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AFFINITI NP: The sound you create is very pure and unfiltered which creates a real intimacy with your audience. What elements do you feel have inspired and influenced your sound? Affiniti: Finding the right songs is key! We spend a lot of time trying out songs to find "the ones" that will work for our blend of instruments & voice. We try to get behind the song and put our own interpretation of what we believe is at its essence. Although we are all classically trained musicians, we are very aware of our Celtic heritage and this definitely is a big influence on our sound. NP: You were previously known as Celtic Rose. What does ‘Affinity’ mean to you? Affiniti: We have known each other for many years and initially formed Celtic Rose about 7 years ago as a wedding group. As we started to experiment more with our sound, we discovered that we got a real buzz from creating new arrangements of well known songs, by injecting celtic, classical and operatic elements into them. Our sound evolved as a result and we felt that the name Celtic Rose just didn't represent who we were anymore; that and the fact that every Irish group seemed to be called Celtic 'something or other!' After much brain storming, we suddenly reached the eureka moment where we realised that it


moment where we realized that it was more than the music that kept the three of us together, that we were now friends for so long that we had a real affinity with each other. And suddenly, it seemed so obvious that our name needed to be Affinití. You'll notice that we spell it with an Í rather than a Y at the end. This is our nod to the Celtic influences in our music. Also, seeing as we are three very different personalities, always with strong opinions, we have a joke amongst ourselves that there is no 'I' in team, but there are 3 in Affinití!

classical music industry simply has to embrace crossover in order to survive this modern era we live in. For some purist ensembles, this is met with inertia from musicians who resent having to 'lower their standards' but in Affinití, we strive to strike a balance between contemporary music and virtuoso performance with sensitive arrangements. We LOVE crossover and continue to adore classical music, Irish traditional music, world music, pop and rock music as separate genres in their own right. We just consider crossover as its own genre too!

NP: On your website, you all are described with various characteristics, “the girly one,” “the glam rose” and “the goony one.” As musicians however, you all have similar training in classical music. What do you think is the reason so many classical artists like yourselves are turning to classical crossover?

NP: Emer, tell us a bit about your most challenging vocal role?

Affiniti: We are all classically trained to Masters level but although we may be classical at our core, I think we all found the classical tradition quite restrictive. For example, as an orchestral musician, your role is to play all the notes on the page exactly as written, adhering to all the dynamic & phrasing markings and following the lead of the conductor. There is little room for personal freedom and creativity. Within the classical crossover genre, we can do what we want! We love using our instruments and voice to create new sounds and effects, and there's nothing we enjoy more than injecting something of ourselves into the music we are playing. On a broader level, the classical

Emer: There is a lot of challenging repertoire in the operatic genre, so this keeps me on my toes! I still go to weekly lessons and I'm constantly working to expand and strengthen my range. I'm playing First Lady in Mozart's The Magic Flute with an Opera company here in Ireland (Lismore Music Festival) this May. Vocally the biggest challenge is just the high tessitura i.e it sits very high in the voice throughout so it's just about working it into the voice the correct way! By the time we get to rehearsals I'll be able to just have fun with it and that's the greatest joy of singing for me - working in the technique and then just letting go and getting into character. Within Affinití, I use my voice in many different ways across a myriad of styles so the biggest challenge here is the very wide range required by the different genres. I can sometimes use 2 and half octaves in the one night so it's important I'm always breathing properly. NP: How did the concept for your EP “Rebirth” come about? We thought "rebirth" was a suitable title for


We thought "rebirth" was a suitable title for our debut EP because we feel that we give songs a new life! In this EP, we took 5 well known songs, paired them right back and completely reworked them, adding new melodies, or creating new textures. For example, in One Day Like This, we added a Hornpipe that we composed ourselves, in My Immortal, we composed a celtic melody as an instrumental in the middle of the song, Falling Slowly we morphed into an operatic aria etc..So in this way, we think it could be said that the songs experience a rebirth at the hands of Affinití! NP: Mary, you are the composer of the group. Have you been writing any new material for the group that we might be able to hear soon? Mary: I do some composing and freelance arranging outside of Affiniti which I very much enjoy, but when it comes to composition for Affiniti, this is a very collaborative process and we all play our part. Recently we have started working on some original compositions which is extremely liberating and something that we are very much enjoying. The project we are currently working on is the Shannon Suite which was commissioned by Shannon Airport and is a 4 movement piece with text both in English and the Irish language from the work of Irish poets including Máirtín Ó Direáin and W.B. Yeats. NP: You girls have a special relationship with classical and rock; is there any music style you think you would never cover or is the sky the limit?

