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IOAlumni | Where do our graduates go after they leave the IOA?

Two former students talk about their time at the IOA and its effects on their career. Tenor Denzil Delaere (30) certainly sounds convinced of its value:

I was made ready, in a safe environment, for a life as a singer, and I attach a great deal of importance to that. I first studied at the Conservatoire in Ghent. While there, I had to take account of so many other subjects that I was never able to concentrate fully on my voice. Investing in my ‘instrument’ was not a priority there. The IOA obliged me to be engaged in my own craft every day. It does not have a permanent vocal coach, only a vocal advisor. This enabled me to have lessons from a number of singing teachers of my choice. But I also developed my voice myself by looking for a study method that suited me. In that regard, the IOA was a great help and the perfect safety net. There is a clear focus on developing yourself as a performer, and standards are very high. You have to prove yourself every day. You have to be there. It taught me to be tough, and to develop my character. Which is exactly what I need in my professional life. That’s why the IOA is the ideal in-between stage after Conservatoire and before being thrown into the lions’ den. It makes you aware of the life of a singer without burning your fingers.

“The IOA helped me develop my character, which is exactly what I need in my professional life.”

Now too, it is expected that when I start on a job I know the part perfectly. No more, no less. If not, I may simply go home: goodbye! Fortunately, I learnt to work hard at the IOA. I cultivated a work ethic and several teachers helped me do so. They support you, but also confront you with everything you do. It’s the best mirror in which to find out what you are good and not so good at. At the IOA you get two years to work on yourself. And you can be sure you come face to face with yourself! How much time do I need to learn a part? Should I do some more work on my singing technique? How good do I feel in my skin? Am I capable of freeing my body of complexes? I am timid by nature and as an actor I really had to force myself out of my comfort zone, break down barriers and give myself a mental boost. It was from two actual productions at the IOA that I learnt the most: Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Benoit Mernier’s Frühlings Erwachen. Such a situation requires putting together everything you’ve learnt, not the separate issues at stake in each lesson. It feels like a test of yourself. You immediately experience what you still have to work on. For me, it was extremely important to learn to dose myself. In the past I always sang everything at full force. But when all at once you have to fill an eight-hour working day with your voice, you can be sure that that organ will protest. At the IOA, I learnt a way of keeping it up. Also, it is an advantage to work with the same pianists for two years. You create a relationship of trust and more easily venture to put yourself in your accompanist’s hands. That gives you the room to experiment and to arm yourself against the different ways you will have to collaborate in future. Do you know what I found most agreeable about my time at the IOA? After two years of hard work on yourself, you can feel the improvement. That is the basis on which I can now continue.

Interviewer: Cara Van der Auwera (VRT, Klara)

Pianist Eline Brys (26) immediately found her first real job:

Since the start of this season I have been working as a pianist at the opera house in Osnabrück. My greatest asset is that wherever I am, I always want to do my best. And that’s why I never leave home unprepared. I learnt this at the IOA. As a pianist you have to be able to achieve a lot in a short time. You have to foster a wealth of repertoire: not only be able to play the operas all the way through, but definitely also be able to sing them all. The only key to all this is self-study. The tutor Hein Boterberg taught me a tactic with which I was able to work much more efficiently. It is a particular way of studying that ensures you master everything in the best way. I have to have confidence that whatever I play, perhaps with a little error here or there, is part of a broader issue that will resolve itself later. Since I am a perfectionist, this was an exercise in letting go. You often have to learn a whole opera in a very short time and you don’t always have the chance to reflect on things much. The quicker you can work through the score, the better. At the IOA I also learned the best way to sight-read. There is no method, I just had to work a lot and very hard. Something for which I am very grateful. It enabled me to build up a lot of stock-in-trade and learn repertoire from which I am now already reaping the fruits. It’s mainly the repertoire for soprano, as we didn’t have a tenor in the class. (laughs)

‘I owe my present job to the IOA.’

In fact, letting go is something you also learn in Magda Thielemans’ lessons on movement. I found those couple of hours of movement every week at least as important as piano coaching. It made me freer and loosened me up. Just like the acting lessons. It gave extra impulses to my inner singer. I have also become more self-confident with regard to the singers. Only now can I really accompany them, because in those two years at the IOA I learned what to look out for in each singer.

As an accompanist you also have to give instructions. That is a hurdle you have to get over. Not every singer values the pianist’s advice. But now I have the nerve to take that step every day with no trouble in the course of my work. I stand up for myself musically! (laughs)The culture of openness at the IOA taught me how to cultivate a thicker skin. So as not to take every remark personally whenever you make a mistake. It’s an important attitude to learn. It’s a tough world and you have to deal with lots of impressions. You have to be able to allow through your filter those opinions that are worthwhile and put the rest aside.

I can definitely say that I learnt essential things at the IOA, things I would never have been able to do otherwise. So in some ways I owe my present job to the IOA. Elsewhere, it would certainly have taken more years of study to achieve what I wanted. Even though this is only the beginning.

Interview by Cara Van der Auwera

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