During lockdown, the three singers involved in this year’s Dame Malvina Major Foundation Studio Artist Programme spent their time at home, but they have not been idle. As well as the musical offerings we enjoyed from Anna Simmons, Harry Grigg and Felicity Tompkins (click the names to watch and listen), the Studio Artists have continued their programme via the internet with weekly online voice lessons and language coaching, organised by New Zealand Opera’s Glenn Meade.
They also participated in three very special workshops, the first with Kiwi singer Bianca Andrew who talked through her career so far and her path to Oper Frankfurt. The second online workshop was with Wendy Doyle, Life and Wellness coach who worked on their professional development including coping strategies, action plans and goals and aspirations. In the third workshop we were fortunate to welcome internationally reknown Vocal and NLP Coach Claude Webster from Opera Montreal, who focused on Performance Psychology and Preparation.
Facilitated by New Zealand Opera’s Kristin Darragh, the workshops provided extremely valuable insights for the singers from two different perspectives in the opera world.
“I wanted them to sense the grit and determination that is required, as you progress along this path, and I think they all felt that. The importance of learning German came to the fore, as did the need for humility, flexibility and resilience to move through ups and the downs,” Kristin said of the session with Bianca.
“It was wonderful to talk candidly to a singer who is a couple of steps ahead of me, figuring out the German system that I am transitioning into at the end of this year,” said Anna.
“Bianca was thoughtful, honest and positive, and really impressed upon us the need to embrace our artistic individuality and celebrate it. We discussed the importance of preparation and hard work, and how coming back to the reasons why we do what we do will help us get through the tough times.”
“I loved our session with Bianca, it was great to chat to someone who was so honest and realistic, but positive as well,” Harry said. “The main point I took away from our Q&A session was that no matter what is going on, the only thing we can control is ourselves, so we need to focus on doing our best.”
“What I thought was great about the call, was that Bianca was honest about the struggles and challenges, as well as sharing the positives,” said Felicity.
Claude’s session focused on goal setting – emotional, musical and technical, and he shared practical pre-performance tools and tips as well as discussing how to work with your inner dialogue and transform the critical narrative.
Importantly, Kristin says, he coached the singers on “Remembering how to reconnect with the inner motivation and true enjoyment of singing.”
“Our performance preparation for singers online workshop was a practical, hands-on look at how our minds, without us being aware of it, can influence our performance abilities. Claude took us through some of the many ways that we can be influenced both in a positive and negative way by both the environment around us and also intrinsically from within ourselves. By using practical examples, he stimulated us to look with new insight into the dynamics of how we both think and interact to instructions given to us by others, giving consideration to the fact that we may well, sometimes do the opposite of what is being asked of us. His talk provided some real food for thought.” said Felicity
“My biggest takeaway was to remember to find the joy – “Your job is to find the joy in what you do… Your job is to enjoy it.” I was losing sight of this in all my intense technical work, and my blinkers were giving me tunnel vision,” said Anna.
“Working with Claude was an absolute joy,” said Harry. “His positivity is infectious, and a very important reminder that we do this for the love of it, and no other reason. He also gave us some great exercises to add to our toolbox if we are feeling anxious or overexcited or anywhere on that spectrum before and during performances.”
Now we’re out of lockdown, the Studio Artists are back to having in-person voice lessons and repertoire coaching, beginning a four-part acting module with Juliet Furness and preparing a programme of arias, duets and trios for their Opera Scenes showcase in July.
Anna, Harry and Felicity will be singing with Manukau Symphony Orchestra on Saturday 22 August. Tickets are available here.