Alexander Young on stage in the 2017 Sydney Eisteddfod. Photo: WinkiPoP Media
2017 was a huge year for singer Alexander Young in Sydney Eisteddfod, taking home 10 prizes and making it through to the Finals of both the Sydney Eisteddfod Senior Singer of the Year and the Sydney Eisteddfod Intermediate Vocal Scholarship (17-20 years).
He was awarded first place in the Country Singer (16 & Over), Oratorio (17-20 Years) and Lieder (17 - 20 years) events; second place in Operatic Aria (17-20 years) and R&B or Gospel Singer (16 & Over); third place in French Song (17-20 years) and H/C in the Gilbert & Sullivan Award (Any Age), Male Voices (17 - 20 Years), Italian Song (17-20 years) and Jazz or Blues Singer (16 & Over).
He recently spoke to Sydney Eisteddfod about what inspired his passion for singing and the best piece of performance advice he has ever heard.
What inspired your passion for singing?
It probably sounds like a cliché, but the truth is that I actually started singing before I could talk. My parents tell me that before my first birthday, whenever they walked me in the pram, I would hum nursery rhymes. So, I think I was born with the passion to sing.
Who inspired you to start singing?
My grandfather was an opera singer. He sang at La Scala in Milano. As soon as he heard my first cries as a baby he would tell everyone that I was destined to be a singer and follow in his footsteps. Sadly, he passed away when I was 8 years old, but I was able to sing for him in a concert shortly before he died. I sang “Smile” by Chaplin. To this day, whenever I hear that song, it brings a tear to my eye.
You chose to perform Le Temps des Cathedrales in the Sydney Eisteddfod Singer of the Year Final, tell us a little bit about this piece.
This beautiful song is from the French-Canadian musical, “Notre-Dame de Paris”, as is based on Victor Hugo’s famous book, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. It’s sung in French, giving it a mysterious and very dramatic feel, and it has a fabulous, soaring chorus, which always gives me goose-bumps. The song takes us back to a time of the great medieval cathedrals, and it boldly predicts the end of the world as we know it. So, be afraid – be very afraid!
Which other performers do you most like to listen to, and why?
That’s a difficult one to answer because I love so many different styles and genres of music. Unfortunately, many of the performers and composers that I most like to listen to are long dead. Great artists of the past like Mahler, Dvorak, Puccini, Gershwin, Mancini… and so many singers like Pavarotti, Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald. I love these great artists because their music has stood the test of time. In fact, many of them are more popular today than ever before. As for more contemporary musicians (those who are still alive) I have a particular penchant for P!nk, Snarky Puppy, Big Phat Band, and Pentatonix. (anything with a “P” in it, basically).
What is the best piece of performance advice you've ever heard?
As a young singer, you tend to get bombarded with advice: how to sound, what to wear, how to think, what to feel, where to move, and so on. On the one hand, this is all great information, and it’s coming from people who want to see you improve and develop as an artist, so it’s really great to take it on board. But sometimes the advice you get can contradict what you’ve been told before. Sometimes a person won’t like what a person yesterday loved. That’s where the performer has to be careful about what advice they choose to follow, which is why a singing coach is such an invaluable asset. Having a mentor who understands how to make you be the best that you can be is crucial for any young artist, and they can help you navigate all the advice and makes sense of all the experiences that you have along your musical journey. However, if I could impart one single nugget of wisdom, it would be this. Know your piece. Not just the words and the tune, really know it. Know what it means, and what it means to you. Know the composer. Know what they thought, how they felt, what their experiences were. Know what you want the audience to feel when you get up on stage and sing that song. It might all sound a little overly dramatic, but when someone embodies the song and performs it with complete conviction, that’s when the magic happens, and that’s when the audience really feels something special. It’s a wonderful thing to experience on either side of the stage.
What have you learnt from your Sydney Eisteddfod experience?
I only started competing at the Sydney Eisteddfod when I was 15 years old, but I wish I had started sooner because having great adjudicators provide feedback on your performance helps build strength and resilience - especially in young performers. Anyone who wants to perform professionally or even as a hobby needs to be able to get up on that stage, leave their inhibitions behind and embrace the experience. And even when you don’t get the recognition you think you deserve, the simple fact that you did it gives you the strength and courage to continue to do even better next time. There’s always more to learn, and there’s always further to go, so keep on going!
What would you say to a young singer that was thinking about entering Sydney Eisteddfod?
It takes courage to stand out from the crowd, and even more to stand in front of one! If a young singer wants to compete at Sydney Eisteddfod, they’re already demonstrating a strength of character which is out of the ordinary. So, well done! The Eisteddfod’s are an excellent tool to help you develop both as a singer and as a performer. They give you the opportunity to demonstrate your craft in front of an appreciative audience, and knowledge you gain both through the adjudicator’s feedback and through your own performance experience is invaluable. Whilst the Sydney Eisteddfod is a competition, it’s also a wonderful community of performers, volunteers, and renowned musicians. Don’t pass up the opportunity to become a part of that!
What do you hope to achieve next?
I’m studying for my Bachelor of Music (Performance) majoring in Classical Voice at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. My immediate goal is to complete my studies before moving to Europe to pursue my ambition of being a professional singer with one of the established opera companies. In the meantime, I would like to get as much performance experience as I possibly can. This means auditioning for Opera and Musical Theatre productions and competing at singing events like the Sydney Eisteddfod. These are really important to gauge progress. To get into the finals and scholarship events within the next four years would definitely be a goal. And to win one of these events would be the ultimate goal. I’m only really at the start of my musical journey, and I can’t wait to see where it takes me! Probably to part time work as a barista.