Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Welcome a Star

As my regular reader may recall, I like to think of myself as something of a singer. I certainly appreciate the singer's art more than any other. So to come across a talented young singer on the threshold of a potentially huge career is a great thrill. And Emmie Beckitt is just that.

I first heard Emmie sing on the cliff top in Bridlington. It's perhaps not the best of venues - competing with fairground rides and hot dog stalls at the Bridlington Lions Summer Carnival - but it was clear even then that she had a special talent.

photo: Rob Ayling

And don't take it from me, either. The Yorkshire youngster has performed with Sir Tim Rice and the legend that is Rick Wakeman. In fact, in December Emmie released a Christmas song - Welcome a Star - specially written for her by Rick (which you can download here) and the following interview was intended to coincide with its release.

Unfortunately, Emmie wasn't just busy over the festive period (as all singers are) - she was also suffering from a cold (as singers often are, and always fear). So the following transcript of our chat is a little later than planned, but worth the wait.

Emmie is just fifteen years old, a pupil at St Augustine's School in Scarborough studying hard for her GCSEs. I first asked her how she coped with that cliff top performance in July last year with an audience of kids, dogs, seagulls, and a backdrop of the North Sea. Does she prefer playing to a small or large audience? She replied:

To be honest I prefer a larger audience than a smaller audience, this is because I don’t get distracted and my stage presence comes across as much more confident, especially when I'm singing with an orchestra, for example at the Tim Rice concert in Gateshead. I feel much more composed and in control because the orchestra follows the vocals, which in some ways is far easier than singing with a backing track.

You sang a great favourite from Les Miz on that occasion (Bring him Home) - a song usually sung by a baritone but one with a demanding range for any voice. You seemed to manage the song perfectly well at both extremes of your register. Do you find your tessitura developing as you get more experience or have you always been able to span such a wide range?

I do have a natural range; however the key to improve your voice range is to ‘unlock’ the furthest notes of your voice, and to be able to sing them comfortably and clearly. Practising my voice is important, but to not over use the vocal range is also important. Vocal range exercises can increase your range so the vocal cord muscles learn how to close effectively at the top notes.  

Is that song a favourite? Do you sing anything else from Les Miz on a regular basis?

I love the song Bring Him Home. It has so much meaning and I think it touches so many people’s hearts. We all seem to know or have someone who is serving in the Armed Forces, so to me it represents our military. I do like the musical Les Miz, but I don’t sing any other songs from that particular show. I do, however, sing songs from such things as The Phantom of the Opera. And I have many favourite songs, the majority of them Italian. I love Parle Piu Piano (The theme tune to the film The Godfather) Nessun Dorma, Caccini’s Ave Maria and many others. 

Your breath control seems effortless, but I know from experience that effective use of the diaphragm can take years to master. You clearly have singing lessons and that helps, but what else have you found helps you to sustain long phrases? (Frank Sinatra used to swim lengths underwater to improve his breath control!)

Thank you for saying my breath control seems strong but in truth I know it could be better. I have been told that age will strengthen my breath control, and the different exercises that I do also help that. I have singing lessons once a week and use some of that time to try and develop my breathing and to help sustain the long phrases. One of my exercises is to stand straight with my shoulders back against a wall, and to breathe out as if something is pushing on my diaphragm. This allows me to have much more air and to be able to sustain the long phrases.

photo: Rob Ayling

Emmie first met Rick Wakeman through her charity work. Both she and Rick are patrons of the Chesterfield-based Kids n Cancer campaign. As Rick explained on their recent appearance with Simon Mayo on BBC Radio 2, someone recommended he go and listen to her - and he signed her on the spot! I asked Emmie what it was like working with Rick and whether he'd offered her any advice.

Rick Wakeman is definitely a legend, and working with him is such a thrill. He is always giving me guidance and directing me in the right way in everything I do, but he always gives me advice on the things I should start doing now which will benefit for the future. His main advice is to just have fun and to do things I enjoy. 

I'm sure there have been many, but what has been your most challenging performance to date?

My most challenging performance has to be the Tim Rice concert, mainly because I had to sing with an orchestra and a choir, and it was especially tough because I had never sung with an orchestra and choir that big. Also, it was a new song for me to learn and was written by Rick Wakeman and Tim Rice.

Has there been a song or a group of songs that you've decided simply don't suit your voice or your personality of performing style for whatever reason?

Alto/pop songs don’t really suit me, I think that’s because I am more interested in classical music and I am much more confident with singing that style of music. Also, I have been brought up listening to classical music so it is a style I prefer. 

And by extension, do you have a particular favourite song/style/genre?

Well I do have many favourite songs, but my favourite has to be O Mio Babbino Caro, mainly because it is such a powerful and passionate song that it is such a pleasure to sing. My favourite style and genre is obviously classical, however I do enjoy other genres such as jazz as I am in a jazz band.

Thank you, Emmie. And on that note, it's about time we heard her sing, don't you think? And what better than her own chosen favourite, O mio babbino caro, (O My Beloved Father) from one of Puccini's slightly less well-known opera's, Gianni Schicchi.

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