Spotlight on: William Ford

Spotlight on: William Ford

Jenna Simeonov
Toronto-based tenor William Ford is fresh out of the University of Toronto Opera School; this makes him a young singer, but he’s not lacking in wisdom. I was thrilled to read his eloquent and smart interview responses, and more than a little blown away by his awareness of self (something that took me and many others much longer to learn). William heads to Highlands Opera Studio later this summer, to sing in their production of Le nozze di Figaro, and he’ll join the prestigious Canadian Opera Company chorus for their spring productions in 2016. You can also hear William in recital this month, in Exeter, Ontario, July 25th. Head over to his GoFundMe campaign to help him do a bit more of what he loves: singing.

1. Why do you sing, and why are you pursuing it professionally?

I sing because I have to. It’s so cliché, but it is totally true and necessary to this career and art form. Throughout my training, I was told many times that “if there was something you want to do more than singing, do that instead.” And now I am beginning to understand why. This career is so demanding and competitive, and it is so often that we feel like giving up… But I have to be an artist. I must share stories and perspectives with an audience. I sing because I want to serve society and change lives through the power of performance art. When everything seems to be going wrong, my art will carry me through.

2. What does “good singing” mean to you? What does it feel like when you achieve it?

Good singing to me means connection. Connection to the voice and the body, with all of the technical requirements to achieve this. Connection to the character and what they need to say in that exact moment. Finally, connection to the audience. No matter how deeply connected we are to the technique and to the character, it won’t mean anything unless we connect with the audience. As performance artists, I feel like we are more interpreters than creators. We craft a score to be shared with an audience. When a person’s life has changed because of what they just witnessed; that is good singing!

It is difficult to describe, but I feel like I have an almost out-of-body experience when I achieve “good singing.” I can never really remember exactly how it felt, I just know when it happens. I know that my whole body is warm from being completely connected and aware. But I also feel like you become part of the atmosphere in the room. I think that’s when you know you have connected with the audience, when you start to feel the production from their point of view, and you feed them. And it isn’t until you hear the applause that you realize what you have just done. That, to me, is the magic of good singing.

3. What do young singers need to do more of? What should they do less of?

Something that I have struggled with is accepting that what I want out of this career is just as valid as what everyone else wants. I think it is important that we search for what drives our own artistic souls, and let that be the driving force of our career. I am just finishing school, so I consider myself a young singer still, but the one thing that I wish I had done less of during my training is comparing myself to others. We are all searching for that secret formula to “making it big,” and I fear that it often distracted from the real work that I needed to do for my own individual artistry. I have to believe that it is never too late to find your own artistic soul.

I recently read a quote that has changed my perspective on anxiety in this business: “Success is not to be pursued; it is to be attracted by the person you become.” Focus less on trying to be what you think they want; but inspire them to want you because of what you bring as an artist.

4. Do you have a “bucket-list” role that you’d like to sing? Why?

Peter Grimes. Every role in that opera represents something that lives with-in all of us. We have all been outcasts just as much as we have all outcast others. There is a raw realness to Peter Grimes that I believe would stretch my artistry to its limit in the pursuit of authentic storytelling.

5. How do you explain your job to non-music folks?

“How do you make enough to live?” is generally the response I get now, outside of the general wonderment of what opera really is. I try to explain that much like any job, I take on a lot of different projects and “sell” my art to as many people as possible. I spend a lot of time defending the cost of performance art, but I enjoy doing it and believe deeply in it. It is my belief that you can’t put a price on a life changing experience. And that is what we do. We are “selling” an experience like no other art, because opera is a total art. We are vocalists, instruments, dancers, actors, visual artists, design artists, historians, idealists and dreamers, all in one performing entity.

That, and money to pay the bills, is living enough for me!

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