Who or what inspired you to take up singing, and make it your career?
My grandfather was the man that gave me the push to explore the full capacity of my voice. He was a keen musician and would organise music festivals in Kent where he lived while bringing up his young family. In his later years he was a committed member of his local choral society. Music was very important to him, and while he only heard me sing a few times, he clearly saw my passion for singing when I was very young. He saw an advert in the Telegraph for choristers at Rochester Cathedral and encouraged my mother and me to apply. Four years later, I bowed out of the choir as deputy head chorister, and I’d had the biggest head start to my singing career I could ever ask for.
Who or what were the most important influences on your singing?
Being in a cathedral choir, you’re repertoire is fine-tuned to a fairly specific genre. There’s no secular music at all, so the biggest influences were certainly the composers whose works I was singing, namely Byrd, Tallis, Stanford, Poulenc, Duruflé, Vaughan Williams to name a few. On the performance side of things, my director of music at Rochester, Roger Sayer, was a huge influence. I learnt all my foundations of singing from him. In more recent times, I’m now a member of the a cappella group Apollo5, and that has opened my eyes and ears to the previously undiscovered world of secular music! We sing a huge variety of genres and composers from Byrd to Broadway. I’ve loved singing the more current repertoire, like Jim Clements’ arrangement of Smooth Criminal. Jim arranges a lot of music for VOCES8 (whom Apollo5 work very closely with), and it’s a real treat to be able to sing such funky harmonies which I missed out on when I was singing in cathedral choirs!
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
There’s one which stands out: I started my undergraduate studies on a Biology BSc course, and while I enjoyed studying science at school, it took me a while to realise that I couldn’t leave music on the back burner. After 1 1/2 years into my biology degree I finally accepted that I wasn’t happy, so I started my undergrad from scratch, but this time I was working towards a Music BA. It was an incredibly tough decision to make because I’m probably the most stubborn person I know, but I was worried that I would be perceived as a failure. It’s now 3 years later, and I’m about to graduate and start working as a workshop leader for the charity which runs Apollo5 and VOCES8, Voces Cantabiles Music (VCM), and I can’t wait to start inspiring people through music. It’s definitely been the best decision of my life.
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
In chronological order, one of my favourite recordings was from my days in Rochester. We recorded a disc of Vaughan Williams’ choral works (A Choral Portrait of Vaughan Williams, Lantern Productions- 2000), and that definitely fuelled my love for his music. One of the prominent features on the disc was his Mass in G minor. My solo performance which I’m most proud of is certainly my final undergraduate recital. I chose a programme of Finzi, Fauré and Quilter. What I was most proud of was my delivery of the text; having sung in a cathedral for most of my singing career, I haven’t been used to “acting” my text because your job in a cathedral choir is primarily to aid worship, and the music should not distract the congregation from the main focus of the worship. My final recital was the first time I engaged with the text so much that I almost cried during The Clock of the Years (from Finzi’s Earth and Air and Rain). My favourite performance with Apollo5 has to be last month’s performance at the Royal Albert Hall with Surrey Arts. We do a lot of education work with a variety of clients from businesses like Vodafone to help to further their team building, community choirs to strengthen their passion for singing, and all the way through to schools like Red Balloon centres for severely bullied children which aim to recover them and return them to mainstream education.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?
Apollo5 loved performing at the Royal Albert Hall with Surrey Arts and Westminster Palace with Red Balloon! But sadly we don’t get the opportunity to perform at these venues every day. We usually perform a series of Christmas concerts at Ham House in Richmond, and we love performing those. You certainly feel the Christmas spirit when you’re rehearsing for these towards the end of September!
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
We are very lucky that one of our Tenors (Matt) happens to be a great arranger. One of our favourite arrangements of his is definitely The Andrews Sisters classic Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and this also looks great when our girls are wearing their fabulous Vivien of Holloway dresses!
Who are your favourite musicians?
Personally, I love to get into the Christmas spirit by listening to Bing Crosby. There’s nothing like having a bath with Bing! At other times of the year, I fill my iPhone with recordings by The Consort of Musicke and The Sixteen
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
If somebody gives you the opportunity to have more experience in something you love, you have to do it. It’s near impossible to improve if you don’t gain experience. Also, the more teachers you see, the better. You don’t have to visit them regularly, but it’s great to get a 2nd/3rd/4th (etc…) opinion on your technique/performance, because what might work for one person may not necessarily work for another. I think of seeing a variety of teachers as getting a pick-n-mix.
What are you working on at the moment?
Right now, I’m preparing to work for VCM on a more permanent basis by observing the workshops that the organisation offers with a view to leading some of these on my own. As a group, Apollo5 are preparing for our appearance at the Tolosa Choral Competition.
What do you enjoy doing most?
I love skiing, it’s something I’ve only recently discovered. I usually go to Alpe d’Huez with members of the choral foundation at Portsmouth Cathedral and we normally try to coincide our trip with a performance at Église Notre-Dame des Neiges.
Harry Bennett has just completed his studies at the University of Southampton and has been studying with David Owen Norris, Ian Caddy and Keith Davis over the last three years. Alongside his studies he is also a Bass Lay Clerk at Portsmouth Cathedral. His extensive choral background stretches back to 1997 when he was a chorister at Rochester Cathedral under the direction of Roger Sayer.
Harry began to explore workshop leading with the Portsmouth SingUp project, a government-led initiative which aims to help primary school children explore the idea of singing, and to consequently help boost their learning, confidence, health and social development. In 2010 he became a founding member of Apollo 5, the a cappella group which has been praised for their eye-catching performances under the Voces Cantabiles Music (VCM) umbrella and will be performing on various dates around Europe this year, and more notably at the Tolosa International Choral Competition. Apollo5 are Ensemble in residence with Surrey Arts and was honoured to headline the sold out celebration concert at the Royal Albert Hall in May 2012. From September this year, Harry will be implementing his skills gained from his SingUp experience in his appointment as a workshop leader for VCM.
As a soloist he has been gaining experience in oratorio and lieder performances, including Handel’s Messiah with Caroline Balding and Elizabeth Kenny in December 2010, and has appeared as Aeneas in Purcell’s opera Dido & Aeneas last June. Over the past year, Harry has been a member of Genesis Sixteen, the new training programme from The Sixteen which aims “to identify the next generation of ensemble choral singers and to give them the opportunity to train at the highest level”.
The stunning vocal quintet Apollo5 was formed in 2010 and has been praised for engaging and lively performances. The professional group has a wide repertoire of jazz, pop, classical and Christmas a cappella and will be touring across the UK and internationally for the first time in 2012.