23 Nov 2020

Phillip Rhodes has a song for all those who never said goodbye

From Upbeat, 12:30 pm on 23 November 2020

Internationally acclaimed Hawke's Bay-born baritone Phillip Rhodes was among a group of Kiwi singers who got together for Whānau: London Voices of Aotearoa, far from home, a concert of songs from Aotearoa and the Pacific.

Phillip talks about how singing together has lifted his spirits after the loss of his mother a few months ago and he hopes listening to the concert will lift other people's spirits too.

You can watch and listen to the concert here

Whānau London Voices

Whānau London Voices Photo: Whānau London Voices

It’s been eight months since most of the Kiwi singers in London have had a chance to sing, but recording the concert ‘Whānau: London Voices of Aotearoa, far from home' with all the other Kiwi singers has started the process of healing for Phillip Rhodes.

He's been lucky to scrape through with help from the government and the Kiri te Kanawa foundation and people from New Zealand who knew how difficult the situation was for his family.  

“You do start to worry, after seeing a vast amount of work disappear, which equates to a monetary value but also a career trajectory. Once you have taken that away from a performer - we all have ambitions to where we want to go -  if you take that away and then the realization settles in that there is no money coming from anywhere, to have that lifted off your plate, so to speak, has been a great benefit to my mental health.”

This concert will help all the singers financially if people who enjoy the performance choose to donate through the New Zealand singers website Whānau: London Voices.  

Phillip says he can’t shy away from the fact that over the past few months it’s been very tough to keep singing.

“I lost my mother two months ago and I wasn’t able to get home for that and that’s really hurt; it’s taken its toll vocally, and physically; but to get down to London and do something... and almost have the opportunity to let a bit of grief go, that was extremely therapeutic and it’ll be a special concert for me forever.”

Pam O'Keefe, and her husband Hastings councillor Henare O'Keefe, took Phillip Rhodes and his sisters in to their home when he was nine years old. Pam O'Keefe was known as the "mother of Flaxmere", and the couple fostered hundreds of children and made many contributions to the local community over the years.

Phillip says that we know not having the opportunity to grieve can make you feel quite black, but having the chance to sing has allowed him to come away lifted and back on track.

“I wanted to send a message home and send a message out to all those people, and there are millions around the world, who didn’t get to say goodbye to their (loved one). People are alone and its quite heart breaking. I just wanted to share that I’ve felt those exact emotions and it’s really quite unbearable”.

Phillip Rhodes sings to his mother Pam O'Keefe

Phillip Rhodes sings to his mother Pam O'Keefe Photo: Whānau: London Voices

The song he chose was one his father wrote for his mother. “It’s called 'My Best Friend' and he used to sing it to Mum at every occasion he could.“  

“It talks about her value to him really and it’s a song I’ve always loved because it’s my father singing it to my mother. Outside the romance it’s just a lovely thing that someone actually does that; but for me to be able to send that home to my family, it was a lovely moment, and to be able to do that from the Royal Albert Hall, from the Elgar Room was special for me, it was nice, lovely.