17 Jul 2018

Lexus Song Quest: What it takes to teach a talent

From Upbeat, 1:00 pm on 17 July 2018

Talented singers from around New Zealand have converged in Wellington for the semi- final round of the Lexus Song Quest this weekend.

After months, if not years of preparation, the ten singers selected for this grueling round of songs and opera arias will compete for a place in the Final next week, when five finalists will perform with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra.

Judy Bellingham

Judy Bellingham Photo: Supplied

Behind every good singer is a dedicated teacher. Judy Bellingham is one of them.

She’s Associate Professor in Voice at the University of Otago, Director of the biannual New Zealand Singing School, and on the Executive Committee for Opera Otago.

She’s lost count of how many of her students have auditioned for the Lexus Song Quest, but several have gone on to the semi-final and final stage, with one - Alexander Wilson - going on to place third.

Other students who have become professional include Rebecca Ryan, Robert Tucker, and Stephen Chambers, who has a singing career in Germany.

10 singers in the  2018 Lexus Song Quest semi-finals

Photo: Supplied

Every two years Bellingham encourages her students to audition for the Lexus Song Quest. Even if the students don’t get through to the finals, it’s still a valuable experience. “[A] real learning experience comes out of auditioning for the Lexus,” Judy says.

This year some of her students who sang for the international judges were able to receive helpful feedback. That feedback from “international ears” as Judy calls them is vital. “It’s important to have international input.”

To succeed at the Lexus, it’s important for a student, and their teacher to choose repertoire that suits their voice. Judy says students have to enjoy what they sing. “The biggest thing is ensuring they are singing music they are comfortable with,” she says. “They should start with the song they enjoy singing the most and sing the best.”

Lexus Song Quest 2016 finalists (L-R) Tavis Gravatt, Benson Wilson, Madison Nonoa & Filipe Manu

Lexus Song Quest 2016 finalists (L-R) Tavis Gravatt, Benson Wilson, Madison Nonoa & Filipe Manu Photo: Jeremy Toth

Technique is also very important when choosing the right repertoire. “They might want to sing [a song], but the voice won’t let them… it can do serious damage [to the voice],” she says.  “Apart from the fact that they are not vocally ready, they are not emotionally ready either… which some of the big arias require.”

Performing in competitions in front of international judges can be emotional. Judy says she sometimes gets nervous because it’s not just the singing being judged, but also her teaching. She’s always there for her students though. “You’re not just a singing teacher,” she says.  “[you’re a] mother, confidante, life coach – everything.”