Interview with The Cross-Eyed Pianist

Here’s an interview I gave to classical music blogger Frances Wilson – aka The Cross-Eyed Pianist – earlier this year. You can find her blog at: http://crosseyedpianist.com/2014/12/24/meet-the-artist-paul-carey-jones-baritone/

 

Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?

There was no great moment of revelation, more a progressive realisation that I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. I’d sung with choirs and performed in am-dram groups as a teenager, and enjoyed both hugely. Then around the age of 16 I won a county scholarship to have singing lessons at the Welsh College of Music and Drama. My teacher there was Beatrice Unsworth, and from the very first lesson she showed huge faith in me, and was brave enough to stick her neck out and tell me I had the potential to make a career of singing, if I decided that was what I wanted. It’s a far safer bet when giving advice to young singers to preach caution, and rightly so, but at some point an artistic career needs a leap of faith, and it takes great courage and vision to support a young artist in doing that.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

There are too many to mention, and if I begin to name individuals I know I’ll miss someone out. In all honesty I’d say I’ve taken something, whether it be of great significance or only a small hint or reflection, from everyone I’ve met and worked with. On a personal level, I’m fortunate to have a hugely supportive network of family and friends who are all incredibly patient and understanding. Every singer needs those people if they’re to survive in the long run.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Getting into postgraduate music college in the first place, having come from an entirely amateur musical background up to that point. Getting through the tough first few years of my career, when I was strapped for both money and time. Continuing to motivate myself to get to work on each new piece in the first few stages of learning and memorisation.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?

In terms of live performances, it’s tricky to know, since you as the performer never get to see it, and once it’s happened it’s gone forever, and more often than not you don’t have time to reflect on it before you’re on to starting work on the next project.
With recordings it’s different – you can come back to them a couple of years later and assess them more rationally. I’m very fond of my first album, Enaid – Songs of the Soul, which I recorded with Llyr Williams a few years ago – I think we came very close to achieving what we set out to achieve with it, and it still excites me to hear it, even though I’m sure we’d do it all differently now. On film, I’m pleased with the recording of Jackie O that was made when we performed it at the Teatro Comunale di Bologna – it’s a rarely-performed piece, and is very idiosyncratic, but I have a great fondness for it, and it brings back a lot of happy memories to watch it.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

I’m not the best one to assess that! But I’d say the composers for whom I feel most affinity in terms of their vocal writing are Mozart, Puccini and Wagner – with all three I get a strong sense of understanding what they were seeking in terms of vocal colour and dramatic and emotional content.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

First and foremost, I’ll need to sing whatever someone is willing to pay me to sing. That’s not a facetious answer – it’s the basic truth of a professional singer’s life. At the same time, you need to keep an eye on the horizon and the direction you’re headed in the long term. So I’ll listen to my voice, or rather, what my voice is telling me in terms of where it’s happiest, where it’s strengthening and so on (in conjunction with advice from trusted teachers and coaches), with the aim of exploring new areas of repertoire which could be viable in a few years’ time. You have to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses, and be realistic about what you’re asking a casting panel to see and hear in you, while at the same time being clear in your own mind as to what you do best as an artist.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

If you twist my arm I’d say St David’s Hall in Cardiff, from the point of view of a combination of acoustic, atmosphere and above all sentimental value – it’s where I grew up watching live music, and it always means a lot to me to perform there.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Scarpia in Tosca is always a buzz. Anything by Wagner.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Tom Jones, Titta Ruffo, Shakira.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

It’s not repeatable in polite company – you’ll have to wait for my memoirs.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Work hard. Learn to switch off. Remember that the work doesn’t lead to rewards – the work is the the reward. Don’t be too ready to take advice from old musicians…. By which I mean, be open to advice and new ideas, but don’t be afraid to reject them, or save them for (sometimes years) later. Remember the bottom line is that as an artist the final responsibility for your technique, career and art is yours, and your aim is to produce something unique, not an imitation of anyone else’s work.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m learning Verdi’s Macbeth for Northern Ireland Opera’s new production next month. I’ve been doing it conscientiously so far, learning the Italian libretto before looking at each scene in the English translation we’re using, although I’ve reached the point now where I’m trying to pretend the Italian version (as well as Shakespeare’s play) doesn’t exist – at some point you have to stop worrying about what a piece isn’t and focus on what’s actually there. I’m also continuing to work on my Wagner repertoire – I’ve got some important working sessions on those roles coming up, and I need to make sure I’m as thoroughly prepared as possible beforehand. Arranging your own learning schedule, and making sure each role comes to the boil at precisely the right time, is a crucial skill for a professional singer.

Please select one or more from the following (these questions are borrowed from the Proust Questionnaire):

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Alive.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Sitting on the sofa with my wife, with football on the TV and an interesting score on my lap.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Bialetti Brikka coffee pot.

What do you enjoy doing most?

My job.

What is your present state of mind?

Contented.

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About Paul Carey Jones

Paul Carey Jones is a Welsh opera singer. He should be writing about the current state of the classical music business but might well digress into science, politics, football or cheese. He has recently started a series of irregular posts along the broad theme of "Things they don't teach you at music college." Any suggestions or requests on this theme will be treated with feigned or genuine interest. You can contact him via comments here or at: mail@paulcareyjones.com
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