There will be a very special charity concert taking place at Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School next Friday, with opera singer Emma Ventris. Here, Eileen Leahy talks to her and organiser Anita Reid about what the Evening of Enchantment will entail
London College of Music at 18, but she only stayed a year. “It was all a bit much as singing, unlike with instrumentalists, comes much later in life, so I took a year out and started working at the Royal Opera House as an usher and I absolutely loved it! “I couldn’t believe that I was being paid to watch everything. I remember seeing famous soprano Angela Gheorgiu sing her final aria before the interval when she was starring in La Traviata, and I couldn’t get up after it. I was meant to be selling programmes and
ice creams, but I was just so moved. It knocked everything out of me because it was just so incredible. I’d never experienced anything like that before.”
That set Emma back on her musical path at the Royal Academy of Music, where she stayed for another six years. “I did my degree there, a teaching diploma and post graduate diploma. After graduating, I started working and travelling, mainly in Europe but occasionally in America and Asia, too.” She says she would have continued touring but having her two children and being married to another opera singer who travelled
constantly meant that she had to take a break. “The fact I also haemorrhaged a vocal cord after having my son didn’t help.” While she was bringing up her young daughter and son, Emma would give the odd teaching lesson to friends’ children, but it was after she and her husband separated five years ago that she started pursuing her love of singing again.
“I thought I need to do something for me, so I started teaching at Pembridge Hall in Notting Hill and then went to The King’s School in Canterbury.”
She stayed for two years at Pembridge and ‘loved it’, but left when offered the chance to set up the Locton Choir, also in London. “At first I wasn’t sure about getting a whole room of brokers ready to sing,” Emma laughs. “It started off as a team-building thing, but we now rehearse once a week. Most of them don’t read music, but it’s just incredible. They absolutely love it.” What does Emma think being in a choir gives people?
“An escape from normality; they can laugh, they can sing and have fun. When singing is working well, you see their eyes light up and that’s not something you get anywhere else. Singing taps into your senses, it’s like a musical endorphin.” And that’s precisely why Emma is so looking forward to performing at TWGGS, as it won’t just be her – she will also be welcoming on stage a number of singers from TWGGS organised by music teacher Michele Roszak, who is singing two duets with Emma. There will also be 35 young harpists, led by harp teacher Nikki Martin, who will perform two pieces. The school’s PTA teacher, James Speller, has also been instrumental in pulling all the various strands together to make this unique event happen, for which Anita says she is ‘very grateful’.
Emma believes that putting children in a position such as this does enormous amounts of good for their confidence and self-belief. “If you can allow your voice to speak and allow yourself to be seen, then it’s empowering. Watching children sing or play and face their fears is actually really good for them. To be able to stand up and play in front of people you don’t know is a real life lesson. We have singers of varying degrees of ability, which is great. Some are more confident than others so it’s become less about me and more about supporting these children, both here as they perform, and also in Ghana.”
Emma will be singing around ten pieces, including works by Schubert, Fauré and Mozart, and also some popular show tunes. “But my role is also to be there for the children and to try and make them feel comfortable. It has to be a positive experience.” What does Emma hope the event, which is being supported by Maddisons Residential and Basil café, will give the audience? “I hope very much that they will enjoy all the genres of music
and have a really nice entertaining evening and raise some money for a very good cause.”
An Evening of Enchantment with Emma Ventris will be held at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Girls on March 16 at 8pm.
Tickets are priced from £5 to £12 via www.tickettailor.com