The sky is the limit and that is precisely

The sky is the limit and that is precisely why we love what we do so much! Saying that, we'll probably steer clear of rap! NP: Aisling, you have performed on the classical stage and also with Kayne West. How do you, as a harpist, adjust to accommodate such a range of styles? Aisling: Whatever the performance, concert or recording, whether with a symphony orchestra, chamber group, or rock star, music is music. It is a language and a playground all at once! I find I get lost in it and just the excitement of entering into the moment guides me. Of course, having trained from an early age helps endlessly in the task. It takes a huge amount of practice and study to appear effortless behind any musical instrument and adapt to so many different styles, but for me, that's the joy of the craft! Kanye West is such a massive 'star' and his production was huuuuuge. I can't honestly say that it was a musical highlight for me as I had to busk from a violin part but it was certainly a novel tour! Style over substance is rife in the music industry and often appearances are more important than the quality of music. As a harpist, my tone will vary hugely from genre to genre. Where I choose to play on each string will produce slightly different tone, how much or little flesh I play with on each finger, how quickly or thoroughly I close my hand after plucking each string, how abruptly I change a pedal (yes. The harp has SEVEN pedals, each with three different positions - flat, natural and sharp) what technical effect I use (harmonics, glisses, pedal slides... the list is endless!) What I adore about Affinití is that Emer and Mary know how much I love to improvise so I


know how much I love to improvise so I have lots of freedom to explore the harp on every gig. We are sort of telepathic and know each other’s thoughts- which is VERY handy when you have to cope with a rather rebellious and rambunctious harpist! Affinití is all about marrying style WITH substance and we work incredibly hard, always striving for satisfying arrangements musically- for each of us. Its such a fascinating process that requires all three of us to have the eureka moment. (We nerdily joke about being 'struck by Affinití' when this happens) NP: Mentor’s are extremely important to the creation and improvement of any artist. Who are some of the people who have helped you on your journey so far? Affiniti: Well I think we would have to start with our manager, Terry Browne. He truly believes in what we are doing and has done so much to help us already since we first met him in September. Second would have to be Howard Crosby, nephew of the legendary Bing, who we also met last September at a concert in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. He loves our music

and has organized a very exciting White Christmas Tour which will take place in Dec 2014 and includes concerts in Portland, Washington State (the Bing Crosby Theatre!) and Chicago. Another inspirational mentor is Harry McKillop in Texas who presented us with the Spirit of Ireland Medal in McKinney, Texas in February. We had the honor of performing at his Honorary Conferring at the Perot Museum of Science in Dallas. At 94 years of age, he still goes to work every day and is an incredible and inspirational person. We have been very fortunate to meet these wonderful people and are so honored that they believe in what we are doing. When can we expect a full length album from you? Affiniti: We have recorded about 75% of the album. We don’t have a recording contract so it is an expensive process; we are currently saving to finish it off! We hope to have it ready to release by early Autumn. Affiniti official: affinitimusic.com


BY NATASHA POHOLKcA

S

tephen Bowman, Humphrey Berney

and Ollie Baines make up the band BLAKE. Since the launch of their first album in 2007, the friends have quickly established themselves as one of the most successful crossover bands. Thanks to Sara French, Classical Crossover Magazine was able to get to know them a little better‌

NP: The story of how your all found each other and then started a group thanks to facebook is very interesting. What made the three of you want to sing together as a group as opposed to pursuing solo careers? Steven: There is certainly safety in numbers! We've all had the chance to sing as soloists previous to Blake, which was great, but genuinely it's a lot more fun creating a group and enjoying the experience together. A big part of our live shows is the banter and comedy between us, which the guys in audience appreciate as antidote to all the love songs we sing. Humphrey: Singing in harmony is a great feeling and working with others adds a great team dynamic. You can play off each other on stage and have mates to have a beer with after the show. It can be quite lonely as a soloist. Natasha: Your group has had many

fantastic performance opportunities since you released your first album in 2007, including several major sporting events. Which ones are your family and friends most excited about? Steven: We've been asked to sing at Twickenham stadium a number of times, for national and international rugby games. Seeing 70,000 people filling that stadium is really quite something, specially when you're leading Swing Low or Jerusalem. We often take our family and friends, who get to enjoy us and a good rugby game too! Humphrey: My family all came to see us perform at the classical Brits at the Albert Hal. It was such a great night and they were very proud. Another highlight for them was when we sang at the opening of the new roof. They are big tennis fans! NP: (for Stephen) You were accepted into the London Guildhall School of Music and Drama before you could even read music and now you are writing songs! Do you feel that your studies in music theory have helped broaden your appreciation for the music you sing? Steven: I was shockingly bad at sight reading music when I started Guildhall, preferring instead to play the piano and sing by ear. I improved slightly, but frankly I'm still pretty awful at it. However, I'm sure that relying on my ears has helped me with my song writing and helped me appreciate more


writing and helped me appreciate more than just classic music; essential for Blake. NP (for Humphrey): Although you studied at the Royal Academy of Music and performed in operas you have also sung in a rock’n’roll band and are now happily in the crossover music scene. How important do you think it is for people to be exposed to all different genres of music? Humphrey: Very. For me variety is so important. Of course that brings challenges in regards of singing techniques but to be able to satisfy all my musical tastes through Blake is amazing. NP: Change is an inevitable and exciting part of any musical group. Your band has gone from a quartet to a trio in recent years. How are you enjoying reworking old favorites to accommodate this and creating new sounds? Steven: You're very right, change is something to be welcomed in any vocal group, as it injects new life into performances and allows for new directions. We've reworked every single piece we sing, distilling four part harmony into three. It was during this process that we realised how often we were doubling up on harmonies. Audiences were surprise at how similar the trio harmony sound was to the quartet. Humphrey: I am loving it, it has

provided challenges which we have overcome. Becoming a trio has added a new energy to the group both musically and in our stage performance so things are looking good! NP (for Ollie) I think sometimes people underestimate the diverse careers available in music beyond performance. You have a degree both in music (performance?) and also music technology. Can you tell us a little bit about your studies and how they have helped you so far in your career? Ollie: I went to three universities and didn’t finish any of my degrees – not through lack of trying but because of my want to move onto the next thing. When I ended up at the Guildhall and found myself with a job after the first year (that’s when I joined Blake) I left as I felt it would have been foolish not to take the opportunity. The purpose of the music performance course is to get a job so when the opportunity came up I took it. Music technology has been an enormously helpful foundation for the amount of time we spend in the studio and the amount of input I have on the production of the recordings and I still keep up with all the trends and technology now. NP: As musicians I feel we have a higher purpose than mere personal advancement, and Blake has been very supportive of multiple charities. Do you have any words of encouragement and advice for up and coming artists to give back with their music?


Steven: As a group we do all we can to help charities in the UK and worldwide. We've been very lucky with our career, gaining the opportunity to travel the world and sing the music we love. Giving as much time as we can to charity feels right, whether singing at events or appearing on radio or TV to talk about their campaigns. Musicians have a unique way to help charities get their message across, it's important to do all we can. Ollie: There are only so many ways of getting one’s music out to the wider public most of these involve major record labels – if you are fortunate enough of finding other ways to do this you absolutely have to take the opportunities – this includes charity work of course. However, if wouldn't work if you didn’t have some kind of personal affiliation or connection with that charity. All charities that Blake have worked with over the last seven years (35-40 in total) have had some significant personal connection to at least one member of the group. The advice I would give is they should work with the causes they really care about, because that way you gladly give your time and you will feel more like you are really making a difference. Humphrey: Music is a very wonderful thing and can help people in so many ways. Use your music and if you are fortunate enough, your profile to help others or simply bring them enjoyment through your performances. It is a wonderful gift so share it!

NP: In Britain singing in choirs is a very important part of musical culture. As you have choral backgrounds, what do you think it is about choral singing that continues to draw the public? Steven: It's true that Britain has an exceptional tradition of choral music, although for a while this was rather forgotten in the mainstream. The public now seem to be fascinated by choral singing again, perhaps because of recent tv shows headed by Gareth Malone, a Royal Academy classmate with Humphrey. Our harmony sound is very much influenced by our times in choirs, giving us some experience of jumping around the available notes till we arrive at chords which best suit the mood of a piece. Ollie: I think choral singing is a part of the British culture and I think choral music has played a huge part in Britain’s musical evolution over the last 500 years and since the break with the Catholic Church choral music has been a major part of the Church of England that the rest of Europe has never experienced. There are more than 40 cathedral choirs in England alone and countless parish choirs that are of an extremely high standard. A lot of people in Britain do not realize how far ahead of the rest of the world we are is in terms of choral music. It is something we should be immensely proud of. Humphrey: The new interest in singing in choirs is a great thing and something we have been very involved with having


invited hundreds of choirs to join us over the past few years. Singing in a choir brings so many things: Musical fulfillment, team work, friendship and so much more. If you have not sung in a choir then join one - you will love it. NP (for Humphrey): You’ve done a bit of acting for the BBC. Is this a talent you hope to develop more in the future? And if so, would you ever consider doing a super hero role? Humphrey: I have been very lucky to have had a great deal to stage time throughout my life both acting, singing and combining the two. Blake is my focus and there is certainly no time for other projects which is a good situation to be in! Super hero?! I have a big jaw and told I look like buzz light year so maybe Toy Story the Musical!!! NP: Tell us more about your label Blake Records and how its formation came about? Steven: Blake Records was our best business decision in seven years together. As other artists were finishing their contracts with major labels and immediately looking to sign up to new ones, we were approached by Svengali Adrian Munsey, who asked if we would consider setting up a record label with him. We loved the idea of gaining more control over how our records would sound, so accepted the opportunity and never looked back. NP: If you had to label the members of your group, who would be… the Steven: Always hard to pigeon hole us boys as we're all

Diva, the Prankster and the Scholar? Or any other titles you feel more appropriate? Steven: Always hard to pigeon hole us boys as we're all fairly multi-faceted, but here goes. Perhaps, Ollie the bookworm scholar, Humphrey the extreme sports junkie and I the self professed online geek? Humphrey: Scholar - Ollie. He used to be a teacher and loves the academic side of music. Sporty – me, I cannot sit still and happiest when I am doing something active - wake boarding, kite surfing, mountain biking....anything. Techno - Stephen. He is the computer whizz and runs all our social media, keeping us in touch with the world. Prankster - All of us!!! NP (for Ollie): Have you done any arranging for Blake so far? Considering your background in French Horn, Trumpet and piano, I would imagine you would add some very interesting textures to the instrumentation. If you have not, would you consider doing so in the future? I have been lucky enough to have a big input in all the Blake albums which has increased has time has gone on. I have been lucky to work closely with all the orchestral arrangers so that the structure of our songs fits with the vocal arrangements we come up with. We have also over the years worked with some incredibly gifted vocal arrangers, such as the brilliant Mark Williams (who


such as the brilliant Mark Williams (who is now the Director of Music at Jesus College Cambridge) who have significantly helped to mould the Blake sound into what it is today. NP (for Stephen): You are an avid supporter of motor bikes, which some might say is a bit risky. What makes you enjoy them so much and do you think that being a bit of a risk taker has made you a better performer? Stephen: I'm actually the least likely person to get called a risk taker, even when I'm on a bike, I'm cautious by nature. I use a Honda Fireblade motorbike to get around London, get to the recording studio and attend some concerts. It's a thrill to travel that way, gives me an adrenalin buzz, maybe it does pick me up on stage! In conclusion, 2013 was a big year for

