BY STEPHANIE ESLAKE
Have you ever wondered what life is really like in the orchestra? Welcome to EXPOSED!
Throughout 2017, we’re teaming up with musicians and arts administrators from the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra to take you behind the scenes, and show you what it means to pursue a career in a challenging and fulfilling industry.
Our latest interview features Alexander Rodrigues, who performs with the TSO Chorus as a tenor. Alexander grew up in Brisbane, and went on to study a Bachelor of Science in Astrophysics and a Bachelor of Arts in Music at the University of Queensland.
Two years ago, he moved states to undertake his Bachelor of Music Honours and Masters of Music degrees at the University of Tasmania, studying Orchestral Conducting with his teacher Maestro Johannes Fritzsch.
Here, Alexander tells us what it’s life’s like to sing in an orchestral chorus.
How did you make your way into a position with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus?
Back in January, 2015 when I was attending a conducting masterclass with the TSO, I saw that their program for the year included a performance of Mozart’s Requiem mass. Having just sung the work the previous November with the University of Queensland Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Brisbane, I thought how wonderful it would be to sing it again. Little did I know that six months later I would be living in Hobart as a student!
Upon arriving, I immediately joined the TSO Chorus and was able to sing in their Rule Britannia! Proms concert, and then later, the Mozart Requiem performance!
What did you imagine life would be like with the chorus – and what’s it really like now that you’re living it?
I imagined the chorus to be similar to the choirs I sang with in Brisbane: with people from all walks of life with interesting stories, all volunteering their time to sing together and make beautiful music. While it is this, it is also something to look forward to each week due to the supportive environment within the chorus, and because each rehearsal usually includes a laugh or two!
How would you describe your typical day backstage, in the rehearsal room?
As the chorus rehearses on a Tuesday night, the evening usually commences with everyone coming in drips and drabs – either straight from school, university, work or home – and catching up with people they haven’t seen since the last rehearsal. We are then called into the rehearsal room where we usually begin with some warm-ups before tackling the music that we are working on with our wonderful chorusmaster, June Tyzack.
Rehearsals usually go from 7.30pm until 10pm, with a break at 8.45pm where everyone again talks to each other over a cup of tea or Milo with a Tim Tam – there is a great sense of community within the group!
At the end of the rehearsal, we’re all usually exhausted – in a good way, though – and leave with the feeling that we’ve made some musical progress within the work.
Was there ever a time you thought the challenge of your role inside the chorus would be too great?
The most challenging thing I’ve had to face during my time in the chorus – and indeed, any chorus – is the learning of new languages! Last year’s St Matthew Passion presented huge amounts of texts, required to be sung clearly and accurately in German to convey the meaning of the text. And this is something I really struggled with. Rolling the Rs the right way as well as producing the correct ‘ooo’ sound was something that I really had to work lots on by myself.
The chorus is really understanding that people may have trouble with the different languages, and have resources made that are uploaded to the Chorus’s Members Webpage to assist. This, and the added vocal coaching that the chorus gets for works like this, really helps us along with the weekly rehearsals, which focus more on the musical aspects of the work.
What do you feel are the strongest expectations placed on you in this role?
To arrive each week with the notes pre-learnt, so that you can focus on blending with your section and the choir as a whole, would be the strongest expectation. Once this is achievable, then the work can be brought to life by working on things such as phrasing, dynamics, meaning and clarity of the text.
How do you cope with live performance pressure?
As I’ve been performing since a young age, I don’t find that performing with a choir puts a lot of pressure on me. As it’s singing with a group and with an orchestra onstage, the pressure of performing solo or in a small group is reduced and as such it allows me to enjoy the performance and the music more. Audience members have told me that they can see me smiling throughout the performance, enjoying the music!
How would you describe the chemistry in your vocal section, and how do you work to support each other in your small team?
As one of the tenors – which is usually the smallest section of any choir- we get along well and from week to week we try to sit next to different people in our section. It’s not until the final week of rehearsals that we are placed in a specific seating plan, and by then we’ve already sung next to that person at one rehearsal or another, so we are able to then just work on getting used to the choir in the setup of the performance space.
For works that are trickier, each section of the choir usually organises their own sectionals at someone’s house. These intensive rehearsals can be a lot of fun and allow the section to create even stronger bonds between one another. Some groups are also known to do arts and crafts before/after the sectional, too!
What is the biggest thing you’ve learnt through working with the orchestra as a vocalist?
There is always something new to hear or listen out for! Even when you think you know a work back-to-front or by memory, there is always something new that can be brought to your attention just by performing in a different acoustic, with a different orchestra/chorus/conductor, or even just sitting in a different location within the choir allowing you hear the other parts differently. It never fails to amaze me!
What is the thing you love most about life in the chorus?
The sense of community, supporting each other and the wonderful works of music that we get to sing.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young vocalists looking to commence their singing career?
Join a chorus! You won’t regret it. It’s great fun to sing with an orchestra chorus and through it you will meet experienced vocal soloists and conductors, and see up-close how they rehearse and perform.
Watch Alexander sing (with his trademark smile) in the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Chorus during Field of Flowers at 2.30pm on December 2 in the Federation Concert Hall.
Do you have a burning question about what life is really like in the orchestra?