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.