NP: In conclusion, 2013 was a big year for you in terms of touring and performances. Do you gentlemen have a new record coming out soon? What can we expect from you in 2014 and beyond? Steven: 2014 is a big year for Blake. We have tours and shows in the UK, Russia, South Africa, Germany and America. Importantly we have our first UK studio album by the trio, so that very exciting. We can't wait! Humphrey: Lots! Tours in the UK, South Africa, Asia, USA, a new album and amongst all this I am getting married! It's going to be a big one!!

To keep up to date with all the latest from Blake visit blakeofficial.com


The golden haired soprano was standing before a mirror, humming a tune and clutching a sparkly red dress to her chest. The door opened a crack and her brother launched a wind-up toy penguin into the bedroom. The slim twenty something stooped to pick up the bird that was waddling towards her and launched into a song about how she wished she could be as carefree as her "feathered friend." She sang, "everytime you have a date, you're not in a nervous state, lucky bird...you don't cause a lot of talk if you wiggle when you walk, lucky bird." Amazingly enough, the perky blond did not come across as seductive even while demonstrating said wiggle and changing into the red halter-top dress behind a dressing screen while winking at the camera. That's because this cutie was actress Jane Powell performing in another one of her MGM Technicolor musicals. Unlike the sexy blond bombshells Marilyn Monroe and Lana Turner, Jane Powell was Hollywood’s nice “girl next door.” Her screen personality was bubbly, friendly and cheerful. However, in her autobiography Jane describes herself as a lonely and tearful child who was pushed by her parents into being “another Shirley Temple.” This included dancing lessons and perms, starting at the age of two! She was an only child, her “mother’s toy,” to be dressed up and shown off. But even though she was groomed to be a star from a young age, she never felt she really was one – just a kid from Portland Oregon. Jane was the only child of Paul and Eileen Burce, born on April 1st,1929. “Suzanne Burce” (later Jane Powell) started singing on the radio at the age of five for the “Stars of Tomorrow,” program. By twelve she was named the “Oregon Victory Girl” and worked selling war bonds for two years during the war. Although she loved to sing

and was grateful for her opportunities, as a child all she wanted was to have friends and go to school with other children her age. She was always being pulled out of school and moved around due to her work however. With her peers, Suzanne always felt like an outsider, and it didn’t get any better once she arrived in Hollywood. Yet, some of her peers were welcoming, and she did become friends with Roddy McDowell, whose house she spent many happy Sunday afternoons at. Not everyone was so gracious, though. Once she went to a swanky party where there were many major stars, including Shirley Temple. What could have been an exciting moment proved to be embarrassing when she caught the famous actress mimicking her opera singing. Once Shirley saw that Jane had noticed her impression, she blushed and turned away, but it only served to reinforce the feeling that she didn’t belong in Hollywood or as the girl next door. “I’ll tell you how I felt then. Not like Cinderella and not like Jane and not even like Suzanne anymore. Everyone said I was wholesome and sweet and darling, but I felt I was an ordinary person doing an unusual job. Who WAS this Jane Powell,’ The Girl Next Door’? I wasn’t really The Girl Next Door, and I didn’t feel like a movie star, either. I didn’t know what I was. I just felt a real ‘Girl Next Door’ had a better time. She knew more than I did, dated more than I did, had more friends than I did. She had a mother and a father who were loving to each other. She went to football games, had pajama parties, flirted with boys, ate lunch with girls, saw movies with boys and girls, drank sodas in the drugstore. She took physical education classes, ate in the school cafeteria, worried about shaving her legs and wearing silk stockings. I was not that person.”


