see note 1 below).

I think most people would rather commit to a project that involves a challenge – it’s motivating. Sometimes the challenge is materials (e.g. the first performance of Handel’s Italian funeral anthem) or the sheer difficulty of the music for the ensemble to realise. The latter tends to play out more in the rehearsal room than in the concert (thank goodness) but sometimes it makes for hard work for everyone involved and that can be demoralising.

One of the biggest challenges I’ve addressed emerged from a choral programme I devised called Songs of Pride, Freedom and Resistance because it raised some uncomfortable but urgent discussions about racism and colonialism within choral culture (see note 2 below). The challenge to address diversity and accessibility is ongoing and perhaps one of the greatest any of us face in music.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Working with other musicians is what music is all about for me – when we work together well we are somehow stronger than the sum of the parts and achieve results we never thought possible.

The key challenge is getting everyone to pull together towards a clear goal and I think that involves not just great communication skills but also an ability to sense what the music might mean for us and to get others to share in that defining of meaning though rehearsal and performance.

The rehearsal part is perhaps more important and the challenges of collaboration usually come from a lack of understanding of that coupled with a lack of trust or shared understanding of the enterprise – a good rehearsal process really helps that but there are some musicians that would rather not rehearse and even more that would not care to listen to someone else’s performance for its meaning.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Charles Villiers Stanford – I’m not Irish but I edited the first publication of his Cello Concerto in 2012 and I really felt a connection with his situation as someone working in a university setting but striving to practice as a musician.

Which works do you think you are able to perform best, and why?

Handel, probably, due to my upbringing and Haydn because the expression in his music really suits my style as a choral director and the energy of the students and staff that I direct.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

I think the Pompey Messiah project of March 2017 (see note 1 below) stands out for me, not just because it was a great occasion (200 performers and 550 audience) but because revisiting Messiah in a version close to that performed in Portsmouth in 1812 was really meaningful to local people, raised money for two local charities, and connected research with practice in a really meaningful way. It addressed issues bound up with the insertion of arias by the great diva Angelica Catalani and other 1800s performance conventions to get the audience to reflect on underlying and highly gendered values and structures. This sort of work is transformative, not least for me – I’ve tried to work in that way ever since.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Don’t rule out working within academia – it’s a great way to keep practical music going at a high level within a structure that is not as vulnerable as the freelance lifestyle. I know, because I used to be a freelancer.

How would you define success as a musician?

Finding great pleasure and meaning in making music as a vehicle for ongoing self-expression and discovery.


Further recent articles of interest

Note 1. Messiah and Portsmouth: Then and Now Exhibition at St Mary’s Church, Portsea – framing the impact of the performance of Messiah (in the version given in Portsmouth in 1812) on March 18 2017. Concert page on MiP.

Note 2. Choral ballads and difficult discussions: Approaching anti-racism in choral culture, July 2020. Concert page on MiP.

Dr George Burrows is Reader in Performing Arts and Faculty Research Degrees Coordinator at the University of Portsmouth. He conducts the University of Portsmouth Choir.

He is co-editor of the international journal, Studies in Musical Theatre, since he founded the publication with Intellect in 2007. He founded the Song, Stage and Screen international series of conferences and sits on its advisory board.

He completed his PhD in music at the University of Newcastle in 2010, and also holds a Master of Letters (MLitt) in music from that institution. Both his PhD and MLitt theses looked at jazz for the way such music represented discourses of race, gender and sexuality.

He is a fellow of the Higher Education Academy and holds a Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education from the University of Portsmouth.

His undergraduate studies were at the University of Birmingham where he read for their BMus (Hons) degree and took instrumental and vocal lessons at the Birmingham Conservatoire (now a part of Birmingham City University).

He worked at the Royal Opera House on leaving Birmingham and then at the University of Newcastle where he organised the Kings Hall Concerts, conducted the university’s orchestras and lectured undergraduates on the Popular Music and Folk and Traditional Music programmes.


An interview with Neil Sands, founder of Chichester Music Press

Why was Chichester Music Press founded by you in 2003?

Chichester Music Press (CMP) was originally a vehicle for me to publish my own music. I’d not had any success trying to interest publishers in my music. Then one day, in the bath actually, it occurred to me that I had the skills to be able to publish myself. I was already working as a freelance music typesetter, having served an 18-month apprenticeship to learn the art. This is different from merely being a musician who owns Sibelius. I also had the skills to build a functional website, which was a different proposition in 2003 from today. I wrote all the HTML by hand and programmed the scripts which handle the shop and the catalogue myself. Once I had a website functioning as a shop window, very soon other composers wanted to come on board. Now there are nearly 40 of us!

What does CMP do?

The CMP publishes new choral music for liturgical use, which usually means small-scale pieces which can be used in C of E or RC services. The first part of the job is to select which music to take on, from the wealth of music offered to me. I can’t take it all – there’s simply too much of it.

Next, I prepare an edition from the score supplied by the composer. Usually these are in PDF format, but I can take Sibelius, Finale, Musescore or my favourite Dorico. I always typeset them again completely from scratch, for two reasons: one, because it allows me to have a consistent set of house styles which are recognisably CMP, and two because with the best will in the world composers are not routinely schooled in music typography, and there are always blemishes to fix!

Once my edition is ready it gets proofread by the composer. Then I prepare an audio version, using Dorico’s own sounds and Voices of Prague, and that ends up on the website alongside the catalogue entry for the piece. For any new score you can sit down at the website and read the score through and hear the audio I’ve made (or in some cases I’m able to use a real live performance), so you can always see and hear exactly what you’re buying. This is a bonus, because ordinarily you wouldn’t expect to be able to peruse an entire score on a publisher’s website, so you are to an extent buying blind.

Once a piece is ready, it’s time to tell the world, through my mailing list and through posts on social media, and hopefully the word begins to spread.

What is special (or unique) about CMP? Why do composers like to work with CMP?

