Mezzo-Soprano, Monique Simone 21, talks to UCIA about her time at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and her hopes and dreams for the future.Classically trained singer, Monique is currently studying full time at WAAPA and by the end of this year she will have completed her Bachelor of Music in Classical Voice.
Monique has been performing since she was just eight years of age and would not have it any other way. According to Monique; “Not singing doesn’t make sense” as it’s been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. She says “singing is my life!”
Monique first began contemporary singing lessons, in a group environment, with kids her own age and after a few months moved onto private contemporary lessons. Monique was, “hooked on singing.” It was recommended that she join ‘Stageworx’, “a confidence building course for young singers,” which helped her immensely and was also where her journey into classical music began.
Melbourne singing teacher and tenor Ron Lees was recommended to Monique, he was taught by the great Australian tenor Donald Smith. Ron became her first classical teacher and taught her, “the basis of the classical technique.” He introduced her to a new sound and style that she “fell in love with.” Monique mentioned, “Ron really put me on to this path and encouraged me to go all the way.” Whilst being taught by Ron, Monique auditioned for the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School (VCASS) where she was accepted on full scholarship from years 9-12.
After graduating from VCASS, Monique auditioned for WAAPA. The process of auditioning and applying for WAAPA was a unique experience for the aspiring singer as she thought that initially they did not like her audition tape. “Mine was a bit of a different path because I was an interstate applicant, I filled out an online application form and sent off an audition DVD. I was then told I would be required to do an over the phone interview and an online theory test. Funnily enough those two aspects of the process never eventuated, so I had assumed they didn’t like my audition tape. However, I got my acceptance letter and off I flew from Melbourne to Perth.”
In relation to her course at WAAPA, Monique said, “This isn’t your regular, purely academic based degree, as performing and rehearsing play a huge role in our course. Like most students we’re required to write those dreaded essays and sit tedious written exams that require lots of cramming. We have performance exams and vocal workshop classes as well as concert practice where we get the opportunity to perform for highly regarded guest tutors. 100% of my mark in this final semester for the performance unit; lies within my graduation recital, which will be the occasion that culminates my degree at WAAPA.”
The prestigious WAAPA provides a huge range of performing arts training and is recognised nationally and internationally for the quality of its graduates. Monique has had the opportunity at WAAPA to be trained by, “the fantastic Linda Barcan,” who taught her for two years. For the past year up until now she has been learning from “the irreplaceable Patricia Price.”
Monique’s time at WAAPA over the last three years has allowed her to be involved in and perform for a wide range of audiences. ”I’ve loved participating in the WAAPA International Art Song Academy,” where she got to work with the one and only Graham Johnson who is a world renowned Art Song expert/accompanist, and the extraordinary Mary King from ‘Operatunity’. As a part of the WIASA she was “honoured to perform at the stunning Government House Ballroom.” Another highlight of Monique’s has been to perform at Perth’s Wesley Uniting Church, in their recital series, where she has had the privilege of presenting a forty-minute program, “to the loveliest, most supportive audience,” for the last couple of years.
When asked about what her career goals were, she said, “I’m glad it’s ‘goals’ and not ‘goal’, because I have many. I am open to, and would welcome Operatic roles and Music Theatre roles, as I thrive on being in a team environment and love the idea of telling stories through music with awesomely talented and fun people. I’m also particularly passionate about recitals and concerts because I love the idea of bringing my own interpretation and artistry to beautiful music whilst conveying and respecting the intentions of the composer, and the stylistic conventions of the time. I also enjoy the prospect of ensemble work whether it’s as small as a duet or as large as a chorus, there is something so powerful about harmonisation and the magical feeling it’s capable of creating.”
Monique is extremely hard working and dedicated to her art. “My five year goal is to do some big competitions, complete a masters or pre-professional course overseas and/or be a part of a young artist program with an opera company. I’d love to do that here in WA since it really feels like my musical base now. My ultimate goal is to be an internationally successful classical crossover artist and follow in the footsteps of someone like Kristin Chenoweth, I would just love the freedom of singing all styles of music I connect with and sharing them through the classical/operatic training I’ve received. I also hope to make opera and classical music more accessible to those who may not have given it a chance yet.”
Singing and performing is extremely satisfying for Monique, as she loves sharing a connection with an audience. “The effect it has on other people, whether it makes them smile or sparks a memory in their mind or touches them so deeply they are moved to tears, those are the moments that keep my passion for singing alive. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I do it not only to provide other people with emotional stimulation but to also sing for me, it is my outlet of expression and always comes from the deepest place possible. I sing to move people, because that’s the most beautiful feeling.”
As an aspiring artist, Monique looks up to her whole family who are extremely supportive of her music career. “My whole family inspires me, they are all so kind, down to earth and loving people. In particular my Great Grandma who always believed in me and wanted to hear me sing every chance she got. She really inspired me and admired my singing.”
On a personal level, Monique said, “I am inspired my best friend Tom, who taught me not to give up and to always believe in myself. He never gave up on himself even though life gave up on him, when he lost his battle to brain cancer. He may have lost his life but he’s left his mark on all those who knew him, Tom puts everything in perspective for me every time I think about him and reminds me what’s important.”
When asked whether there is a sense of pressure or competition between herself and others, Monique said, “yes and no.” The performing arts field is naturally competitive because there are so many talented people who work hard and above all want the same thing you do. You are auditioning for roles, participating in eisteddfods, applying for scholarships or eventually auditioning for young artist programs, companies or labels, and you are against others who want the same thing as you. In saying that, you can let this world be more competitive than it has to be through your own attitude and the people you surround yourself with. I try not to take a ‘no’ personally, there is always another opportunity coming up and I make sure I’m with people who support and believe in me.”
Monique’s love for music has also turned into a love for travel, earlier this year she travelled to New York and had some lessons with highly renowned Bel Canto technique teacher Deborah Birnbaum as well as teachers at The Juilliard School. She is going to, “Europe in late November to do the same sort of thing I was lucky enough to do in NYC; which is receiving lessons from internationally renowned singers and teachers at the most highly regarded institutions in the world, including Guildhall. I’ll also sit in on master classes taken by current world class performing artists and watch some student competitions and concerts.”
“One of the most important things to remember if you want to break into the classical music industry is that you will have the best chance of doing so if you don’t limit yourself. In order for me to try and be the best performer I can be, I feel it’s important to see what’s out there beyond Australia, even though we have a high quality music scene here, the scale of the industry, its demands and the competition for opportunities is greater overseas and I can’t wait to have my world rocked by it. I will be going to England, France, Germany and Wales as a part of my musical research adventure and hope to find a place that clicks with me for my possible future.”
Monique’s final recital is coming up on the 14th of November and she has a few words to say about it; “First off, everyone that lives in the vicinity of WAAPA should come because it’s an afternoon of free entertainment and the musical pieces you will hear are all so different. The text and the story of each song or aria have so much to offer on their own, vocal music isn’t just about sound, I want to let the audience hear, see and imagine what my character is going through, and provide a musical journey to the audience. There will be something for everyone to enjoy and if you’re not a classical music fan there will be some quirky jazzy pieces to help you get your groove on! So come along and help me celebrate the past three years of practice and study; at 4:30pm on Saturday the 14th November in the Music Auditorium at WAAPA.”
So, what does the bright future hold for this young, talented singer? Ideally, Monique would love to, “continue studying at WAAPA next year and complete a Postgraduate Diploma.” Ultimately [she] would love to be an internationally successful classical crossover artist and travel the world sharing different styles of music with as many people as possible.
To find out more, check out Monique’s Facebook page: