DATES

ON THE ROAD TO DISCOVERY

Simon Bellett has his own unique perspective on Complete Vocal Technique - the musician is nearly blind and is training to be a CVT teacher.


«I‘m so happy not to be working in the dark anymore», says Simon Bellett, choir leader, composer and multi-instrumentalist from Schiffdorf near Bremerhaven. Strictly speaking he comes from Yorkshire in England, but has lived in Lower Saxony for nearly 20 years. And strictly speaking he works in the dark more and more - but «only» in the literal sense. Because for over 20 years he has been gradually losing his sight due to the hereditary eye condition Retinitis Pigmentosa. He is left with tunnel vision: a narrow field of sight like a keyhole with fuzzy edges, which reduces in size every year.

When he talks about finally being able to see things more clearly, Simon Bellett means his experiences with Complete Vocal Technique (CVT). At the moment he is halfway through a three year CVT diploma course, for which he boards a train to Copenhagen six times a year - with a brimmed hat to shield him against dazzling sunlight and of course his white cane.

Trained as a child in classical piano and later as an organist, he always sang in choirs. However, his failing sight meant that proficient reading of sheet music and the ability to follow a conductor‘s cues became increasingly difficult.. So Bellett decided to swap sides and completed a conducting course (Landesmusikrat Lower Saxony) in 1998.

The 41 year old can still work with scores. It takes longer, but over the years he has, as a matter of necessity, trained his musical memory and plays and conducts by heart. He conducted regional pop and gospel choirs, working with both teenagers and adults, and wrote musicals for primary school children. By now, the man with the English accent and the youthful sounding voice is known as a vocal coach, gives concerts with Irish music, still plays as a hotel pianist, teaches and is writing a book.

Voice coaching was of course part of his training as a choirmaster and he occasionally heard something about CVT, but the principle, that everyone can learn to sing, even in any chosen style, left him somewhat sceptical. «I still believed, that one is born with a voice suitable for a certain type of music, such as blues or classical,» he says.

When he took a lesson with the CVT teacher Lindsay Lewis in 2011, he really saw the light. «In the space of sixty minutes, I learnt more than in the whole six previous months,» he says. After this, it didn‘t take long before he made the decision to apply for a place on the three year course in Copenhagen. After a singing audition via skype, he became one of twelve students from Spain, Holland, Scandanavia, Switzerland and the USA. «The singers come from a variety of backgrounds: musicals, church music, classical singing, and even a music producer is on the course,» Bellett explains. «Everybody has things at which they excell and things which they need to work on. I am, for instance, learning to yodel at the moment.»


DETAILED ANALYSIS, WHICH CAN WORK «MIRACLES»


Instead of working with mental images and metaphors, CVT has the advantage, that all aspects of the voice can be analysed in detail; one works with concrete techniques, says Bellett. «One can hear and explain so much better, especially when working with adolescents. This can avoid embarrassment when the voice isn‘t yet working as they wish,» he finds. What really impressed him: «Already before Adele developed problems with her voice in 2011, the teachers had heard that she was attempting to sing in a way which could damage her vocal cords. Curbing with air - that was bound to cause problems in the long run.» Catherine Sadolin, the founder of Complete Vocal Technique, has always had an inquiring mind,  being eager to find out exactly how the human voice works, and has been willing to confront traditional misconceptions about singing, producing sophisticated new findings. All this fascinates him.

Bellett finds great joy in experiences such as a lesson with a choir member who couldn‘t «hold a melody» on her own. Her dream was to be able to sing a canon, but she didn‘t believe that this would ever be possible. Bellett worked with the lady for three quarters of an hour on her support. After this she attempted to sing a round along with two other singers. To increase the difficulty, Bellett provided distraction by playing „Happy Birthday“ on the piano in a different key! The lady sang her part all the way through to the end before bursting into tears of happiness at the miraculous development in her singing.


SOME BLIND PEOPLE OF MY AGE ARE ALREADY IN RETIREMENT


«It is wonderful to be able to really help other people,» says Bellett. And he feels extremely fortunate to be able to work as a musician. «Some blind people of my age are already in retirement. But I don‘t want to be held back.» Assistive equipment such as computer voice systems help to make everyday life easier. He‘s always tried to stay a couple of steps ahead of his deteriorating eyesight, says the musician. Now with CVT he feels that he is five steps ahead.

Bellett has never been afraid of making new steps. This has led to him performing regularly with his one-man show, in which he spontaneously plays pieces which the audience shout out - moving effortlessly through the genres on piano, saxophone, flute, accordion and guitar, conjuring an evening‘s entertainment out of thin air. His blindness is part of the act, with audience members handing him the right musical instruments if necessary.

His seven hour journey to Copenhagen is always an adventure in itself and he always needs to rely on the help of complete strangers. «I experience such a lot and it‘s often hilarious,» says Bellett. «Often people want to help me down stairs, although that is something which I can easily do alone. Frequently this person is concentrating so hard on assisting me, that they fall on the stairs themselves. I nearly die laughing.» One situation which wasn‘t so funny was when he arrived in Copenhagen at eleven at night to find the door to his accommodation locked and only an answering machine at the other end of the phone.

Simon Bellett is on the road to discovery. Most hurdles he overcomes with humour - and that fits to the positive philosophy of CVT, which greets him in Copenhagen. «It‘s wonderful to have an objective,» he says. «What I learn through CVT cannot be taken from me, even when I can‘t see any more.»


Source: Chorzeit - Das Vokalmagazin, February 2014. Written by Nora Friedel