Because I am small, I can move quickly. I’m proud of how fast I can turn a score around sometimes, if a composer approaches me to publish some music in time for a performance that’s already in the diary. I always have a lot of pieces in the queue, but I can bump things to the front if they’re needed in a hurry. Thanks to my background as a trained typesetter I can produce a nice, swish, professional-looking score quickly and efficiently.

What kinds of music does it tend to specialise in?

The CMP publishes new music aimed at church and cathedral choirs. Most of the composers work in church music, as organists or as the directors of cathedral choirs etc. We have a very healthy set of mass settings and canticles for evensong available, and these are the mainstay of church and cathedral choir repertoire. But I like to concentrate on more unusual music, for example settings of lesser-known texts to be sung as introits or anthems. These aren’t always specifically religious, by the way – some of them are secular but useful nevertheless in Christian worship, for example for Remembrance.

Have there been any milestones during the history of CMP – composers “launched, and so on?

I knew I was onto something special when I published an evening service by Francis Jackson, his St Bride’s Service. Francis has been a giant in the world of choral music for many decades, and we published St Bride’s on his 100th birthday in 2017. He’s still going strong at the age of 103. I was absolutely over the moon to bring his St Bride’s Service to the world. He’d written it for the choir of St Bride’s Church in London in the 1970s, but I’ve been able to make it available more widely for the first time.

Which composers would you like our readers to be especially aware of right now?

Some of my recent signings are Charles Paterson, Rosemary Field, Simon Mold, Sarah MacDonald, Graham Keitch and Alastair Borthwick. You can read the list here.

What else do you do in your spare time? 

I play the organ and direct the choir at St Richard’s Church in Chichester. Since a recent illness I bizarrely can no longer sing alto, and the opportunities to do so during the pandemic are few and far between anyway. Outside music, I am a keen astronomer, and at the moment am taking as many photos as I can of features on the moon. The weather has not been favourable for that in recent months, however!

Neil Sands, a professional music typesetter, founded Chichester Music Press in 2003. He studied Composition at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and subsequently at the University of Wales in Bangor.

Neil plays the organ and directs the choir at St Richard’s Church in Chichester. He has sung with Chichester’s Chantry Quire, and sang for a year with Chichester Cathedral choir as a countertenor. More recently, he has sung as a dep with Portsmouth Cathedral choir.

He has also been Musical Director of Bognor Regis Choir, and of Chichester Amateur Operatic Society, mounting Annie Get Your Gun in Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. Previously, he was the conductor of the Portsmouth University Choral Union, the University of Wales’ Aberystwyth Elizabethan Madrigal Singers, and Aberystwyth’s Showtime Singers.

Neil has taught music composition at Chichester’s Prebendal School, as well as teaching music theory, composition and piano to private pupils. He’s done some programming for Sibelius, and several of his plugins ship with the program. He served as Technical Editor for the Sibelius tutor book Sibelius 7 Music Notation Essentials. He has also worked as an English and Welsh teacher, and as a newsreader for Radio Manhattan in Łódź in Poland.


Profile: Stefanie Kemball-Read, soprano

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I’ve always sung – right from My old man said follow the van on television at the age of seven, through being a ‘chorister’ in my local church (in a non official capacity as there weren’t girl choristers in those days!). Completing my chorister medals gave me a sense of pride and focus in my singing and it slowly became a driving passion. There was a very active music department at my secondary school and it was here, where Andrew Fardell, the choirmaster there, encouraged and inspired me greatly to develop my voice and sing solos. I started taking singing lessons and went on to perform as one of the choir’s lead soloists.  This culminated in a choir tour to Belgium where I sang a number of solos in various sacred works at the tender age of 17.

That feeling of performance was to stay with me and inspire me over the coming years.  It is wonderful to have gone full circle and now also be coaching and hopefully inspiring a new generation of choristers and singers in my work as a teacher of singing and as a vocal coach.

But I was late to professional singing; I did a business degree at Royal Holloway, University of London (although I was busy on the extra curricular music scene both in the ‘serious’ choir there and also on stage finding my Gilbert & Sullivan feet!) and went on to become a City banker initially working all hours and so music had to take a back seat for a while.

Once I’d married and moved to Devon, I joined the South West Chamber Choir and the Plymouth Gilbert & Sullivan Fellowship (I was bitten by the bug!) and once again my passion for music ignited.  I did a number of lead roles in many shows at Plymouth’s Theatre Royal and met some wonderful people along the way.

It was my new singing teacher Ian Comboy who started to further develop my voice and who persuaded me there was really something there to take forward. He encouraged me to apply to Conservatoire and so it was that after auditioning, I obtained a place to study as a postgraduate at Trinity College of Music and found myself back as a student in my late twenties. It was a truly magical experience.  The entire place, the staff and my many wonderful talented friends and colleagues inspired me daily to express myself and to learn more and be better. The course was totally immersive and I was able to further my learning and knowledge performing in many different styles, from cabaret to grand opera and everything in between. I have to thank Eugene Asti and Mary Hill, in particular, for encouraging my belief in my ability to succeed and for all they did to enhance my technique and performance. Also a special word here for my wonderful baroque coach Robert Aldwinckle, who died recently and taught me an immeasurable amount about ornamentation and baroque expression with such acerbic wit and fun! I was honoured to sing the solo in the Brahms Requiem at his memorial service and could just imagine him saying ‘where’s the Handel?!’

I also must thank my hugely supportive and patient husband John, for supporting me through this enormous career change and for his unwavering belief in my talent and tenacity. In such a competitive world where resilience is a minimum standard, he helped me to believe in myself.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

There are too many good singers out there! 50 years ago, one went to Conservatoire, graduated and went into a musical career where there were opportunities for performance and more regular work. Nowadays there are many, many singers and musicians out there, which can make it difficult to carve out a niche.

One of the greatest challenges for me, without doubt, must be combining a family with a professional music career. It is very hard to maintain your contacts and position through maternity leave and particularly when the children are young. There is also often a perception that because you have had a child you would not want to travel or be away from home, or you might have issues with childcare, and so the phone call goes to someone else on the list often without you having the opportunity to say that you have a plan in place! I feel so fortunate to have managed to do a bit of both. My children remind me daily of the beauty and innocent joy in the world and they appreciate music in many different ways. Children are grounding and family life a special gift.  It is lovely seeing one’s children enjoying music in their own ways.

