Sam is a full-time member of the professional vocal ensemble Cantus. You can read his biography on their website HERE.
“Find your own voice.” “Honour the composer’s idea.” “Make your own interpretation.” “That’s not standard performance practice.”
Every moment of my two degrees pursuing music was spent obsessing over perfection. I wanted to excel. I wanted to know how the best got where they were, and I wanted to show the world that I was unique in my own artistic voice. I was and still am a dreamer. But looking back, had you asked me what my idea of “me” was in regard to my music making, I’m not sure I could have told you. I am a great mimic. But that doesn’t mean I sound like me. I wanted to be honest with my musical choices but I felt trapped in the operatic world of highly protected performance practices, expectations for quality, and the dreaded five-aria package.
When I met Michael, I was at a tipping point with my career. I was not happy with my musical outlets, my voice, my progress as a young aspiring opera singer, and I had no real way to figure out how to fix those things. What I needed was someone to look me in the eye and tell me point blank to stop trying to be the singer I wanted to be, and just be me when I sing. He showed me how to let go.
I had grown up listening to Michael’s music ever since Riverdance had become my aunt and uncle’s obsession. After all that time, I found myself in the Phoenix Chorale not only singing that music, but doing it alongside the composer and founder himself. It was terrifying because I suddenly had the exciting yet daunting task of having someone listen to their own work coming from you. A rehearsal, some homemade soda bread and marshmallows, and a long conversation later, I was onboard for a two-month tour of Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, and Belgium. It was two months of singing like me. For how else could I go onstage singing music that while familiar to my ear was completely foreign to my singing voice without just singing? Not singing like Samuel Ramey or Bryn Terfel. Not trying to find my own niche in the operatic scene.
Sometimes it takes someone showing they trust you for you to realise that you should also trust yourself. That moment came for me when halfway through my first Anúna tour Michael asked me to sing the solo in "Tenebrae IV". I protested saying it was too high. It wasn’t and, while I didn’t let that be true at the time, he knew it. Once I got over myself and trusted the music, the strange Irish words, Michael’s intuition, and finally myself, I stepped up and a sound I had not made since I was a child came out. It was my sound.
For me, Anúna is based in simplicity. It isn’t just about singing, it’s about creating ideas, trusting those making music around you, and trusting the energy of the audience. It is brilliant to watch each member come to the hall with their own identity as a musician and rather than morph that to create a homogeneous interpretation, we create something new and wonderful and different because of the very fact that we are different. It is brilliant to watch an audience on the brink of discomfort as we begin singing “Media Vita” mere inches from their seats then jump to their feet by the end of a concert. So many times I have heard listeners say that they “simply had no idea music could do that.” I know. I get it.