How and why I ended up being a singer.

1. It has occurred to me that the whys and wherefores of how I became a singer may be of interest to some students who hope to join the profession themselves. Obviously everybody's journey is different and unique, but sharing the story of the uncertainty and struggle can be of interest, and hopefully of help. I'm always curious to read about other's life paths and how they ended up doing what they do, so this is the first installment of mine.

 Me performing with the band Eggs Benedict in 1977.   

Me performing with the band Eggs Benedict in 1977.

 

My parents are both musicians. Dad is a violinist and mum is a cellist. I grew up surrounded by musicians and music in the classical genre, so I unwittingly absorbed an enormous amount of first rate string music, from Bach's Sonatas for solo violin, to the string quartets of Beethoven, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert and so on. My parents were always practicing, teaching, rehearsing, or listening to great music. I was lucky in retrospect to be surrounded by such an amazing auditory experience, even though I ignored it most of the time, but it must have sunk in to my subconscious  and helped me develop the all important musician's ear and innate understanding of the musical language.

As a kid I tried the piano, cello, double bass, and very briefly the bassoon, but I gravitated to the guitar, becoming obsessed by the age of 15. I practiced for hours every day, playing scales and exercises in the hope that I would develop a phenomenal technique. Strangely, by then, I was mad about Frank Zappa, King Crimson, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. I'd moved on from classical music and wanted to be a rock star. A friend and I formed a band and started doing gigs around Sydney's North Shore. We played covers of the above groups and some of our own compositions. I enjoyed this thoroughly, but was quietly worried about how I'd make a living from music. The gig payments to the band barely covered the cost of the equipment we had to hire so that we could perform, and I was realizing that I would never be good enough on the guitar to satisfy my longing to be a guitar hero. I thought I might try my hand at acting, so I started having lessons and tried to get an agent. I went to an appointment with an agent who told me that the Australian Opera Company was looking for extras for a forthcoming production of Verdi's Aida. I duly presented myself at the Sydney Opera House and was chosen as one of many spear carriers. I'd inadvertently stumbled upon my life's path. I found myself standing on stage in the middle of the most amazingly powerful and emotional music, next to these singers who were deafeningly loud without a microphone and P.A. system! I started trying to sing some of the music that I had heard and wondered if my voice was any good. I was 19 years old at this stage and had never really tried singing before in a serious way.

My parents were very supportive of this new endeavor and asked around to find me a singing teacher. Unfortunately the guy they picked was a  bad teacher, although he was a good singer himself. He did harm to the top of my voice that I never recovered from in the 3 months I studied with him. He thought I was a high baritone, when in fact I'm a lyric bass, so he had me screeching out top notes in a very dangerous and damaging manner. I would have a sore throat after every lesson, so when I expressed concern to my parents, they pulled the plug on those lessons and found me another, safe teacher, but the damage was done psychologically in those 3 months and a fear of high notes stayed with me for the next 35 years of singing.