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:: Spotlight :: Interview with Margaret Keys

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Margaret Keys is an Irish classical crossover soprano who has recently signed a four-year recording deal with Universal Music Australia. She comes from a primary school teacher background in Ireland before taking a career break and entering the music industry. She has a Masters degree in Singing and Performance from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. Margaret has participated in musical theatre productions and vocal workshops. Amongst her achievements to date has been the opportunity to work in Broadway and be associated with people of the likes of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. With her career set to rise swiftly, Margaret came to Melbourne for a promotional visit for her debut album ‘Legato’, and I had the pleasure of having a chat to her.

Q. Tell us about yourself and how how career has progressed to this stage?

A. I started singing at a very young age. In Ireland music is a very big thing within the family. We were always into music. My grandfather was a tenor. It inspired me to become a singer and performer. At fifteen I was the winner of a competition. I did a degree in music education as a primary school teacher and was awarded a scholarship to study for a masters degree.

After that I decided to go back to my teaching roots. I got a job in Derry, Ireland and taught there until two years ago. I was teaching music at school and was involved in choirs and shows. It was a bit chaotic with people of ages 30-40 in class. Then one of the students showed me an advertisement that indicated that Andrew Lloyd Webber was looking for someone to fill a role in the latest Sound Of Music production on the West End. I gave it a shot and, although I didn’t get selected, I was given the opportunity to go to Broadway to study with some of the stars there. I ended up in New Zealand to perform at a show in front of 35,000 and was asked to record some demos. From there, Universal Music offered me a recording deal.

Q. When did you realise that a soprano was beckoning?

A. I was always listening to Julie Andrews and other singers. I had sung in church and the voice started to lock into the soprano style by my mid-teens.

Q. Who are some of your Idols from days gone by?

A. A lot of my music idols have been male singers. Mario Lanza is one of my favourites. His performance in The Great Caruso is unforgettable. That’s the kind of music that I grew up with and it reflects in my voice and the style I have. Today, people like Renee Fleming are influential. I also listen to Lady GaGa and Pink (to stay trendy). I enjoy pop music.

Q. Your debut album ‘Legato’ contains a lovely selection of tracks from films like Once Upon A Time In America, The Deer Hunter, The Quiet Man and Carousel…

A. Yes, songs from great movies are always in my mind when deciding on songs to sing and record. They are popular with most audiences. One song in particular, “In The Arms Of An Angel”, seems to go down well with audiences. People relate to the touching lyrics. I love singing it.

Q. Have you ever done “You’ll Never Walk Alone” (from Carousel)?

A. Yes, I did it in New Zealand recently. It’s probably too well known, so I decided to do ‘Mr Snow’ instead. It’s one of the little gems from Carousel. I sang it when I won the competition in Ireland.

Q. Where did you record the album?

A. Five tracks off the album were recorded in New Zealand and the other five in Ireland.

Q. How did you arrive at ‘Legato’ for the album title?

A. “Legato” is used a lot in music manuscript and in relation to music. So I decided, with the producers, to have it as the title of the album.

Q. Do you have a favourite orchestra with which you've performed?

A. The Radio & Television Broadcast Orchestra in Ireland are terrific. I’ve done a few concerts with them and there’s no better feeling than to sing with a great orchestra. They are great musicians.

Q. Tell us about the impact of the Internet on your music?

A. The Internet has been a great tool, especially Myspace. I’m just a new name. It’s a great thing to be able to share some songs and to get feedback from people. The connection to the fans is good and I always write back to everyone. Many people get their break from Myspace and I know the band Blake, for instance, who got an opportunity through there.

Q. I read where you've regularly conducted music workshops…

A. I’ve done a lot of workshops; working with children aged 8-18, doing dancing, singing and musical theatre workshops. We then stage a production at the end to give them a taste of performing. Parents come to watch them. It’s great for the children to have that chance. There’s a lot of talent out there.

Q. How is the music economy riding through the current downturn, especially in Britain where it's a tale of woes throughout various sectors?

A. Music is one of those things that people will always have in their lives. It’s a global form of communication. I don’t think we should put a price on music even though there has been a recession. It can be a positive outcome.

Q. What audience are you aiming for?

A. For the future I would like to keep it contemporary for a wide audience, and to a younger audience, something like The Secret Garden. Pure classical music may be seen as simply elitist. I would like to welcome all audiences.

Q. How do you look after your voice?

A. I try not to talk too much, but that can be difficult (being Irish). I drink plenty of water and take Vitamin C every day. I stay away from dairy products. But I am not too precious about it, as I need to live a normal life.

Q. What are looking to do in the short to medium term?

A. I would obviously love to see the album do well and to bring my show to Australia. The album will also be launched in Ireland soon. I would love to play at great arenas like the Sydney Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall. That’s a dream. I would just be lucky if I can perform at a good level for as long as possible and represent Ireland as an ambassador. It’s lovely to meet people like Andrew Lloyd Webber and I’d like to meet Andrea Bocelli one day. I also have an ambition to go back to America and perform there.

The album ‘Legato’ is out now through Universal Music