Then there’s the issue of feast or famine: you have to be flexible, and keep yourself in shape physically and mentally – you never quite know what’s round the corner. You always seem to be offered more work when you’re at your busiest and then suddenly everything goes quiet and you wonder if you will ever work again… until the feast rolls back around and so it continues!

No matter how resilient you are, your self-belief can take a knock; auditions can go the wrong way and frequently do! But you have to pick up the pieces and carry on. Keep doing the work, maintain your self-belief and then just occasionally the most wonderful offer can roll in and make all the interim heartache worthwhile.

I couldn’t end by not talking about… Lockdown – in one day, everything in the diary was cancelled. Some companies and arts organisations won’t survive this. Theatres are struggling beyond belief and so many people who work in The Arts are now out of work with no end in sight. But you need to set yourself goals that work for the current environment. I found that during this period or in any lean work period actually, breaking up vocal conditioning done at home into small chunks works well for me. I also try to identify the mood I am in to suit the style of singing and if necessary let rip appropriately!

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

It is so rewarding to collaborate with others to create an event or a show. The bond and spirit of camaraderie and connection this brings is difficult to quantify. It’s as if you create your own family for the duration of the event. Post-show blues is a recognised phenomenon! There’s the wonderful potential for new interpretation and for learning from others. You are an absolute team in the truest sense and the passion that you all have is palpable and electrifying. It is the ultimate collective achievement to be able to bring pleasure to your audience.

As making music is such a collaborative effort, it could be challenging if one of the team isn’t properly prepared – is perhaps unwell, though this is something I’ve come across rarely. But that is when we are there for each other to support, to encourage and to lift them up. The show, after all, must go on.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I’ve got very eclectic tastes, enjoying oratorio and opera through to music theatre. But specifically I discovered Mozart in my teens and his music remains important to me. I’ve performed many of his operas, oratorios, concert arias and songs and despite his inimitable style there is always something new to discover. Some say that Verdi is like Mozart for bigger voices! Certainly for me as my voice has grown and developed I do see how this simplistic statement can ring true. My love for Verdi began when I first saw La traviata many years ago.  I found the character of ‘Violetta’ mesmerising and it was in that instant that I knew I simply had to sing this role and that opera was my natural ‘singing home,’ where I could use my whole physicality to convey a character’s journey and emotions. It was this which spearheaded my foray into opera. Performing this role for the first time with Kentish Opera was a culminating moment for me that will always have a large place in the memory bank.

Set against these iconic composers, I also have a love of more modern iconic composers – Britten, Bernstein, Schumann, (R.) Strauss and Poulenc, of course, whom I return to regularly in my performance life.

Which performances are you most proud of?

To be honest, I’m proud of most things I do. I think it is fundamental as a musician to foster pride in all you do; to prepare completely and be able to inhabit the glory of the music to express it to others. I guess I am at my most expressive with opera, art song or musical theatre. As a coloratura soprano, I have always been renowned for my vocal acrobatics and extremely high, powerful notes and as time has gone by I continue to sing the vocal acrobatics but with a richer and more dramatic sound which has broadened my repertoire. The role I am asked to perform most often is ‘Queen of the Night’ from Mozart’s The magic flute. I have also been particularly proud of my role as ‘Violetta’ in Verdi’s La traviata and my recent Poulenc performances…

 What are your most memorable concert experiences?

Whilst at Trinity College of Music I had a lead role in Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites. An opera depicting the true, albeit fictionalised story of the brutal act of slaughtering the Carmelite nuns by guillotine, as they would not renounce their vocation.  It has such visceral textures and stunningly intricate harmonies. The opera finale has to be one of the most moving experiences I have ever seen, let alone been part of on stage, as each nun is guillotined until they all lie dead.

By contrast was a performance of Britten’s War Requiem with the 110 piece Trinity Orchestra under the baton of Jan Latham König at Southwark Cathedral – the atmosphere was electrifying and the enormity of the sound and textures produced is again something difficult to quantify and firmly in the memory bank.  A truly collaborative piece.

Other memorable experiences:

  • Performing La Bohème in a horse stud in northern France whilst staying nearby at a convent!
  • Poulenc’s Stabat Mater and Gloria in Chelmsford Cathedral. Poulenc creates an atmosphere unlike any other, I have discovered over my many years performing.
  • Recording the single as Musical Director for the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir number one album with Decca Records.
  • My recent Lockdown performance of Poulenc’s La voix humaine at the Reform Club – a fascinating, nuanced psychological story which examines many themes of mid life, love, loss, acceptance, death; performing it in a 21st Century context using the medium of Zoom to tell the story rather than the telephone brought a fresh perspective to the piece. This enabled me to perform it to camera for online delivery to the audience, which was a whole new experience. I look forward to bringing it to the Portsmouth area soon. Watch this space!
  • Producing, directing and performing a series of both Opera and Musical Theatre Galas in Spain. The latter production involved flying the entire orchestra as well as us singers and a choreographer over from the West End to Southern Spain. A connection and collaboration forged between the client and myself when we met at the hairdresser during my Spanish holiday two years previously!

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Do it but only if you can’t not do it! It is not enough to want to do it. You have to have the talent and inner drive and passion to make it happen. It is always possible to come later on into a professional career, as I did, so long as you have tenacity, resilience and support, though your expectations may need to be slightly different.

Practise, practise, practise – and perform often!  Join local groups in the first instance. Examine national schemes such as the National Youth Choir or National Youth Orchestra. If you live near enough, the Saturday music schools at the London Conservatoires offer a very high level of musicianship and training from a young age.

Find yourself a good teacher who can inspire you and help you develop your technique and artistry. Can they offer opportunities for shadowing of their professional productions perhaps? I offered some of my singing students the opportunity to attend one of my orchestra/singer rehearsals in London prior to a show, to see what being a professional musician looked like in reality. A mentor can also be a great help.

