Carmen interests: Archie and Jack MacDonald

NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Bizet’s tale of love and betrayal, gypsies and bullfighters, opens at the Isaac Theatre Royal this week and amongst the cast is a chorus of ten Christchurch schoolboys.

So what’s it like to be 12 years old and in a professional production of one of the world’s most popular operas? I asked twin brothers Archie and Jack MacDonald about how they got into singing, choirs, and their advice for other youngsters who might want to sing on stage.

How did you both get into singing and performing? Is that something you’ve been doing for a long time?

Archie: Well, we got into our first 2 big choirs [Christchurch Schools Music Festival special choir and the Christchurch Boys’ Choir] in year 5 but we’ve just been in heaps of school choirs and have always loved playing guitar and singing with our big sister, and it’s just sort of been a passion that we’ve always had all of our life.

Is singing something that you’ve always done together?

Jack: Yeah, I don’t think we’ve ever been in a choir that the other one hasn’t been in. And we busk together too. Either in the Riccarton Bush Market or the Re:Start Mall.

How much practising and rehearsing do you have to do for Carmen?

Archie: There’s quite a lot, particularly in our own time at home. We’ve been given a [music] file just to rehearse and get it all sorted… We’d do some at least every day for the last 2 weeks.

And for Carmen you’re singing in French. Is that a thing that you’ve done before?

Jack: We’ve sung in different languages before but not as much as in Carmen, so it took a few hours just to figure out the pronunciation and write it down in our music, and then there’s the notes and you have to put them all together and that’s hard but we’ve got the adult chorus to help us…  when you’re acting as well, you’ve got to know what you’re singing about so that you can have facial expressions and act how you would if you were saying it in English.

Don Jose and Carmen
Don Jose and Carmen. Image credit: Marty Melville

And what’s it been like being part of an opera production?

Jack: It’s been fun. Last year we were in Evita with Showbiz but this is like another step up. We’ve got different costumes from everyone else and we’re running around [the stage] teasing soldiers, running up stairs and things – it’s been full on but fun.

Is it good to have other kids around (in the children’s chorus)?

Archie: Yeah, it sort of takes a little bit of the pressure off. Definitely a solo act is a bit trickier and a bit harder but everyone’s really supportive and it’s just great, ya know? But it’s a bit more fun with more boys.

It must be very nerve-wracking going in for an audition.

Archie: Yeah, you can never really take that away from an audition. You always want to get in and have heaps of time with whatever you’re auditioning for.

Jack: Yep, just being by yourself in front of someone and singing is quite hard… but then you feel good coming out of it.

So what’s the most fun thing about singing?

Archie: Definitely performances.

Jack: Yeah, performances in front of a crowd.

Is it more fun with an audience? What’s that like?

Archie: When the lights go up you’ll just see a crowd sitting in front of you and you’re just like “I’ve gotta do this. I can’t really muck up.” So yeah, it sort of boosts you a wee bit more and you’re really wanting to work hard.

Jack: Well, you feel nervous but then when you go off the stage and you’re done you’ll feel happy, like after an audition and you’ll think that you’ve done your job well. As long as you give it everything and work hard.

Children's chorus, Carmen
Children’s chorus, NZ Opera production of Carmen. Image credit: Marty Melville

Is music something you’d like to do for a job one day?

Archie: I’ve always thought it would be a lot of fun to be involved in music but I’ve never really seen it as necessarily something to base everything around, as in, have as my job but it would be heaps of fun to just stay involved. I’ve really got a taste for how much fun it really is and I’d love to keep that going for as long as I can, really.

Jack: Yeah, I really like cricket but then getting into a good team as a job, that’s gonna be hard so I have to have something else to work on… I’m sort of still thinking about it.

Do you have any advice for other kids who want to be on the stage performing and singing?

Jack: Give it everything and enjoy it. And just work hard.

Archie: I’d probably say don’t hold back, just go for everything that sounds fun. Never think “there’ll be some people who are better at this role than me”, because it’s great to have an experience of just an audition. It sort of gets you a bit more used to things and less nervous for later on in life. The more you do things, the more you get to enjoy it, the more hobbies you get to have when you’re older. So just really get into it. Take every opportunity. Absolutely anything really. Go for anything and everything you like the sounds of.

Being in choirs seems to have been a big part of it for you.

Archie: [Christchurch Boys’ Choir] has taken us from having not too many musical opportunities to just singing with so many amazing groups and heaps of cool opportunities coming up.

Jack: It was only Boys’ Choir that was in Evita. We sang at the Crusaders vs Lions game (we sang Conquest of Paradise) and now Carmen. And they’re after boys to audition for Sister Act. Whenever we’re backstage we’re always singing and stuff because we’ve all got decent voices we can pick out a harmony while we’re sitting there… I really recommend the Boys Choir as a really top thing that will get you into heaps of things like this, end of year concerts, concerts in between, or maybe one thing a year like performances with Showbiz.

