Rehearsal Magazine: Hi Nick and Andrea! How are you both going? I’m really excited to start this conversation, and look forward to sharing your story with the Rehearsal Magazine readers! To get started, how did you meet?
Andrea Katz: It was my first day as Acting Head of Voice at Monish University. Merlyn Quaife had invited me to replace her while on long service leave, and on that first day I heard a knock on the door and this cheeky 18 year old comes in and tells me how to manage my schedule! The situation hasn’t changed much since…
Nick Dinopoulos: I wish I could deny the audacity of these claims, but it’s all true! They were some pretty fantastic initial coachings though which laid some very important groundwork.
RM: How soon after those initial coachings did you both realise you'd found a good musical partner?
ND: Ah, that is interesting. Andrea and I didn't really start working together as colleagues until several years later. I'd taken some of her classes at Uni, and always asked her to play for my practical exams, but the relationship was still very much one of teacher and student. It was probably not until we got to The Opera Studio, no?
AK: Yes, by then I had started dreaming about Songmakers and 'collecting' singers. First to say yes was Merlyn Quaife, of course. Then Sally-Anne Russell joined after our Resonate recital in Sydney. I'd been nurturing Nick and checking his progress and by 2011, I thought he was ready. It was a big ask for someone so young but an important part of creating the group was to 'pass the torch’, so to speak.
RM: How did you feel in those first few rehearsals for the newly formed Songmakers, Nick?
ND: Petrified. I was 22 years old, just out of Uni, and rubbing shoulders with some serious industry heavy-hitters. I remember almost barely being able to sing! Luckily I knew the repertoire really well, but it was a little while before I began to really trust myself in rehearsals.
AK: It was a very steep learning curve for Nick, but he always rose to the challenge. It was fascinating to watch him interact with the other singers, avidly drink up the experiences and grow in bouncing leaps right in front of us.
RM: What are some of the things you have learnt from being in Songmakers, particularly aside from technical music learnings?
AK: As Artistic Director, I've had to learn all sorts of skills: programming, planning rehearsals, securing gigs, dealing with last minute illnesses and cancellations...but the biggest learning curve for me has been (and still is) letting go and trusting the fabulous artists I have as colleagues. Humanly and musically they always deliver and I can absolutely trust the outcome will be outstanding.
RM: What about you Nick? I imagine Songmakers was quite pivotal for you as a professional musician - what skills has it helped develop that you now rely on in your everyday life as a singer?
ND: Apart from always having new and interesting music to learn (and needing to schedule practice to be able to keep up with it all!), being a Songmaker has brought me closer to the audience and closer to the composer. It has also deepened my commitment to the art of recital singing itself, and it is continually inspiring to be part of a group of industry leaders in this field. But perhaps most significantly, I simply would not have had a career without Andrea's support. The life of an artist is by no means easy, and she has encouraged and challenged me every step of the way.
RM: Absolutely! Nick could you tell me about how your career has diversified since learning with Andrea originally? You are not only a performer, you are a teacher and an artistic director! How do you manage and balance those different parts of your career?
ND: I've taught since the very beginning, actually. Conducting and programming came a little later, but I started working at the Australian Boys Choir back in 2007, and was invited onto the staff at Monash University in 2014. I've also taught privately, been a chorus master for many different projects, worked in a number of schools, and have been the resident vocal consultant to the National Youth Choir of Australia (and also on the Board) for the past three seasons. In terms of keeping up with it all, the answer is very careful scheduling! Prioritising the most important tasks for the week and keeping a pretty comprehensive to-do list is pretty much the only way I cope, but I absolutely love the variety. There are equally as many gratifying aspects to rehearsing as there are to performing as there are in teaching, and they all inform each other.
RM: Andrea, you are also balancing being both a performer and a teacher. Can you tell me about how you got into teaching initially, and how you manage the two aspects of your career now?
AK: I started as a tutor as part of my scholarship with the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem. Very soon after that began, I was engaged by the New Israeli Opera. Coaching is very much a form of teaching but also encourages you to learn a lot of other elements that are essential when working with students: lots of patience (I can hear you laughing Nick!), 175 different ways of explaining something, how to influence without talking, the list is endless! After so many years of experience the time required to achieve something has distilled itself to a minimum and now I find myself looking for more engagement to keep myself motivated!
RM: Being able to explain things in lots of ways is so important! When you work with young singers, what are the first things you talk about? What are the things you teach that are absolutely necessary for developing artists to know?
AK: To listen to the composer. I can still hear my teacher Alex Tamir in Israel saying to me: 'don't help him, he knows best!’ Everything you need as a musician comes from the score. It is like a code, you have to decipher it and that will fill your development years with hours and hours of research analysis, guessing, pondering...It's wonderful!
RM: Tell me about your preparation - when you're performing a new piece of music, what is your process? Especially those things OTHER than note learning!
AK: I first read the piece and get my own feel for it. Parallel to technical work (repetition, slow practice et al) I like doing research about the composer, historical period and the piece itself, if possible. If working on a newly composed work it is really good if I can have a session with the composer in person or via email. A lot more is discovered during rehearsals of course.
RM: Absolutely. Nick do you have a similar approach?
ND: I certainly do - Katzy's taught me well, after all! But in addition to what Andrea has mentioned, a word of warning: listening to recordings can be wonderful, giving you a lot of information and speeding up the learning process, but it can also be dangerous! I think it's much better to start from scratch each time, developing your own sense of the piece and what you want to say. You have to trust your artistry of course, and while there are often conventions attached to canonical works, at least that way you can offer your audience something refreshingly different.
RM: Across the country, a whole new class of young singers and repetiteurs are starting their tertiary level education. What do you wish you'd known about your careers when you were both starting out? Do you have any words of advice you wish to share?
AK: I didn't get a lot of sound advice about careers and how to manage them when I was a student. I had to go on the quest all by myself and started over 3 times before landing in Australia. I'm still learning and reckon I will keep learning till the end! I don't regret doing it this way, but I do wish somebody had taken me by the hand at least some of the time. My advice to young people is, besides practicing, to go and talk to different people in the industry and look for all the answers you need. Don't be shy!
ND: I never knew that, Andrea! I guess there's no substitute for experience, but it makes sense that you've passed so much of that on-the-job experience on to me and so many other singers. In terms of career advice, the thing about being an artist is that you absolutely have to love it. All of it. The ups and downs. The funny ins-and-outs. Essentially, don't do it unless you have to! The only other thing I want to say applies slightly more generally: never devalue the power of listening. No matter who we are, we can all strive to talk less and process more. When presented with new stimuli or a new piece of information, it's in our interest to go away and really try to get inside that person's head and understand where they might be coming from. Sometimes what others have to say can be confronting, but if we take it away and process it calmly (even if we don't agree with it), we can deepen our knowledge and broaden our experience.