I’ve just come to the end of a busy two-day teaching stint, which has, as ever, got me thinking about several aspects of singing, from basic technique, to how best to help certain students’ confidence issues. Driving home yesterday evening, physically and mentally exhausted and slightly stressed that I hadn’t had enough time to catch-up on an ever growing back-log of paperwork and practice I asked myself what the most enjoyable part of the last couple of days’ work was – I decided it was working on a large amount of fantastic song repertoire with my students. During 48 hours, I had the chance to help students with songs by Fauré, Quilter, Vaughan Williams, Schubert, and Strauss as well as most of Schumann’s Dichterliebe, to name but a few

At Music College I was fed a generous diet of song repertoire, but somehow I never seemed to get the measure of it. This music was given an elevated status to the point that I felt almost unworthy to sing it. I felt the pressure to try and be cerebral in my performance, almost to the point of navel-gazing, to try and invest the poetic texts with some kind of deep intellectualism which I couldn’t quite understand. I’d enter song competitions and get reasonably good feedback, but never quite make the cut. It seemed that this genre was a higher art, a mystery that I couldn’t quite figure-out. In opera, however, I felt I could open-up, have fun and generally be myself. I felt much more in my comfort zone.

My performing work in the last few years has generally been a mix of opera and oratorio and even when I’m booked to take part in recitals; it’s normally to perform a handful of opera arias, rather than a song-cycle. At best, few things excite me as much as a large-scale 19th or 20th Century opera in terms of the drama, colour and emotion of the music and scale of the productions; Few things come close to the buzz of standing in front of a large orchestra and chorus in a beautiful venue and letting rip with Elijah or Carmina Burana.

However, having the opportunity to dust-off some of that song repertoire with my students has given me a great opportunity to re-visit some of this excellent music and banish some of my demons. Much of it is inspiring, heart-felt and a rollicking good sing. The last thing I want to do is to encourage my students to treat it like touching the Holy Grail, but instead to enjoy it and sing it musically and with good voice. Of course they need to think about the texts and characterisation, but do this in tandem with an instinctive approach. It’s been interesting and at times entertaining to get my teenage students’ unbiased responses to songs -’ ‘this is a mash-up of Romantic classical and something more folky’ one young baritone told me after his first read-through Vaughan Williams’ Linden Lea… I’ll admit I’ve been guilty in indulging my ‘busman’s holiday’ and demonstrating more phrases than necessary to my students. But it’s given me the appetite to be a little more adventurous in my repertoire and organise a recital or two in the coming month. Watch this space….