Samantha Crawford is a professional singer, who has performed in various settings across the world. We caught up with her to find out a little about her life and work and her advice for aspiring singers:
Tell us a little bit about what you do…
I am a classically trained soprano and so my main area of employment is singing roles in operas, but my training allows me to work across theatre, concert, recital, TV and radio.
How did you first become interested in opera? And where did you train?
I joined a children’s chorus in a local opera company aged 13, and singing became my favourite hobby. Later I asked my singing teacher for advice on pursuing singing as a career and, as she suggested, applied to several music conservatoires. I took a specialist performance-based music degree and trained for 6 years at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London (on the Guildhall’s Artist Opera Course for the final two years).
What work are you most proud of, or have you most enjoyed?
My Dad gave me great advice, when he said: you spend many hours of your life at work, so if you can be paid to do something you love, work towards that. He was a surgeon, and taught me to work hard to achieve my dreams. Singing in operas allows me to travel, learn European languages, and work with designers on new concert dresses – all things I love. If I hadn’t pursued singing on the stage, I could happily have put many hours into Design and Costume! I think interpreting a character, using every fibre of my being to sing with an orchestra and communicate something to an audience is where my real joy lies. I also love that it is a live art form; the element of risk is exciting.
What is your dream role?
It’s hard to choose only one. Right now, I would love to sing Tatyana in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. Much further on, if my voice were suited to this repertoire, the title role in Puccini’s Suor Angelica, Janácek’s Jenufa and Sieglinde in Wagner’s Die Walküre would be wonderful.
Does your faith influence your work? And if so, how?
Yes. Knowing and feeling God’s unreserved love for me has changed my character, but it’s hard to put into words. The personal, professional and public parts of my life aren’t compartmentalised; they each influence the others. This is also true of my relationship with God. My identity in Him and purpose on earth offers something solid in a world where we often grapple with passing, insubstantial things.
It helps with my struggles when I feel the desire to critically compare myself to others in my work. He gives me peace when times are hard or events do not go the way I had hoped, there is a certain freedom in trusting he has a plan for my life and career. His model of sacrificial love in Jesus helps me to hold material things more lightly, and remember that relationships and people matter the most. I’m not sure it’s something I’ve quite perfected yet, but my friends and husband keep me on track!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your line of work, and how are you learning to overcome them?
I face two significant challenges as a self-employed singer – firstly, the continual securing of contracts, like all freelancers! Contracts last a few days for concert work, or up to two months for a new opera production. I try to be a diligent, fun colleague in an opera company, remembering I’m part of a team delivering our best collaborative effort. Bringing a production to life is an exciting, intense, pressured experience for a cast and crew working towards opening night. I know word-of-mouth is the most powerful way to build a reputation: a very wise teacher once told me, ‘anyone can be invited to work for a company. It’s whether they’re invited back that really counts.’
Secondly, my work involves considerable time away from my husband Matt and those I love most. Thank God for Skype! I try to plan my work commitments around my family life, keeping a balance of some ‘down time’ to rest and recharge with them after each opera. We plan holidays together in advance and pray they don’t clash with the next contract coming in. I like to share live performances – I love having my friends and family in the audience, and enjoying a well-earned drink after the show helps prevent me feeling cut off from my home life. Also, learning to say ‘no’ to taxing roles when you are too young is an important skill needed to keep your voice sounding fresh and in good health for a long career.
What advice would you give to someone who wanted to work in the performing arts?
Persevere. There is no single route to becoming a performing artist. I’m challenged and inspired by the varying stories of my friends in the Arts, and I know the times in my life I’ve worked the hardest are the times I’ve been offered the most rewarding opportunities. Nearly every conservatoire, company or competition I’ve applied to rejected my first application. My story is one of continually picking myself up, asking for advice on how to tackle the problem, not taking it all too personally and trying again (with a smile). Also, in numerous biographies of successful artists, the dominating theme has been that those who really love their craft consistently make the time to ask for advice from those they trust.
Choose your Three Wise Men (or Women). Find three experienced voices – singing teachers, friends and conductors – who know you, and ask them for honest, constructive feedback. Their voices will steady you, and teach you to be confident with the standard of work you contribute. Art is subjective and you may receive a deluge of opinion sent your way, invited or not, about every aspect of your performance! Sifting through the compliments and criticisms can be bamboozling for a young artist, so try not to let fear motivate you.
Do you have any new projects on the horizon?
Champagne and Waltzes galore! To put that in context, my next role is that of the feisty, wealthy, young aristocrat Rosalinde in Johann Strauss’ Viennese operetta Die Fledermaus (The Bat). It is a fast-paced comedy with plenty of champagne-fuelled confusion for the characters and not a single tragic, ‘operatic’ death in sight. Performances are in October at London’s Britten Theatre in the Royal College of Music.
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
My personal performing dream is the honour of representing Britain as a singer, in some capacity. Professionally speaking, I dream of building a steady mix of opera roles and concert work across Europe and Australia for the next 40 years. (I am half Australian and would love to perform where my family can share in the experience). I find joy in variety and it’s a privilege to work on different projects with dedicated, creative colleagues. I hope to reach a point in my career where I am experienced enough to mentor young performing artists – many passionate teachers and colleagues have been gracious enough to invest time and effort in helping me pursue a career I absolutely love. Continuing this generous attitude is the only way for the arts to thrive – it’s essential for the healthy growth of individuals, and the industry. And I pray I always remain thankful for all the opportunities God has offered me.
Find out more about Samantha Crawford at samanthacrawford.com