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)