When I was a boy, I had an instinct that I wanted to sing but didn’t have the courage to do it. I remember seeing an article about Carreras when he was ill and knew he was important to me, even though I didn’t actually know who he was!
I started having lessons whilst studying chemistry at university (my professor always knew where to find me if I wasn’t in my lab during my PhD research!) and began to sing in choirs and, importantly, on stage with Huddersfield Gilbert & Sullivan Society, Huddersfield Amateur Operatic Society and other local groups. We even created The Three Fivers!
I eventually took the financially irresponsible step of leaving chemistry behind to pursue a lifelong dream and won a place at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. I’m not sure I was able to respond to the high level of teaching there and probably didn’t develop that much as a tenor – that all came later with Colin Baldy and Justin Lavender. But it did help me open doors and to begin a career as a concert soloist and in the choruses of D’Oyly Carte and Carl Rosa Opera.
For some reason, some of my kind colleagues thought I made it sound easy to sing tenor but I never felt confident. I had the tenor instinct but not the technique. During the early part of my career, I switched to baritone for a while and enjoyed the opportunity to sing roles such as Marcello in La Bohème (where I met Maestro Colin Baldy, who was convinced I was a tenor... cue deep voiced denial!)
I drifted away from singing after I once organised a fundraising concert for Huddersfield G&S Society, out of which was born Opus 1 Opera, a mid-scale touring opera company for which I had a few magical years as, effectively, general manager. I loved this role and enjoyed the break from singing it afforded me.
Over the years, Colin’s voice rang in my head, especially as I started to develop the natural ability to sing high notes and, oddly, began to be afraid of singing E and F in the baritone way. Colin invited me to have a few lessons with him, which created an amusing story.
He suggested I take ‘Vainement, ma bien-aimée’ from Lalo’s opera Le roi d'Ys to my first lesson. When I approached the octave leaps to the high A, which I found easy, the conversation went something like this:
Colin: “See, that’s why you’re a tenor!”
David: “Was that proper singing?”
Colin (buries head in hands): “Oh, for fuck sake”.
So I started, and continue to learn, that what comes naturally is... natural. I clearly used to confuse the tricky passaggio area of F# to G# as the limit of my voice, whereas I’m now pleased to enjoy a whole new area above.
In the period between Opus 1 and now, I have worked as a development director for a school and business development manager for small and micro businesses. I have thoroughly enjoyed this period of helping small businesses – the backbone of the British economy – to develop their market share but, after a few years getting used to singing tenor, it is time to go back into the profession.
More recently I have been incredibly fortunate to have lessons with Maestro Justin Lavender, who is passing on his tremendous experience and technique for singing the roles that suit me. I owe so much to him and am immensely grateful for his encouragement. It is an honour to be learning tenor technique and arias with him and he has shaped me up to embark on my new career. Thank you Justin!
The technique I have learned has enabled me to enjoy singing in my natural tenor range. It also reminds me of a great friend I met in my early years in life and as a singer. Steven Mellor was a respected singing teacher and local celebrity in the Huddersfield theatre circuit.
His classic line: “Just open your gob and sing”!