If you can, consider another string to your bow, such as teaching, Arts administration, accountancy, a provider of complementary therapies, to even out the peaks and troughs and further your own life experience, which you can then bring to your performances.

Do your continuing professional development, so that you keep on learning and improving. There are always new developments and new techniques to be explored.  We never stop learning.

Be flexible and maintain your level of proficiency and practice: you may be asked to stand in for someone at the last minute.

Be on time and be well prepared – this really gets noticed. And courtesy goes a VERY long way.

It’s helpful to find your own preferred angle, niche, genre or production style. I’ve done this in a number of ways over the years, as you can see from my bio. I enjoyed a foray into Spanish song at one point, and was honoured to perform the premiere of a number of Venezuelan songs at the Venezuelan embassy Bolívar Hall.

It’s useful to be able to effectively market yourself and the production you are in. The ever-expanding world of social media is a huge asset to the new musician.

Ultimately, it is the most rewarding and fulfilling career if you can make it work.

How would you define success as a musician?

Reaching a level of technique and performance that you feel can express the beauty of the music and communicate the text or story, which ideally moves your audience. There is something truly humbling about someone who listened to your performance and was moved in some way by it enough to seek you out and tell you.

Making it all work and earning something at the same time.

Feeling fulfilled: giving happiness to yourself and others.

So, what about the current situation?

The Mozart Requiem that was cancelled three times in 2020 (!) is due to be performed in Portsmouth Cathedral on Wednesday 24th March 2021, though it might have to be livestreamed. Again watch this space for more information on a date. This performance is led by Portsmouth Grammar School with the professional musicians who teach at the school making up the orchestra together with some senior school players, the Portsmouth Grammar School choirs, the ‘gapper’ choral scholars performing the male solos and yours truly as the soprano soloist.

It is still too soon for many other places to be opening up with any certainty given the fact that the virus is still rampaging, but in the coming months with the vaccine roll-out we hope that diaries will slowly start to open and live performances will return. I think both performers and spectators have all missed them immensely! More details on my personal performances will be posted on my website once confirmed.

I hope that people will continue to support The Arts: they have kept most of us going in some shape or form through Lockdown! And there’s little Government help available regardless of what you hear in the media. Musicians and all those involved in the delivery of shows, performances, running theatres, backstage crews, orchestra players are falling by the wayside in droves. The training we all go through is long and costly and the preparation behind every performance is far greater than what is seen as the finished article. Music is as professional an occupation as all paid-for services and what’s more one can guarantee that it is always performed with love, passion and integrity.

You can see and hear me perform Rejoice Greatly recorded in my kitchen during Lockdown, in the Musical Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve.

I have a selection of audio clips on my website or you can go on YouTube and watch/listen to some of my past live performances.

For any queries in relation to private singing tuition, you can contact me through my website or via my email: stefanie.read@sky.com.

Links

Stefanie Kemball Read website: www.stefanieread.com

Portsmouth Music Festival: www.portsmouthmusicfestival.co.uk

National Youth Choir www.nycgb.org.uk

National Youth Orchestra www.nyo.org.uk

Trinity Laban www.trinitylaban.ac.uk

Royal College of Music www.rcm.ac.uk

Royal Academy of Music www.ram.ac.uk

Guildhall School of Speech and Drama www.gsmd.ac.uk

Guildford School of Acting www.gsauk.org

Association of Teachers of Singing (AOTOS) www.aotos.org.uk

For details of choirs / choral groups in the Portsmouth area: www.gerontius.net and Music in Portsmouth, of course!

For information on becoming a chorister at Portsmouth Cathedral: www.portsmouthcathedral.org.uk

Dramatic coloratura soprano Stefanie trained at Trinity College of Music, London graduating with distinction from their postgraduate diploma programme.  During her time there, she performed lead roles in every college production, her portrayal of nun Constance in Poulenc’s Les Dialogues des Carmélites earning her the Paul Simm opera prize. She was also selected to perform the Britten Song cycle ‘On this Island’ at the W.H. Auden centenary concert at the Greenwich Old Royal Naval College Chapel and gained accolades for her performance in both Lieder and French song.  Her vocal dexterity and magnetic stage presence have enabled her to perform across a number of genres from cabaret to coloratura: musical theatre to opera. She excels in exciting and diverse repertoire, ranging from the vocally virtuosic to the delicately expressive – and a bit of comedy added in here and there!

Stefanie has performed extensively throughout Europe and the UK with a variety of opera companies and has appeared in more than 20 leading operatic soprano roles, most recently Violetta in La traviata, Königin der Nacht, Die Zauberflöte, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni, Adina, L’elisir d’amore and as Nedda in I Pagliacci. She is a regular soloist on the oratorio platform having recently performed as the soloist in Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Messiah, Orff’s Carmina Burana and Brahms’ Requiem. She has also given many solo recitals at London’s most celebrated performance venues including St Martin-in-the-Fields, St John’s Smith Square and St James’ Piccadilly. In musical theatre, Stefanie has previously played the roles of Eliza in My Fair Lady and Maria in West Side Story, reprising her role as Maria most recently in November 2018. She has performed much of the leading musical theatre repertoire in concerts across the United Kingdom. She has also performed most of the Gilbert and Sullivan leading lady roles in the repertoire.  Most recently, she has just completed a Lockdown performance of Poulenc’s one woman opera La voix humaine; an intense, introspective exploration of the mid-life psyche, which usually takes place entirely on the telephone.  In this unique online live-streamed performance to the audience, it utilised the modern setting of zoom thus creating a new immersive approach mirroring current society.

