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Published on January 14th, 2012 | by johnw

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Singing in Ballarat

Leanne Waller, 2011

“The next contestant from Ballarat, singing Bali Ha’i from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific is Leanne Hoad” said the convener of the musical theatre section at the 1985 South Street Eisteddfods.

The adrenalin created an inner excitement. The anticipation built due to a healthy large dose of nerves. I took a deep breath.

I stepped out from the wings onto the large stage. I transformed my face into a large welcoming smile which was intended to read ‘you will enjoy this performance, I am singing especially to you”. I intentionally eye-balled the adjudicator, smile unwavering, and only when centre stage, did I take my eye off the people I wanted to capture. I spent a short moment composing myself and then transformed into character.

I had the attention of the audience. Dressed as the Bloody Mary character with dark skin, black wig and in Balinese costume, the music started.

Out came a deep rich voice as I launched into the song…

“Mos’ people live on a lonely islond
Los’ in da middle of a foggy sea
Mos’ people long for anoder islond
One where day know day will lake to be

Bali Ha’i may call you
Any night, any day
In your heart, you’ll hear it call you:
“Come away…Come away.” ….”

I won this section of the competition. I often did well at competitions, coming away with a placing- a 1st, 2nd, 3rd or honourable mention.

However, over the next 3 years of competing, I wasn’t improving. I should have been getting more wins, more 1st placings. I should have been moving up the ladder to the bigger nationally recognised competitions such as the Sun Aria.

I was standing still in terms of vocal progress. I had reached a brick wall. I didn’t think to question there could be something wrong. I didn’t know any different. No-one knew any different.

There was an expectation however. I thought I should be achieving more, and singing teachers also understandably were expecting more.

Individually, Connie Constance and Bob Lemke had healthy singing careers. As a married couple, their thriving singing studio in Ballarat produced some fabulous singers. They came from a classical and music theatre background, as did most of the singing teachers in Australia at that time.

I was taught classical singing by Bob Lemke. He was around 50 at the time. Bob was large in stature-well over 6 foot tall, and had a jovial large personality. Bob was understanding, very kind and had wisdom of a man who lived a full life. He was an endearing ‘gentle giant’. I idolised him. His wife Connie said on a few occasions that “I looked up to Bob and thought the sun shone from of him”.

I was being trained once again as a classical singer. I didn’t really enjoy the classical repertoire as I couldn’t relate to it-I wasn’t exposed to it growing up and therefore didn’t have the opportunity to appreciate it. I loved singing so much and would never have considered not being trained. If singing classical was the only opportunity I had to be trained, so it would be!

For the first time, I could see the importance of correct training when learning to sing. Bob and Connie showed me techniques that changed my voice considerably. I was able to reverse the vocal problems I developed, while taking lessons in Adelaide. The neck constriction, nasality and fear of the upper register appeared to be eliminated within a year of being under Bob’s tutelage.

Article in a Victorian paper mentioning winning singers

I also competed at various Eisteddfods around Victoria including the Ararat, Dandenong, Warmanbool and Ballarat Eiseddfods. The opportunities to compete were numerous. Even today in Adelaide the opportunities to compete are limited in comparison.

I started performing locally at various events and functions. I sang duets at concerts with another of Bob’s student, Ivan Williams. He has a beautiful high baritone quality and with my low pitched alto range, we sounded good harmonising -he did the high part and I did the lower.

Nanna’s 80th birthday mentioned in the local Ceduna paper. She probably wrote and submitted her own press release.

After I moved back to Adelaide some years later, Ivan moved to Sydney to further his singing career.

He and his partner came to visit me when living in Adelaide some 8 years after I left Ballarat. When I explained my voice condition to him, I was impressed with his awareness and insight of the voice and its physiology. Very few teachers even today have a thorough understanding on how the voice actually works. A testament to his excellent training under Bob.

In 1986 I prepared a bracket of songs to perform at my Nanna’s 80th birthday party. It was held at Ceduna on the West Coast of South Australia. All the family and a large part of the town attended, including family and friends from Adelaide who did the 8 hour car ride.

Irene, the lady who played piano for the students in Bob’s lessons, recorded the piano backing of the songs onto a cassette tape.

On the day of the birthday party, I set up the tape deck on a nearby table, told mum when to turn it on and off, and I sang away. I performed about 4 classical songs, Bali Hai, and a few popular songs. This was well received by ‘the oldies’ in particular. The younger people were a little taken back by the foreign sound of an alto voice singing classical-it would have been a first for them.

Bob said, when I applied myself I produced really good results. Hard work and application was (and still is) not an issue.

I did stop practicing when I struggled to see improvement. I was becoming disheartened-realising it didn’t matter how much work I put in, it had no effect.

The vocal problems started to resurface.

After 4 years of lessons with Bob, the singing (and speaking) voice improved, but I was starting to lose notes in the upper register.

When I returned to Adelaide in 1988, I auditioned for the professional production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Phantom of the Opera. It had success in the UK and was coming the Australia. I auditioned for a place in the cast.

As one does, I went to the audition prepared.

I wore snug fitting pants and top so they could see my figure-the slimmer you are the better you look on stage. I walked into the audition room with a happy confident smile displaying a personality. I had an upright posture resembling a dancer, and walked in the room with a slight (foot) turnout to send the message I could dance. Dance experience for singers was sought in musicals as performers needed to look comfortable when moving on stage-even if it is a short walk. I confidently walked over to the accompanist, handed him my sheet music with my chosen song (when auditioning for professional productions you don’t sing a song from that show for fear of not duplicating the part effectively, it was the opposite when auditioning for amateur productions).

I counted in the song at the tempo it required, then walked with a smile to the centre of the room indicating for the music to start.

When I finished singing, the panel looked at each other, some with an excited expression that I read as wow! while other were more reserved as if to say “vocally she doesn’t quite have everything it takes”.

I also auditioned for the professional musical production of ‘Les Miserables’. I received the same response. I had the panel sit up in their seats after the singing audition. I saw the same hesitancy I didn’t have the edge they demanded. Something was holding me back from reaching my full potential.


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