How does a singer go about learning a new piece of music he or she has ever sung before?
Please understand that in all answers, I'm speaking for myself, not for anyone else. Of course, the first thing I'd do, is learn the notes. Some singers play the piano well enough to sit down and accompany themselves. I don't, so I'd just sit at the piano, and pick out the notes. If it's a famous song or aria, you'd have some idea of how it should sound. Otherwise you're really at square one. And here's where the grunt work comes in. You just keep at it, until you know the music well enough. Usually by then, I'd also have a pretty good handle on the words. At that point I'd work with an accompanist, to get the right tempi, the right dynamics, the right inflection. Then it becomes easier, and more fun. You can work on it, until it gets into your voice. If it's a well-known song or aria, it often helps to listen to a CD of another singer. (sometimes to hear how NOT to sing it!) And of course if it's in another language, it's important to at least know what the words mean, so you can convey them to the audience. And your diction in any language has to be very good. In the past, American singers were known to sing English very poorly, probably because they figured that since it's their native tongue, they didn't have to work at it so much. That's gotten much better lately. That's kind of the "capsule version" of learning a song. But one of the marks of a great singer, is that they walk onstage, and sing a song or aria, as if it was second-nature to them, and they'd been singing it all their lives. The audience should never know all the scut work that went into the performance.
©The Amarillo Globe.
All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 26, 2004
Chip Chandler

Kearns, a founding member of the Irish Tenors, didn't even begin to study music until after he was named as one of his country's best singers. Now, he's one of Ireland's more famous musicians, featured on PBS and other television programs and selling millions of CDs worldwide. He'll perform Sunday with pianist Patrick Healy in Amarillo.

But just 11 years ago, Kearns couldn't read a note of music. In 1993, Kearns entered and won a radio contest, Ireland's Search for a Tenor. He had grown up singing traditional Irish music all of which he had learned by ear, but "winning the competition took me in a different path, introduced me to the world of opera.”

To that point, though, he had no formal musical training. "The habit I had to break was listening to the tune and learning it by heart", he said. " It helps to have a fast ear to learn music, but when the conductor is conducting and says, Bar 23, you have to know what he's talking about. The last thing you want is to be sounding like a fool. You can't afford to. It's a competitive world, and you can't afford to be left standing with egg on your face."

His studies have paid off. The Columbus Dispatch, in a 2001 review of an Irish Tenors concert, said Kearns has the strongest classical technique, used with impeccable taste, in his inspired singing of The Lord's Prayer. Kearns himself thinks he's a far stronger singer than he was when he got his big break.

"I read a book recently called The Third Line, and it really is that: music is one thing, the words another, and then there's the interpretation. Once you have the music learned properly and you're on top of that, you can let go and concentrate more on the words and their meaning, and then when you really put yourself in that character, you start to interpret", he said. "It gives you a palette of colors instead of one sound.”

Though he still performs regularly with the Tenors, who formed in 1998, he enjoys the freedom of his solo tours. “On my own, it’s a different setting altogether. Its more intimate with the piano", he said. " It just brings the people closer to you, and there's more concentration on the program. That program", he said, "will include a variety of music from the operatic arias I studied in the past decade to the traditional Irish tunes I learned as a child. The most important thing is to have something for everybody in the program. It's a mix of old and contemporary songs, songs from operas and musicals and what we call evergreens, songs that will never go out of fashion", he said. “And, of course, an evening would be incomplete if I didn't do do Danny Boy in there somewhere."

Who: Anthony Kearns.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Amarillo Civic Center Auditorium, 401 S. Buchanan St.
How much: $10-$49, plus service charge.
Information: 378-3096 or any Panhandle Tickets outlet.
Irish tenor Anthony Kearns is proof that working backward
is sometimes the best way to get ahead.
We reprint the following article with the permission of the writer, Chip Chandler,
who asked that we make various punctuation changes.
Anthony and Berta...two opera experts with similar advice
Our Berta is, as usual, right on target!
© All information copyrighted ......... Berta Calechman