Stefanie was the inaugural Musical Director for the Portsmouth Military Wives Choir and conducted them to chart topping success after recording a track for their number one album ‘In my Dreams’ from Decca Records.  Stefanie is currently the Artistic Director for the Asociación Arturo Darch, directing, producing and performing in a series of productions in Spain.  Her recent full production for them in July 2018 ‘From Broadway to Hollywood’ with an all star international cast of singers and full orchestra from London’s West End for Patricia Darch in Sotogrande was a highly successful and award winning event.  Like most of the Performing Arts industry, Stefanie has been very hard-hit by the Coronavirus pandemic, however she also has a busy teaching portfolio as a private singing teacher, a coach to the Junior Choristers at Portsmouth Cathedral and teacher of singing at Portsmouth Grammar School and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, teaching singing to the next generation of performers. All her recent students have gained places at leading Conservatoires and drama schools.  She plans to return to Spain to produce the next Spanish Gala, which will be a unique production of Carmen, when the world is a safer place.  She is also hoping to perform as soloist in Mozart’s Requiem at Portsmouth Cathedral in March 2021 and to bring her Poulenc one-woman opera to the Portsmouth area.

Stefanie continues her vocal training and development with renowned soprano Cathy Pope in the Swedish / Italian school of singing technique.


Profile: Susan Yarnall-Monks, soprano, lecturer and voice coach

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

My parents and various teachers were wonderfully supportive – they wouldn’t let me give up till I had got my grade 8 and by then of course I didn’t want to – but it was various performances that made me consider taking up music as a career. While at school I played the part of Susanna in The Marriage of Figaro, which was hugely challenging but which left me with a love of Mozart. My piano teacher got me into singing but my parents only found out that I had a talent for it when I surprised them by winning a local Eisteddfod!

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

For any woman who wants to combine a professional career with bringing up a family, there will always be sacrifices and compromises to make. I’m not complaining, as I have a wonderful family and have had a wonderful career.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

One of the main challenges is trying to achieve a high quality of music-making in a concert if fellow musicians are stressed or nervous. Quite by contrast, rehearsals are a pleasure, where one can work on different interpretations of the work in a generally more relaxed atmosphere.

I teach on the BMus Vocal Performance degree at Chichester University. I like to give my students the challenge of singing in different languages, in particular French, German and Italian. Last year my students’ repertoire extended to works in Dutch, Finnish, Polish, Swedish and Welsh, which was a challenge for me and them at times!

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have an eclectic musical taste and refuse to be ‘put in a box!’ I love Mozart, Howells, French Romantic composers and Poulenc in particular, but also Scottish songs for Burns night and works by Gershwin.

Which works do you think you perform best?

Art songs, which are miniature narratives capable of picture painting. Oratorio, Opera and Renaissance music.

Which performances are you most proud of?

Singing Fauré’s Requiem, Brahms Requiem and Carmina Burana with the Southampton Choral Society, and Poulenc’s Gloria and Mozart’s Requiem with the Renaissance Choir, because I felt all the musicians were as one with the music.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

When I visited Berlin last year, I was able to attend Daniel Barenboim’s final concert with the Berlin Phil, an incredibly moving performance from a man who has given so much to the musical life of the world. Richard Goode used to perform regularly at Bath Music Festival: he was able to extract so many colours from the piano, you could hardly believe that he was actually playing just one instrument! Also memorable was Eugene Onegin with Susan Chilcott and Thomas Hampson at the Bastille Opera in Paris because I was introduced to Tom afterwards when we were enjoying a post-performance supper and…because the singing was so electrifying.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be flexible and adaptable, remain creative and willing to explore. It’s a tough world out there. Get to know (and perform) music that many people don’t know; there is a lot of good contemporary music around at the moment, and you will get noticed that way. One favourite of mine at the moment is Michael Nyman’s If, with words based on Anne Frank’s diary, because it so poignant and deceptively simple.

How would you define success as a musician?

In my opinion success can be defined by whether you’ve been able to communicate a shared moment. The pianist Malcolm Martineau once spoke about the magic triangle of singer, pianist and audience and the real connection that worked between all three at a masterclass many years ago, and last year heard I him accompanying the soprano Anne Schwanewilms at Wigmore Hall when this was very evident.

Come and hear some of my students sing!

On Tuesday 17 November there will be an English Song Concert given by the University’s B.Mus Vocal Performance degree singers at the University, which will be live-streamed.

Such students need all the help they can get. I am optimistic, though, as although the delivery of musical performance may alter, musicians have shown great adaptability in the current crisis.

Susan Yarnall-Monks is an Associate Lecturer and Vocal Tutor at the University of Chichester Conservatoire. She is a professional soprano and she also enjoys singing with the Renaissance Choir where she is a frequent soloist. She has sung at Carnegie Hall in Dunfermline and in New York as well as European tours of France, Poland, Spain and Italy. Her love of French and English song has led to many recitals and recordings.

She was awarded her PhD (2007) from Sheffield University for her research into the Perception of the Singing Voice. She taught Singing and Music at Kingswood School, Bath for many years and recently retired from teaching voice at St. Paul’s Girls School, London. Susan took part in the Master Teachers Week at Princeton University USA. She is currently President of the European Vocational Training Association (EVTA) which involves organising international conferences for singing teachers from around the world.

She continues to teach singers of all ages and abilities and enjoys the challenge of helping anyone find their voice. She is a Licensed Lay Reader and also runs the Birdham Village Choir, and enjoys sailing, gardening and embroidery.

For her musings, see her blog at https://singunique.com. To view her more than 100 daily video singing exercises, visit The Renaissance Choir’s YouTube channel.

 


Profile: Alex Poulton, singer, vocal practitioner and composer

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I started with dance and theatre rather than music, attending Horndean Ballet school, The Royal Ballet associates and then Elmhurst Ballet School from an early age. Watching The Boyfriend at the age of 10 at the Manor Pavilion Theatre in Sidmouth had quite an influence on me. I expanded my interests into music when I attended Southdowns College – Liz Lewis was a particular inspiration, introducing me to a wide range of composers and works, and I studied double music specialising in voice there.

After leaving school I went into the entertainment industry, enjoying a variety of roles as a dancer and singer in family entertainment style shows, such as Thorpe Park’s diving show.

