“Every time I sing, I act out Jesus’ statement: ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches”

in Faith/Interview/Latest/Music

April has performed widely as a soloist in recital and oratorio venues in the UK, including St. John’s Smith Square, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Bridgewater Hall, Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall and the Holywell in Oxford.

Who had an early influence on your decision to pursue music?
I never set out to become a professional singer. Though I loved music and was involved with it from my early years, the chance to pursue it professionally took me  rather by surprise, to be honest. I was too busy being a bookworm and a violinist!
Neither of my parents grew up with classical music, but they made sure that we were surrounded by it. My father, who was a hippie before his religious conversion, only began to study the cello and classical music in the university, starting the highly successful orchestral programme in our small town of Shawano, Wisconsin, and my mother was a self-taught pianist. I all began playing violin from the age of about 4, and I continued to study violin very seriously until university.

Why and when did you decide to become a professional singer?
I love to sing, and I found that my singing had the capacity to touch people deeply. I discovered this when I started to study voice in the university when I was 18 years old. It is a vulnerable profession, but I believe it is really important, that singing can connect us with one another and remind us what it is to be human. I consider it a huge privilege to sing incredible music with wonderful, well-established musicians.

How did you develop such an amazing voice?
A lot of world-class singing is down to the instrument one is given, literally the physical dimensions of my vocal folds and larynx (the voice box), the shape and size of my throat, and my facial bone structure. But classical singing is also essentially an Olympic sport as well as an art, a combination of extremely fine muscle control in the whole body as well as passion and imagination. I’ve had to learn to ‘play’ the instrument I’ve been given, to explore all of its capabilities and quirks, its strengths and weaknesses.

There are 5 generally recognised subcategories of a soprano. Which one are you?
I am what is known as a lyric soprano though I can also be considered a lyric coloratura. This means I can sing both music with long lines which requires a fair bit of power but also sing lots of fast notes which require a high degree of precision and flexibility.

How do you train your voice?
The training is a combination of vocal exercises to train the brain in these fine acts of coordination. These include stretching and contracting the vocal folds to sing higher or lower, practising how you begin notes and vary the quality in the middle of the notes, and how you keep an even sound quality from high to low. I have been training for nearly 20 years, and for a professional classical singer, the learning and adapting never stops, for the physical attributes of a voice change over time, so you need to keep learning that fine motor coordination over and over again. Singing is an incredibly physical, whole-body exercise. So stretching, Pilates and yoga can be really helpful as a regular routine to keep the body supple and free, since tension will show up in the voice.

How critical are you of your work?
I am a perfectionist in my music, so It is hard not be critical of myself. I’m always highly aware of any flaws. I’m like a gymnast on the balance beam: every tiny nuance of sound matters. I also think of myself as an artist in sound, using my voice as a painter uses a brush. A classical performer’s job is also much harder these days, because audiences expect the perfection they hear on recordings in live performance. But that perfection isn’t real. Live performances are rarely perfect, but I would argue that they are much more interesting precisely because they are imperfect. Fragile, uneven voices are interesting, and pop, folk, and indie singers use this to their advantage all the time. So often, audiences don’t notice the flaws, or those flaws are the very things they find appealing, but classical musicians rarely allow themselves to be vulnerable in that way.

Why do you think live performance still important?
To me, classical music is a journey and a struggle for beauty and expression, an incredible gift that attempts to catch the essence of a moment and convey it to others. It expresses basic and profound human emotions and experiences. Live performance is a ritual, it is a spectacle, a rehearsal of what it is to feel and love and hope and lose and strive and make peace with what it is—or not. ‘Getting it right’, which has become the focus of classical music, like shaving milliseconds off one’s time in Olympic sports, has eclipsed the actual point: the joy of the shared act.

How do you handle mistakes when they happen, especially with an orchestra in front of a big audience?
I was given a brilliant piece of advice from a teacher at the Royal Academy of Music. ‘If you make a mistake, do not show it’, she said. ‘The audience may never know’. And it’s amazing how often that is true. I’ve also learned not to point out my mistakes if others haven’t noticed them. It essentially insults them for not noticing and rob them of their enjoyment of what you achieved’. It’s also helped me to realise singing is not about me or my experience but about serving the music, my colleagues, and audience.

What inspires you?
Classical music is a like a huge treasure room from which I can draw an unbelievable variety and richness of music. It is such fun to explore, but there is always more. The words of a song or aria also inspire me, and as a poet myself, I love bringing out the magic of the way a composer has responded to it.

Where do you get the strength to carry on as a professional singer?
My faith is my biggest source of strength. The core of singing is breath, the same word used for the Spirit of God in the Bible. Every time I sing, I act out Jesus’ statement, ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches. Apart from me, you can do nothing’. All I have, I have been given: air, the ability to control my breathing, an imagination, and an instrument which responds instantly to my thought. I’m just a steward of that gift. These days, a performer has to do everything: business development, self-promotion and publicity as well as preparation and performance, and it can be challenging to juggle it all. When I depend on my own strength, I get tired easily. When I depend on the strength God says He gives, then suddenly all things are possible.

Mozart Alleluia from Exsultate Jubilate performed by April Fredrick (soprano) and conducted by Noel Tredinnick at All Souls Church, Langham Place in Central London on 24th February 2018
VIdeo Courtesy, Epiphany Music.

What is your ultimate goal as a singer?
To be myself, which is trickier than you might think, and to use classical music to connect people again as it once did. The temptation is always to try to control, to insist on a particular career path, or chase after what you think others want you to be, but I’ve found that both kill the joy of singing. Trying to sound impressive only works against the way my voice is designed, what makes it unique. Learning to be aware of the breath, to surrender and trust the way I’ve been made, is the scary option that sets me free. When I let God direct my path and allow his breath speak through me, then performance becomes extraordinary for everyone, a ‘tasting of a higher life’. My dream is that each and every time I sing, those who listen who see more than just me, would hear through me to the wider reality that the music has helped us all to encounter.

What is the scariest concert you’ve ever done?
One of the most high-profile concerts I’ve done was singing Mahler Symphony no 4 with the Warsaw Philharmonic in the Royal Concert Hall in Nottingham. I was really nervous to sing in such a venue for such a big audience, and I was terrified that I would forget my first words. When the clarinet played its first notes, and the conductor smiled at me, I forgot my fear and entered the world of the music. To sing a piece I love so much with a world-class orchestra was a dream come true.

What is your favourite performance so far that has stayed in your mind and heart as a very special?
My first performance of Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs in Chester Cathedral. It is glorious music, a deeply significant and moving piece for many people. It is all about making our peace with death and all we were not able to do and become, but about finding resolution and comfort in the midst of loss. It was one of those few occasions when audience and performers all feel the same: we were all speechless and shaken with the power and preciousness of it. One of the cathedral clergy came up to me afterwards, tears in his eyes, took my hand in his, and said, ‘Salieri once said, “I have heard the voice of God”. Now, I can say the same…’

Demonstration of dynamic MRI videos. For April Fredrick skip to 5:03min of the video.
Video Courtesy, Sophie Scott Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience London.


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