Carly Paoli:
The way I work

The classical music singer who trained at the Royal Northern College of Music and released her debut album this year is influenced by MGM musicals, southern Italian piazzas and Michael Jackson

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I’ve sung for as long as I can remember. It’s funny looking back at home videos because I was never quiet. It would be the soundtracks from the Disney movies from the age of three and then it was the MGM musicals, but it was when I was nine that a lady called Liz Hetherington pulled my mum to one
side and said: “I think you should get your daughter singing lessons. I think she can really sing.”

She heard me perform Edelweiss as a solo amongst a group, and I thank God that she took me under her wing and gave me lessons herself. I still train with Liz today. I have been learning from her now for 19 years.

I was very much influenced by people like Judy Garland and Gene Kelly. My voice was always a classical sound and my coach could hear that straight away, so she began nurturing me and teaching me some of the Italian music and French songs, but at the same time I sang everything with an American accent because I’d listened to too much Judy Garland.

When I got to 13 I won a scholarship to the Rodney School in Nottinghamshire. I was able to do my GCSEs there, but at the same time they did dancing, acting and singing. Then when I was 16 I won a scholarship again, this time to Tring Park. My dad was a lorry driver and my mum was a travel agent so they would have never been able to send me to these places if I hadn’t been offered a scholarship.

Before a big performance, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve rehearsed, I still get butterflies

My mum’s family are all based in Italy, and from the age of 10 I spent every summer there. All of my uncles sing. They made a living playing the piano accordion, writing folk songs and travelling the region doing that, so I think the music probably comes a little bit more from that side of the family. Italy is a place I owe a big thank you to because I gained so much performance experience during those summers. Lots of my classmates would spend their summer holidays at the Royal Northern College of Music, but I would spend my whole summer performing in the piazzas at different fiestas. In the south of Italy it is unusual because in these small villages everybody goes to the square, and during the summer months there’s always an orchestra and they’re always playing classical music. There are children there, there’s every age, going up to 90 years old. It’s unusual to see that kind of acceptance of classical music in the younger generations.

I went to the Royal Northern College when I was 18 years old. I was in Manchester for four years and I have to say it was some of the best years of my life. I love Manchester. I love the city because it’s got everything that London has but you can walk everywhere, and you start to know faces.

The Royal Northern College of Music was quite full on. I only had one hour of actual singing with my coach a week. Everything else was about learning the history of music. You have French, German and Italian lessons because you have to sing classical music in all these different languages. It is fundamental to learn the language because when you’re given this music it’s OK to sing a song in a different language phonetically, but actually music should have an emotional connection. There are so many words that are onomatopoeic in the way that the music is written, so if you sing the word strong the music will change and it will sound strong. It’s all those little things that you can do to colour your singing a little bit more and make it extra special.

I’ve had lots of miracles. I believe in God’s tapestry – I believe things happen for a reason. I’ve performed on numerous occasions with Andrea Bocelli and Elaine Page, who was one of my idols growing up. I’ve got a recording with Jose Carreras, which is special because he allowed me to write English lyrics in what is one of his classics, En Aranjuez con tu Amor.

I’ve done two performances for His Royal Highness Prince Charles; one was two years ago at Windsor Castle, and last year at St James’s Palace he asked me to come and perform again for the Prince’s Trust Foundation, which is a huge honour and privilege.

Last year my song, a new version of Ave Maria, became adopted as the official song for Pope Francis’s jubilee, which was the year of mercy, so that led to a connection with Pope Francis, which is very special.

I still get nervous. I wish I didn’t. Two days before a big performance, it doesn’t matter how much I’ve rehearsed, I still get butterflies. I try to be quiet for a day or two. I completely rest the voice and drink lots of hot water and honey and that’s something I take with me to the dressing room. I’ve always got my honey sweets. Before I go out on stage I watch singers who have inspired me and that normally puts me in the right frame of mind. Like they say, it’s always all right on the night.

I spend all my time with my family. Everywhere I travel, my mum is always by my side. My dad is always the one who drives us to all these different venues and I’ve known my coach since I was nine years old, so she is like my second mum. I’ve got this amazing support base around me and I’m doing what I love. I wouldn’t really want to be going to a nightclub or bars. I’ve got friends but they’re in the music industry and they love the same things that I love. It’s amazing to be able to do something that you’re so passionate about as your career.

I wouldn’t be here now if it wasn’t for the dedication that my parents gave me and the fact that they recognised that I have this dream. I thank them that my dream sort of became their dream, and we’re all able to experience all these different places and see new countries. We’re doing all of that together, which is really special.

My album Singing In My Dreams was released earlier this year. The album is unique in the sense that it’s taken three years to get to this point, but all the music has been performed live and on different stages. I did a performance last year in the Roman Forum, and another one in the ancient Roman baths where the Three Tenors first premiered. With every song I was lucky enough to experience a live audience reaction – lots of singers don’t get that privilege. It’s made it very different from going into a studio. There’s a greater depth of emotion there because you’ve got a memory to associate it with.

I’ve been influenced by so many artists: Frank Sinatra, even Michael Jackson, funnily enough. And of course I have been influenced by classical singers such as Frederica von Stade. I’d love my music to influence other young singers to go on and follow their dreams in music.

Carly Paoli is supporting Collabro on their UK tour. It kicks off at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on 24 October before going to Hull, Blackpool, Carlisle, Manchester, Sheffield and Harrogate. See

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