Subsequently I studied for 6 years at the Birmingham Conservatoire. I went on many tours round the world during my breaks from college: I especially enjoyed spending time in sunny Dubai, before returning to my digs in grey Birmingham! The Conservatoire gave me so many opportunities to perform: I took major parts in productions such as The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute and Guilio Cesare and performed song cycles such as Winterreise and Die Schöne Müllerin among other works. I benefited from input from some wonderful teachers, including Julian Pike, Julius Drake and Meriel Dickinson. I was also really fortunate to be awarded scholarships to study in Weimar and Budapest. There I had the opportunity of training with world-class singers such as Sándor Sólyom-Nagy and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

I was given time off from the Conservatoire to go on tour with Colombia Artists to the USA for several months, performing The Merry Widow, Die Fledermaus and Madame Butterfly.

I now compose shows, perform in various productions and I am often invited to perform lieder and art song. I feel I am very lucky to have an interesting variety of work. Performing in a recital is particularly important to me. I like the intimate experience it presents. One can be director, m.d. and performer all at once. The music is truly wonderful and a real privilege to perform.

What have been the greatest challenges and pleasures of your musical career so far?

I put on my own Jazz musical called Freek Street on Hayling Island a couple of years ago. This piece was written in association with the mental health charity M.I.N.D. I worked on this with my Dad. It was a huge amount of work but a really rewarding experience.

I recently performed the Marquis in Poulenc’s The Carmelites with a 70-piece orchestra in London. It is an extraordinary and challenging piece of music/theatre.

I perform my dramatised version of Schubert’s Winterreise quite regularly. This is a monumental piece both mentally and physically. Unless you feel completely drained afterwards, somehow you haven’t done the work justice.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Schubert, Menotti, Vaughan-Williams, Finzi, Mozart and Wagner all wrote works which best suit the baritone voice. They are all masters at setting words and creating a dramatic scene.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Create your own opportunities: do what you really want to do without distractions, though prepare yourself for the need to change!

What are you busy with at the moment?

I am preparing to perform a somewhat “reduced” Ring Cycle for a socially distanced tour of the South West and a recital of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, a work that I have always been keen to sing. I recently recorded a new song with Valentina Seferinova by Rosalind Rogerson. I am currently writing a Bel Canto opera, and a stage production for baritone and mezzo-soprano.

Go to http://alexbaritone.co.uk to find out more about Alex.


Profile: Catherine Lawlor, violinist

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career?

I come from a musical family – my father Michael is quite well known in the area as a composer and performer on cornett, shawm, recorder, modern oboe) as well as a woodwind and brass music teacher. My mother Sandra is an amateur flautist and pianist – there was always music on in the house. Originally, I wanted a double bass but was persuaded to settle for a violin instead.

I was fortunate to benefit from the excellent teachers in the music department at Peter Symonds College. Before then, I owe a special debt to Janis Moore, who taught me from the age of 7, and Adrian Adlam. I still meet up with my teachers and sometimes have the pleasure of playing along with them.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

What is positive about getting involved with music is that on one level it is always a challenge: there’s always something more to learn. Sometimes one’s opinions are challenged: prior to going to music college, I thought I understood technique, but soon realised that there is so much to learn and I am still learning. Pablo Casals was asked, at age 83, why he still practised. He responded: “Because I think I am making progress”.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

I switch between performing chamber music, orchestral music, doing solos and recitals. It can be a challenge to find the right sound for all the various kinds of performances. With orchestral music, you need to blend, to contribute but not to dominate; with solos, you definitely need to project, but as a leader it’s a question of achieving something in between. With recitals, you have to match your timbre to that of the piano, and with chamber music you need to find the right timbre, to have your own voice whilst blending at the same time. I can always tell if a quartet has been used to playing together for some time by the extent to which they blend and interact.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

I have a special love for the French “impressionists” – Debussy, Ravel and Boulanger, and Franck too, and I feel I can perform their works better than those of other composers as a result. They create wonderful “sound worlds” – take the Debussy sonata for piano and violin, for example. Their works also allow for experimentation and innovation.

Other works that I have a particular affinity for include Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, orchestrated by Ravel, Ravel’s Mother Goose with its emotional journey, Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, Rachmaninov’s Isle of the Dead, the Brahms and Beethoven Violin Concertos and quite by contrast Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast (which I performed in my singing days).

I think the common feature they all share is their emotional journey and underlying narrative, and I think this is why I enjoy both playing and listening to these pieces so much.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

As a student at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, I felt that I played Franck’s Violin Sonata really well in my final concert. It was a piece that I had revisited a number of times already and one that I always found challenging. It was a brilliant feeling to know that I had played it well and excellent timing that it was during my final recital for my degree!

I had to step in at the last moment to perform Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending having never learnt it before. I discovered some wonderful new things about it which weren’t obvious from listening to a recording of it. I find there are some pieces that are always so much better experienced live with their complex textures and I think this is one of them.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Not everyone will like how you play, so take criticism on the chin, if it is legitimate, use it to learn and improve. Remember that you always have fans, it’s just that if they like what you are doing they don’t always say so!

Don’t be afraid to put your mark on a piece, to seek a new interpretation.

Arthur Rubinstein’s dictum was to limit practice to 4 hours per day, and I think this works well for me. You need to take breaks and seek inspiration away from rehearsing.

Slowly the curriculum is coming to recognise the value in music in schools for general self-development as well as many other things, and the Hampshire Music Service is doing a fine job in the circumstances. I’m finding that if the head teacher is keen on music in a school, then it tends to flourish. I am always encouraging younger students to play and enjoy playing.

How have you been keeping busy during lockdown?

I’ve been busy working towards producing a CD entitled Myths and Legends along with the pianist Valentina Seferinova. It’s been fun exploring a theme through music. It will feature a wide selection of works such as Szymanowski’s Mythes, works by Delius, Korngold, Malling and Bridge. Valentina and I have tried to choose works that have a strong narrative and it has been really interesting to discover lots of works that have yet to be recorded and tell a story.

I hope that live performances will be possible again soon and that audiences will be happy to return: we need to demonstrate to the government that our profession is worth supporting.

My next concert will be on Saturday 24 October in Beaulieu Abbey Church where I will be playing as a member of the Nova Foresta Classical Players. It will be a nice varied programme.

