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Interview: Carly Paoli, singer

29 September 2016

‘It’s great if we can use music to spread light and hope’

Success has been neither easy nor early. I was blessed that I knew from a very early age exactly what I wanted to do. My focus never devi­ated, but it was hard work.


I started singing lessons when I was nine years old, which was a big responsibility in a family when both parents worked full-time. I won scholarships to study performing arts and music at prestigious col­leges and universities, but cover­ing the costs of accommodation was no small toll on my incredible parents — and, at the end of it all, no one can guarantee you will get a job. It’s a career very much built on family support, passion, and faith.


It’s only now in the past two years that my career has started to bloom, and I love that I can share this time with my family. My parents travel to most places with me. Until the last two years, most of my performances were for free, but, as my mother told me — and I would pass on to any aspiring singer — “You never know who might be in the audience.”


My time spent at the Royal North­ern College of Music was quite a difficult period. I’d always studied singing, dancing, and acting. In­­fluenced by the old MGM musicals I loved as a child, my original direc­tion was in musical theatre, but my vocal colour had always been suited for classical music. It was a huge accolade when I won a place at the Royal Northern, but I wasn’t quite prepared for how intense the study of music would be.


Singing was only the surface, and it felt like my peers had so much more experience in musical history, sight-reading, and analysis; so I felt I had to work three times harder to keep up.


Performing this summer at the ancient Roman Forum was the most exciting night, not only in my career, but my life. I have strong ties to Italy, as my mother is Italian, and most of my free time growing up has been spent in Puglia, the heel of Italy. To sing that night my own songs which I love so much, and share with over two-and-a-half million Italians live on their main channel, was a dream come true.


Above this, the concert was inspired by Pope Francis’s message of mercy for this special Jubilee year for the Catholic Church. Rome is a city steeped in Catholic and Christian history. I can’t explain the energy we all felt that night performing in the ancient city, to share a message that has had importance throughout history.


I’m super-excited about a concert I have in Rome on 26 December. It’s called “La Dolce Vita”, a concert consisting of all the great Morricone and Rota scores from classic Italian movies. I’ve always loved this music. They’re the songs I have been singing during my own private practice for years. It’s a real joy to be invited to perform them on such a lovely occasion. It does mean, how­ever, I’ll have to find a good Christmas dinner in Rome. I might have to take my own Christmas pud.


I’m ambassador for Bedat & Co. — something I’m very proud of. Bedat is the only company creating fine timepieces which are only for women. Madame Simone Bedat, the founder of the company, was an extraordinary woman. She main­tained faith in her vision until she finally broke the glass ceiling in Swiss watch-making, which was primarily a male-dominated indus­try. I feel that Madame Bedat’s story echoes something of my own faith and determination. Success is about having enough faith in your vision and dreams, so that, no matter how big the obstacle might be, you would never abandon it.


I think it’s difficult to talk about your own qualities. Whenever I hear myself, I’m constantly nit-picking on what I could have done better. One quality that perhaps I could give myself is that I believe in what I’m singing. As a performer, I love to sing something that shares a message or story with the audience, to colour the words in different ways with sounds. It’s what builds the connection.


I think songs play a huge role in the Year of Mercy. The words to my new version of “Ave Maria”, com­posed by Romano Musumarra and Grant Black, are so poignant, full of hope and positivity. So often through the media we see darkness; I think it’s great if we can use music to spread light and hope. Very few forms of communication surmount language barriers in the way music does.


I think Pope Francis’s message of mercy is so fitting and relevant for the world today, for any religion or culture. Actually, my last single release was called “A Time For Mercy”, a phrase taken from Pope Francis’s book — it’s the title of the first chapter. History is a library to so many beautiful pieces of music, and they capture the essence of the time they were created. “A Time For Mercy” has such wonderful lyrics, again written by Grant Black, I truly believe it could stand the test of time as it is so symbolic to our world today. I’m very much looking for­ward to performing this song again soon, on stage at the O2.


I’m a great believer that gifts and talents are not ours to keep. Music should be shared with the world. I have great admiration for people who are able to do good with their craft and reach out to touch others. I am a patron for a special children’s charity, When You Wish Upon A Star, and my song “Ave Maria” was given to the Catholic Church this year to raise money for Casa Famiglia Betania in Italy, which is a sort of orphanage.


I aspire to use music to help or share a message where I can, and I sang for Marriage Care because it’s such a worthy cause. My parents have been married for almost 30 years, which has been the founda­tion of keeping my family strong. I performed during a special mass for Marriage Care. I chose to perform my “A Time For Mercy” and “Ave Maria”, and closed the evening with my new release, “Save Your Love For Me”. I was thrilled with the response to my music. It was an intimate audience; so wonderful to chat afterwards and get first-hand feedback. I suppose they had the première performance of my new song.


My brother and I had a beautiful childhood. My mother and father are special, but I can say we had the best grandmother in the world. I know that’s biased, but she was an incredible lady, and we all miss her so much.


Nana bought, or often made, my first singing dresses. I had one special gown she bought when I was 14. It was the first time I sang “Ave Maria” at Nottingham Arena. It’s incredible that the gown still fits, and I actually wore it onstage at the famous Terme di Caracalla last year in Rome. Still looks as good as new.


Life now is just as beautiful, because I’m an auntie to one little boy of six, who we all fight to have our time with; and I’m living the career I always dreamt of — with the people who mean the most to me. I appre­ciate so much more now how hard my parents worked to give me and my brother the life we have.


Success is a journey, not a destina­tion. My career has only just started: I still have vocal coaching four or five times a week, funnily enough with the same coach I had at nine years old. I’m always working to im­­prove, polish, and connect with the audience. So far I’ve enjoyed every step of the journey.


On leaving university, I spent two years teaching children to sing. I loved every minute of it, and it’s something I still miss. Each student had their own little character, and it gave me great pride to watch them improve week by week, and even­tually gain enough confidence to walk on a stage and deliver their song to an audience. Even if it’s not a chosen career, music can be a great character-builder. This is some­­­thing I know I could always enjoy if I had to give up singing myself.


People who think it’s their place to put others down make me angry. People who gain from others’ suf­fering. Also, watching something happen in the world that you know isn’t right or fair, but feeling you’re too small to help. This is more of a sadness and frustration.


I’m happiest when I’m spending time with my family. I look forward to family holidays.


My mother is still my greatest influence. I make few decisions with­­out taking her advice — and it’s funny: it doesn’t matter how old I get, she’s still my first port of call in a problem. My brother, too: “Mum will sort it.”


My faith in Lord Jesus, and chil­dren, give me hope for the future. They will always be our future.


I would love to meet Lord Jesus, because I know the glory of his presence would go beyond words.


Carly Paoli’s “Ave Maria” is the official song of Pope Francis’s Year of Mercy. She will be performing with Andrea Bocelli at the O2 Arena, London, on 1 October. She was talking to Terence Handley MacMath. www.carlypaoli.com

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