Archie: (about end of year Battle of the Bands at intermediate school) It was pretty cool because with the Boys’ Choir we’ve got audiences much bigger than a school of 500 people and we’re a bit more confident with that sort of thing. If we weren’t in the choir or involved with any productions or anything that’d sort of be massive and our hearts would be pounding. It would be crazy, you know, really nervous. It’s quite cool just to know, we were very confident going into that and it’s because we’ve just sung in front of so many people…

Archie and Jack will perform in the children’s chorus as part of NZ Opera’s production of Carmen, Isaac Theatre Royal on 13, 15, 18, 20 & 22 July.

Find out more

Carmen (highlights) streaming music Cover of Kickstart Music 3 : 9-11 Yrs : Music Activites Made Simple Cover of Is singing for you?

Fan girl and proud of it

I’m mocked mercilessly about my raving and hyperventilating but I don’t care, I know exceptional talent when I see it. I won’t be swayed from my mission to getting everyone I know to listen to my favourite singer and all time amazing person, Tami Neilson. A Canadian now living in New Zealand, she has a powerhouse voice with a stunning range, able to belt, swoon or blues her way through the songs she writes that are about heartache, love and loss but also just the joy of living.

Tami Neilson with awardShe is a winner of the Apra Silver Scrolls Award for best song and has numerous NZ Music Awards, and you may have seen her on numerous television shows, most recently 7 Days and singing with Dave Dobyn at the Vodafone New Zealand Music Awards. She also created the soundtrack  for local series The Brokenwood Mysteries.

I thought I’d let everyone know that we have just received in her latest album, Don’t Be Afraid, into the library collection, to add to her other earlier ones, and it’s a doozy, just like last year’s epic and award winning Dynamite (which I am told is on it’s way into our collection soon).

With a soulful voice straight from the golden age of country and rockabilly music, Tami Neilson has been described as “A red-hot honky-tonker, somewhere between Patsy Cline and Wanda Jackson with perhaps just a little bit of Peggy Lee sophistication.” -Nick Bollinger, NZ National Radio

I’ve stalked her like a Justin Beiber fan stalks the Beibmeister, having seen her perform four times in the last year, even flying to Auckland recently so I could be at her album launch. It’s almost reached the restraining order stage, as Tami now knows my husband and I by sight and gives us great big warm hugs, “Hey, you guys!”, and I’ve got a picture of her with me and everything…. (yes I’m 53 not 13!)

electric guitarThere’s been this huge upswell of Alt Country/Americana awareness in this country over the last year or two, in part mostly to artists like Tami Neilson, Dave Khan and some Canterbury boys; Delaney Davidson, Marlon Williams and Ben Woolley. Marlon just picked up two awards at the New Zealand music awards mentioned above. These talented young men have been in well known local bands such as The Eastern, Unfaithful Ways and Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers. Original music, passion and talent combine, and to see them live is just a joyous night out, pure and simple.

But if you can’t get along to a gig, we also have their CDs in various forms, and you will often see on the album sleeve a selection of the above artists as they often get together to add their talent to each other’s projects. There are so many exceptionally talented New Zealand musicians trying to make a living out there, so if you’re into music, keep your eyes open for local gigs, they’re everywhere.

The next opportunity to see the tremendous Tami here in Christchurch will be at the Nostalgia Festival in February at Ferrymead Park, along with The Phoenix Foundation, The Eastern and Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers to name a few. Don’t miss it!

Recent necrology, April 2014

Some well-known people who have died recently:

  • Rubin Carter, 1937-2014
    Boxer wrongly convicted of murder who found Bob Marley fighting his corner
  • Cover of Love in the Time of CholeraAlan Davie, 1920-2014
    Artist who won the admiration of Rothko and Pollock and later embraced ‘magic symbolism’
  • Bob Hoskins, 1942-2014
    Actor who excelled as the tough but engaging anti-hero of Mona Lisa and The long good Friday
  • Richard Hoggart, 1918-2014
    Commentator and academic whose Uses of Literacy lamented the impact of mass culture on traditional working-class life
  • Doris Pilkington, 1937-2014
    Aboriginal author whose story of Australia’s stolen generation inspired a film starring Kenneth Branagh
  • Cover of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4Mickey Rooney, 1920-2014
    Icon of American youth and energy who was as prolific in his marriages as he was on screen
  • Patrick Seale, 1930-2014
    Author who deputised for Kim Philby in Beirut and became the pre-eminent expert on Syria
  • John Shirley-Quirk, 1931-2014
    Former science teacher turned bass-baritone whose talents proved an inspiration to Benjamin Britten
  • Sue Townsend, 1946-2014
    Writer whose diaries of spotty teenager Adrian Mole became a publishing sensation
  • Owen Woodhouse, 1916-2014
    NZ jurist and chair of government commissions, notably workers’ accident compensation