About Catherine

Catherine Lawlor began studying the violin at the age of seven with Janis Moore and subsequently with Adrian Adlam. In 2009, she won a full scholarship to study with Marius Bedeschi at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and graduated with first-class honours in 2013. She continued her studies at the Aaron Copland School of Music, New York, under Daniel Phillips and completed her masters in 2015. During her undergraduate and master’s degrees she was awarded many prizes for both performance and academic achievement including the Balsam Scholarship for Chamber Music and the Graduating Masters Award.

Catherine is now a freelance musician who has performed as soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player in the UK, Europe, Asia and the USA. She has recorded for film, television and radio for Amazon Prime, the BBC and Avanti. In our area she is most closely associated with the Chichester Symphony Orchestra (she is its Leader) and the Solent Symphony Orchestra.


A seminar on Vivaldi held by Julia Bishop

Julia Bishop is holding another one of her popular Zoom seminars on Wednesday 9 September from 11.00 am to 12.00 noon.

This time she will take us on a trip to the Venice of Vivaldi’s day, to explore the places where the legendary and prolific composer wrote so many of his great works. We’ll hear of the female foundlings whom he taught to play and nurtured to perform his exciting pieces. Born in 1678 in Italy, Antonio Vivaldi was a virtuoso of the violin but composed brilliant Baroque music for other instruments including the mandolin, bassoon, oboe and flute, to name but a few.

Julia is a fountain of knowledge about the life and works of the ginger-haired cleric. A fine soloist and orchestral violinist, Julia Bishop was the co-founder of Red Priest, a band which took Vivaldi’s music to the outer limits and back again. She will outline his successes and low points of his career. She will explain why he died in penury in Vienna in 1741. Her talk will be of acute interest to all musicians, not only for string players.

It costs a mere £8 to take part in this forthcoming seminar. Contact Julia via julia@redpriest.com or by texting 07521 897422. Nearer the time she will send you an invitation and give details of how to pay by bank transfer or cheque.


Profile: Jack Davies, pianist and teacher

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

One of my earliest memories of falling in love with classical music was when I use to visit my grandparents’ house at the weekends. They had the film Fantasia and I use to sit there for hours transfixed by the music and the animations (I still find the Night on Bald Mountain video a bit terrifying to this day!). I use to also sit and play their piano from a very young age until my grandad organised for me to have lessons at the age of 5. I continued taking lessons through school, and it wasn’t until I met the fantastic Valentina Seferinova at A-level at South Downs College that I really ramped up my practising, putting in the hours so that I could be good enough to get into music college to study for a music degree.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

When I started my degree at the RNCM it was a shock to go from being a big fish in a small pond, to a very small fish in an enormous ocean! I quickly realised the amount of work I needed to put in and it took me a good 2 years to get to a place where I began to felt comfortable with my own playing.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Playing the piano can be solitary so I’ve relished the opportunities I’ve had to make music with others. When I started secondary school I joined a steel band which opened up my eyes to a whole new world of music from the Caribbean. The social element of this band was fantastic and I have built strong friendships form that time with friends I still see today. During my time at the RNCM, my principal study tutor was also head of chamber music, and introduced me to some brilliant musicians at the college. I enjoyed collaborating with them in duo and trio settings and also had the honour of winning the Christopher Rowlands Chamber Music Prize in my final year. Organising rehearsals can be tricky, especially when musicians typically have many other jobs/commitments going on, but sites like doodle.com can help work out when everyone is free.

Which works/performances are you most proud of?

My final recital at the RNCM was worth 50% of my whole degree (due to doing an exchange year in Helsinki). This was a 1-hour public recital from memory including music by Bach-Busoni, Rachmaninoff and Bach. I was really nervous but luckily I managed to pull it off relatively unscathed!

Another musical achievement I am really proud of is organising a Eurovision themed singing competition for the primary school I am working in. Each class had to choose a song that had been performed at Eurovision and learn the words and dance moves for the competition. The children loved it and it was a great way to get the children singing and listening to music in a way which they hadn’t done before.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Rachmaninoff saw me through my teen years and got me really hooked on classical music! I remember hearing his 3rd piano concerto for the first time and becoming immediately obsessed! I also really like Bach’s keyboard works, particularly his two books of preludes and fugues.

Which works do you think you perform best? 

I really like performing Bach. I love sitting down and experimenting with different ways to phrase and articulate his music.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

When I was in a steel band, I loved performing at Notting Hill Carnival’s Panorama steel band competition. There were thousands of people in the audience and the atmosphere was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. My most memorable concert was watching Frankie Valli perform at the O2 a few years ago. The fact that he can still nail all of those high notes and perform with such energy to an enormous venue is incredible!

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Go for it, but remember that it’s highly competitive and you really need to put in the hours, dedication and focus to make a career out of it. Make sure you gain as many skills related to music as possible (sight-reading, jazz, improvisation, singing and teaching) so you can have a portfolio career. You’ll likely end up doing something in music that you didn’t intend on doing so don’t be ‘snobby’ about taking on work that you feel is below your level of training (especially when you’re starting out)!

A career in music takes a long time to build; 90% of the work I have been given (performing/teaching) has been through the relationships I have built within the industry over the years.

Finally, don’t neglect the business side of being a musician. You need to know how to market yourself, negotiate contracts, manage your own finances and be able to deal with a whole host of different people and their unique personalities in a professional and likeable manner.

How would you define success as a musician?

I would say that as long as you’re making music, and that makes you happy, then you’re successful. If you want to share that with other people then that’s also great, and if you can make money on top of that then even better! Personally, I have had great pleasure in bringing classical music to young people. I have recently introduced a music curriculum at my school based on the principles of Kodály, which is highly systematic, practical and engaging. Seeing the impact this approach has had on their level of engagement with music has been an absolute joy and something I am keen to expand on across the city of Portsmouth in the future.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Discovering new music! I love it when I’m listening through albums and artists and I come across a song/piece of music that really gets to me. Recent discoveries have been the artist ‘YEBBA’ and the music from the musical ‘Dear Evan Hansen’.

Here is a link to a recording of me trying to play some Liszt.

