part of my long-term plan, I have to say. Far from it.
While studying music at uni, I was continuing my piano lessons and
taking conducting lessons, but was desperate to drop my viola
lessons for something else. Someone suggested I might be able to
take singing lessons - and I found that I could sing.
make jokes about viola players: a viola player gets sick
of his viola, throws it out the window, and goes off to buy a
flute. The man in the shop says: "You're a viola player, aren't
you?" The violist says: "How did you know?" The man in the shop
says: "Well, for a start, this is a fish-and-chip shop."
You're a viola
player? Let's have a minute's silence.
My name is
Portuguese, and the Portuguese were in Macau; so I have a
bit of Chinese ancestry. And my mother found out this year that her
great-grandmother was a South American Indian. But I was born and
bred in north-west London. My father was an estate agent, my mother
a school secretary. I was one of three.
I live in
Guildford now; so I've moved a little: only 35 miles. But
I've travelled the world.
I wish I was
Italian. I've had to sing in eight languages, and most of
my favourite roles, the opera buffa roles, are in Italian.
Falstaff, Don Pasquale, Leporello, Don Magnif-ico.
Learning a new
role takes between three to six months, depending on the
complexity and language. Czech is always a longer job.
I've worked all
around the world as a freelance soloist, but probably most
for Glyndebourne Opera. It's paid the bills for the past 26 years,
in conjunction with my other musical work as a singer and
steel? Maybe not. I was known in places as "cast-iron
Jonny" because I was known to be reliable. Of course I get nervous
before every performance - necessary to perform well. I'm always
very aware that everything rests on two tiny vocal chords; so I try
to treat them with respect: they are irreplaceable, and I try to
years, I've developed a one-man show where I sing all
types of music, and introduce humour as well: totally different
from singing in an opera, but I work just as hard at it. Last year,
I gave 61 performances of my Audience with JV show around
the country, and 30 are booked for this year. Before training my
voice to sing operatically, I was singing gospel music, rock 'n'
roll, blues - anything, as long as it was good music.
I've got three
sons, aged 25, 21, and 19; so I made sure one could play
guitar, one play the bass, and the other the drums. They make a
fantastic backing band for me, and they all sing, too.
I know that when
people see my family - three young guys and a bald old
geezer - performing together, they're often greatly moved.
I do a bit of
stand-up, tell viola jokes, talk about faith in my
everyday life in an opera house somewhere. . . A lot of people
think faith is just something in our heads, but the kindness that
we show to people - it impacts on every aspect of life. We give out
two CDs of St Mark's Gospel that I recorded, and they can buy
books, and keep in contact with me on the website.
This show is all
about vulnerability. I don't speak from a position of
power [but] supreme weakness. But it's not a conference: it's a
working with the charity Compassion UK. We went to
Ethiopia last year with them; so we also show a film we made when
we were there, and ask what we can contribute to the world to make
it a different place.
Peter Grimes in September, and I also do an
evening introducing people to opera through my repertoire, telling
stories, getting the audience to enact it with me.
The Church is
beginning to allow people to enjoy themselves.
listen to that, and you can hear the hand of the Creator in this
stuff. In creative and visual arts there's extraordinary,
wonderful beauty for us to enjoy, and we also have something to say
in this world.
think singing is a technical job of work, but as I see
people touched, moved, and maybe blessed by a song, I see the
creative-God process happening before my eyes. This becomes an
offering to God.
The concert at
All Souls', Langham Place will be fantastic - everything
from gospel to big ballads to jazz, and, of course, a couple of
operatic arias. My sons will be my backing band, and Noel
Tredinnick, with some of the All Souls' Orchestra will accompany
me. I'm also filming it and making a live CD. No pressure.
When I went to
university, I saw there was a bigger kingdom. It was as if
I'd grown up in one room, and then found out it extended hugely
into highways and byways. I saw many people with faith which
affected their lives, opinions, relationships - not just their
religious life. I saw you could be proactive, move into the world,
achieve a lot in extending that Kingdom, faith and God being alive
and well in our community.
When I am
listening to God, it is good. When I am not, it isn't
good. God is faithful, although I am often not. I am not being
humble - I speak from a position of vulnerability, not
I pray best when
I'm in the car, or out walking in the woods, when I am on
my own. Praying then becomes a natural communication. I love
silence and nature, and often hear God better in those situations.
I pray to know what is the perfect and acceptable will of God.
choosing to follow Jesus, I would say marrying my wife was
my most important choice in life. She has been God's means of grace
to me. The kindest and most consistent person I have ever met - and
she isn't even paying me to say this.
The family is
God's big idea for society and its cohesion. The
undermining of this is a big problem, and we're now reaping the
rewards. But I am fully, painfully aware that things go wrong in
families, and breakdowns can happen. Family life is never easy.
regrette rien" - like "My Way" - is a song I will never
sing. There are things that I wish I could change, and one
of them is the amount of time I spent away from my wife and
children when the boys were younger. Working abroad for long
periods isn't fun or glamorous, and I missed birthdays,
anniversaries, and just being there with them.
child, I wanted to play cricket for England and be
a jazz pianist. I was no good at either.
I'd like to be
remembered for making people laugh out loud; and being a
good husband, father, and friend.
Ian Lawrence, my
music teacher at school, told me I could do it.
preached on suffering, and held my attention (and my
sons') for 40 minutes - talking on a difficult and challenging
subject. Also, I'd say, many sermons by David Bracewell and Colin
Matthews over the year. Also a sermon on dichotomy by Simon
story-telling, and the narrative of Jesus is constantly
amazing to me. I least like . . . oh no, I won't fall into that
trap. Hate mail will follow.
District, or anywhere next to the sea, will do for me.
What annoys me?
How long have you got? I constantly lose it. From
politics, to the media, to: "Why is this bowl left here again? It
should be in the dishwasher." I make my point.
outside, in the countryside or swimming in the sea -
particularly any time with my family around me.
The thought of
being locked in a church for any length of time with anyone makes
my blood run cold.
Jonathan Veira was
talking to Terence Handley MacMath.
An Audience with JV
is at All Souls', Langham Place, London W1, at 7.30 p.m.,
Friday 15 February and Saturday 16 February. Tickets from www.jonathanveira.com/tickets