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Dorset Lives: ‘If you can speak you can sing’

Singer and singing teacher Joanne Moore talks to Nick Churchill

In a D'Oyly Carte production of HMS Pinafore

Now retired from the stage Joanne Moore was still singing professionally when she came to Studland after her husband John was recruited by the Atomic Energy Establishment at Winfrith, but she took it all in her stride. ‘We were living in Lancashire and John came home one day and said we were moving to Dorset. I had been working with agents up north, so for me it was like starting all over again, an adventure.’
It all contributes to the wealth of experience she has passed on to generations of Purbeck teenagers. As founder of the Five High Singers and Studland Youth Music Theatre she took the groups on several international tours and conducted the Belvedere Singers in Swanage for eleven years before passing on the baton in 2001. She continues to coach young singers – for free – towards their exams.
‘I’m very careful with my students not to build their hopes up too high. Where I’m from the thinking is very much you go and have a right good go, but you have to be realistic. They still come in with smiles on their faces and leave with smiles on their faces. Even if they’ve had a rotten day, they tell me all about it, I get them singing and they go away wagging their tails.’
‘Anyone can sing,’ Joanne says. ‘If you can speak you can sing, but not everyone can sing in tune; that can be corrected though. Some people think there’s nothing to it, but you have to learn how to breathe properly, where to sing from, how to project and who you’re projecting your voice to – it’s quite a technical and physical process. Then, you have to convey the emotion of what you’re singing which means you have to understand the words and the music.’
‘It’s such a thrill to open my heart and sing, it’s wonderful. I still have a voice and I sing every day. I like to feel the brain resonate, it sharpens the thinking and it makes me feel better. It’s the only time I hear my voice because I don’t listen to the recordings I made, but it’s good [to have them] to be able to demonstrate points I’m making to the students and that gives me as much of a thrill as any applause I used to get.
After passing through the ranks of school and church choirs, Joanne was offered a scholarship at the Royal Manchester College of Music. She was unable to take it up but its principal was determined her potential should not go to waste and gave an hour’s free tuition every Saturday until she passed her diplomas.

Joanne with long-time accompanist Ann West

‘He was a wonderful man and I’ve never forgotten that kindness. All I’m doing now is honouring the commitment he showed to me. It took me 18 months, but without him I’d never have got my diplomas and missed out on a wonderful life. It was said to me so often that I must do something with my voice; I had it in mind to do just that. I had it at school, from the choirmaster at church, then at college.’
Having qualified, Joanne applied to the three opera companies she knew of – Covent Garden, Sadler’s Wells and D’Oyly Carte – auditioning for the redoubtable Miss Carte, grand-daughter of Richard D’Oyly Carte who built the Savoy Hotel and Theatre and staged the original productions of Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous Savoy Operas. Within six months of joining the company in September 1961 Joanne was playing principal roles and in March, May and June 1962 she appeared for the revered mezzo-soprano Joyce Wright in the title role of Iolanthe and as Pitti-Sing in The Mikado. She reprised both roles the following season and played Hebe in HMS Pinafore and Vittoria in The Gondoliers. In 1963 she added Edith in The Pirates of Penzance before leaving the company.

Joanne (far left) on tour with members of the High Five Singers, which she founded

‘D’Oyly Carte was my first big contract and I’ve always been very grateful for my time there because they gave me so much and I learned such a lot. But there were other things I wanted to do, other companies I wanted to work with. Sullivan’s music was all right, some of it was very good, but I can still pick up a Gilbert libretto and find something new in it; he plugged in to so many different things.’
As a freelance opera singer Joanne sang grand opera including Rosina in The Barber of Seville and the title role in Carmen, toured all over the world and did an eight-week cruise of southern Africa, India and Singapore aboard the QEII with the company Gilbert and Sullivan For All. She also turned down a contract with Glyndebourne to be with her young family.
‘I feel very lucky to have done all the things I’ve done through singing. It enabled me to see the world, but my family – my husband and daughters – was always more important and it was a terrible strain to be away from them. However much you love your job, a job is still a job. I did it because I had a passion for the music; it was never about being the biggest name on the poster. I wasn’t interested in fame; it was a very unwelcome by-product of getting better work. I didn’t want to be short of money, but being well known came with the job. Some of my colleagues used to seek out reporters but I used to hide. I didn’t like the attention and my career, as important to me as it was, only ever came second to my family.’

Joanne in character in a D'Oyly Carte production of Iolanthe

‘I’m a very happy lady, but then I’ve always been happy I think. I remember the first time I sang in the Royal Albert Hall, coming out on stage and singing then stepping back because I could hear my voice bounce around the concert hall and come back to me. There was a man in the stalls and I asked him what he thought of the rehearsal and he said: ‘Bloody marvellous’, which set me at ease for the performance. It was wonderful and the applause afterwards can really lift you. That’s what singing can do for you’.

It is with great sadness that Dorset Life has learned of the death of Joanne Moore shortly after the publication of this article.

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