2. I started with my new teacher, Florence Taylor, in 1977, and had a lesson per week. Eggs Benedict was going strong, and I was given quite a bit of extra work with the opera company, so I was busy with playing guitar, acting, and doing singing practice. Late in that year I was asked by Charles Colman to audition for the Leonine Consort, an 8 voice ensemble that he was starting in 1978. Charlie knew my parents, so I guess he took a punt that I would have inherited a bit of musical skill from them. My audition was ordinary, but he gave me the job anyway. That put me in the position of having to decide whether I wanted to pursue either singing or guitar playing. I was aware I couldn't do both because of the demands of both professions, so I chose to sing.
I was quite a good musician already from learning various instruments and dabbling with composition, but nothing prepared me for the shock I received on the first day of rehearsals with the Leonines. After introductions and a bit of a chat, we all sat in a semi-circle and Charlie handed out a pile of music that we would start rehearsing. I was completely at a loss as my sight singing was not good, and I was in an area of music that I knew nothing about. Talk about being embarrassed! I felt like a complete dolt and just wanted to hide somewhere fast. I don't think the other group members were very impressed either. They had all been singing choral music for years and could sight read easily, were familiar with most of the repertoire that Charlie had chosen, and knew each other fairly well. Oh yes, it was a real baptism by fire.
At the end of that first day I headed home with my tail between my legs and then sat up half the night trying to learn the music I had been given. I worked very hard over the next few months, and by the middle of the year I could sight-sing anything that was put in front of me. Naturally this skill engenders great confidence and has stood me in good stead ever since. One of the regular comments that reviewers and critics have made of me over the years is that "Stephen Bennett was his usual reliable self". Not flattering, but much better then being considered unreliable I suppose.
The Leonine Consort were booked by Musica Viva on a regular basis to do school concerts all over the country, and also organised a tour of South East Asia for us. We made a number of recordings and gave concert recitals. I loved the work and was fascinated by the range of music written over the centuries for a capella vocal ensembles. We were on the road a lot, which was fun at my age, and paid very little for the job. I thought of it as an apprenticeship, and bided my time. After a couple of years of this I was invited to sing solos in oratorios for various choirs and orchestras, and so began my career as a soloist. I found the demands very different to singing with a group, and became aware that if I wanted to continue as a soloist, I would have to stop singing choral music. There is a large difference in vocal technique between blending your voice in an ensemble, and projecting your voice as a soloist. After 4 years with the Consort I'd had enough, so I left the group and went to study at the NSW Conservatorium of Music with Valerie Collins-Varga as my new teacher.