Once it was time to plan her wedding, she

did not even know who to ask to be her bridesmaids. Her MGM co-star Elizabeth Taylor became one of them, and she later became hers, but they were never close. People assumed they were, but Jane confessed that the reason they were in each other’s weddings is because “we just didn’t know anyone else to ask. How were we supposed to meet anyone else? We were both working all the time. It was hard to find enough bridesmaids for us.” The irony is that for someone as sheltered as she was, Jane had a “Dear Abby” type advice column! Teenagers would write to her for advice, and “Jane Powell” would respond – only in actuality she did not write the column, somebody else did under her name. “I lived a dream, but it wasn’t mine.” Most of her life was spent pleasing other people and fulfilling their ideas of what she should do, even her marriage at the tender age of twenty, which the press was thrilled about. “The Girl Next Door was SUPPOSED to get married was supposed to pick an athletic, All-American boy. Once again I’d pleased my public by living out their fantasies, not mine.” Although she didn’t realize it at the time, looking back Jane believed the reason she got married was to escape her parents and their unhappiness. Four years and two children later, Jane filed for divorce. From the start, her marriage had been unhappy, and although she was judged and criticized by the public, for the first time, she chose to ignore them. “All the while, I heard Mama’s words in my ears, ‘we only stayed together because of you, honey.’ What a burden to put on someone – especially a child. I was afraid I might say those same words to my children.”

In the meantime, Jane was busier than ever, caring for her two children and working full time. However, she was always full of seemingly superhuman energy. “I realize now that my energy helped me avoid facing my problems. I was always running, probably running away.” Her movie musicals from this time feature famous costars such as Fred Astaire, Debbie Reynolds and Howard Keel. Jane Powell wrote that her favorite movie was “Two Weeks With Love,” a story about a Victorian family, which in some ways resembled the Judy Garland musical “Meet Me In St. Louis.” She plays a teenage daughter who wants to be grown up and allowed to wear a corset. Not only did she enjoy the cast and the music, but she could also relate to the character’s longing to be considered a grown woman. After her divorce, she did marry again. And divorce again. And marry again. She was married five times in total, which is why at the beginning of her biography, she jokingly promised not to give advice (because she said after four failed marriages, who would want her advice?) But looking back, she saw that one of the mistakes she made was choosing men who needed help, because she was again acting out the role she had practiced from early childhood, helping and pleasing her parents. When she finally left MGM, the era of movie musicals was coming to a close. “For the first time in my life, I had to take care of myself. All I’d ever known was the studio. I was protected and guided by it. I hadn’t realized how much the studio had taken care of – the singing lessons, publicity, dancing lessons, guidance. Where do you go now for all those things? I wondered.” She turned to the theater, and her career was revived with her live performances in


musicals such as “My Fair Lady,” “The Sound of Music” and the stage version of one of her most popular movies, “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.” Her children would travel with her at first, but they soon tired of it. “They preferred spending time with their own friends to hanging around theaters watching their mother – and I didn’t blame them.” She did her best to stay connected even while touring –calling two or three times a day and even ordering the groceries by phone. Unfortunately, years of singing incorrectly eventually damaged her career’s most valuable asset, her beautiful soprano voice. However, the deterioration of her voice was nothing compared to her worry regarding the welfare of her children. Jane’s son left home to live with his father, and later she found that he had started experimenting with drugs. All she could do was pray as he made one bad decision after another. He finally started attending AA and decided to turn his life around. Jane herself started

to turn his life around. Jane herself started going to therapy and trying to put her own life in order, which previously she had never found the time for. When she got married for the fifth and final time, it was to another former child star named Dickie Moore. They currently reside in Connecticut, and Jane was finally able to achieve a sense of peace in her life instead of the familiar feeling of constantly struggling. Letting go of the expectations other people have for her has allowed Jane to find freedom from constant worry and insecurities. At the end of her autobiography, she described herself as the happiest she has ever been. Life is full of learning and subsequent growth. Quotes and information from this article are based on Jane Powell’s autobiography, “The Girl next door and how she grew.”


Classical Crossover Magazine, Summer 2014 issue  

Featuring the band Blake, irish group Affiniti and an article about classic actress and soprano Jane Powell.

Classical Crossover Magazine, Summer 2014 issue  

Featuring the band Blake, irish group Affiniti and an article about classic actress and soprano Jane Powell.

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