About Jack

Jack Davies is a primary school teacher and music leader at Berewood Primary School in Waterlooville, and has worked as a music specialist working for Portsmouth Music Service. He has a private teaching studio, the Solent Music School, in Portchester. He enjoys going to live concerts and musicals, running and attempting overly ambitious DIY projects.


Profile: Vincent Iyengar, conductor, viola player and pianist

Who and/or what have been the most important influences on your musical career or interest in music?

I certainly started early – I loved to sing as a baby, and used to tinker about on my grandmother’s piano, starting with lessons at the age of 5 on “the perfect instrument”.

I was told to take up the viola by my secondary school. Its unpredictable gut strings and the consequent difficulty of keeping it in tune, and the aches and pains that it induced made it hard work at the beginning. But playing it on a youth orchestra holiday course with Arthur Davison turned everything about it to a positive.

My father wanted me to be an engineer, but I studied music and maths at Royal Holloway, followed by a PGCE, with an additional Licentiate Diploma from Trinity College, London. There was a big demand for maths teachers at the time, but after 8 years of doing that I decided to throw myself into a musical career and became Director of Music at St Catherine’s (British Embassy) School in Athens. This gave me great scope to arrange ensembles and concerts.

Returning to England six years later, I went on to obtain a Masters’ degree with distinction from Southampton University in philosophy of mind. I subsequently furthered my interest in the Kodály and Dalcroze principles as effective approaches to musical understanding. Dalcroze is a holistic, kinaesthetic and multisensory method which emphasises feeling the music (rhythm, pitch, structure, phrasing, etc.) in both mind and body using movement as well as improvisation and solfege. I took a certificate level qualification, permitting me to teach it. Concurrent with this I deepened my understanding of the Kodály approach to music learning, obtaining Advanced Kodály Musicianship with distinction.

Both of these methods help with playing, performance, sight-singing, how to convey expression and so on. Read more about the principles of these philosophies.

I also improved my choral and orchestral conducting with the help of Sing for Pleasure, the Association of British Choral Directors and Peter Stark, Professor of Conducting at the Royal College of Music and later became music director of the Solent City Chorus from 2014-17.

What have been the greatest challenges of your musical career so far?

Overcoming performance nerves.

What for you are the particular pleasures and challenges of collaborating with other musicians?

Achieving an integrated sound, being part of a whole, not being in the spotlight, yet being essential to the overall output.

Which works or performances are you most proud of?

Building up the orchestras in Greece, enabling children of expatriates to play music to a high standard, giving public performances at the British Council and other cultural venues. Also conducting Solent City Chorus at the Gosport Festival and at the annual Barbershop conventions in Harrogate, Llandudno and Bournemouth. Directing various school musicals, such as an unabridged Oliver, which, though performed by 9-12 year-olds, was considered by audience members to be of a higher standard than the local operatic society.

Are there any composers with whom you feel a particular affinity?

Brahms has both an intellectual and an emotional appeal. For the same reason I also love Bach. In addition I find Debussy’s music highly original. Rebecca Clarke stands out for me among women composers for her deep romanticism and being a viola player too and Chevalier de St Georges amongst black composers as rivalling Mozart.

Which works do you think you perform best?

I think I can put on a good performance of Brahms’ Intermezzo 118, no. 2 on the piano. On viola, I enjoy playing works by Vaughan-Williams. Like many people I tend to practise works I enjoy.

What are your most memorable concert experiences?

As a listener, I cannot forget attending the Banff Festival in Canada, where Mendelssohn’s Piano trio in D minor was being played by two well-known musicians, Menahem Pressler, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi and a hitherto unheard of brilliant 20-year-old: every phrase was interesting and the whole audience rose to its feet and cheered for five minutes at its conclusion!

As a performer, one of my more memorable concert experience was being asked to lead the violas at the at the last minute at the Northcott theatre in Exeter in a concert in which John Lill played Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto to a packed audience, followed by a performance of Vaughan Williams 5th Symphony with its lovely viola solo. Other performances that stick in my mind was playing the theme from Love Story on solo viola as part of the Asian Development Bank’s 40th anniversary celebrations in Manila and also conducting my own composition, The St Catherine’s Variations, with my orchestra in Greece.

What advice would you give to those who are considering a career in music?

Be eclectic in your tastes, don’t narrow down your interests or skills. And develop your business acumen: you’ll need to be able to make connections and market yourself. All that’s anyway going to be pretty useful if you find you need to alter your career away from music.

How are you keeping yourself usefully occupied and sane under lockdown?

I’ve been able to make use of lockdown to do some more practising, besides, I’ve been able to develop my online teaching offering. Away from music, I’ve done much more walking and reading than I would have done. So I have not been at all unhappy.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I would like to have rolled out my classes to more lower-income families. I am becoming increasingly interested in effective altruism and am conscious that I am probably in the luckiest 1-2% of humanity. Almost all people can learn and progress musically, yet our musical culture and skills are often passed around between middle-class communities. It would be better to use whatever abilities I have to improve the outlook of those less fortunate than myself. I shall investigate the possibility of setting up a not-for-profit organisation, but I am open to other suggestions.

About Vincent

Vincent plays piano and viola and very much enjoys playing in orchestral gigs. He plays for the Solent Symphony Orchestra, the Havant Symphony Orchestra, the Charity Symphony Orchestra and for choral societies and other orchestras when needed.

He has 12 years’ experience as a general supply teacher in primary and secondary schools, and 17 years’ experience teaching class music in primary age range schools, including 12 years teaching Early Years Foundation Stage music within schools.

Vincent also teaches violin, viola and piano.

Vincent started the ‘Education through Music’ music school in 2016 at the request of a parent who had been searching on the internet for a Kodály trained teacher. He is enjoying working with families to introduce the Kodály and Dalcroze teaching principles to very young children, helping them to develop a lifelong appreciation of music, and supporting their overall development.

When not kept busy with his lifelong passion for music, Vincent enjoys mountain trekking, travel, and learning foreign languages.

To find out more about Vincent, see https://educationthroughmusic.net.

 


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