Off Stage

Ex-choirboy finds voice again

Engineer Matt Carlisle (centre) will perform on Saturday as part of vocal ensemble Vox Camerata.
Engineer Matt Carlisle (centre) will perform on Saturday as part of vocal ensemble Vox Camerata.PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER MICHAEL LAW

Matt Carlisle enjoyed singing in choirs during his primary school years. Then high school happened.

"Suddenly, being in a choir didn't seem quite so cool, so I dropped out for the rest of school and university," says the 34-year-old bachelor.

But Carlisle, who was born in Australia, could not stay away forever. After moving to London in 2007, he found himself taking vocal lessons. And when the mechanical engineer moved to Singapore last year for work, rejoining a choir seemed "like a natural progression".

Now a member of Singapore vocal ensemble Vox Camerata, Carlisle will perform in its concert, Musica Intimae: Soulful Soundscapes, on Saturday. The repertoire includes songs from all over the world, with the ensemble singing in more than 10 languages.

Do you still remember your first show?

Tell us more about it. My first show was when I was seven years old, at the annual eisteddfod (a music, dance and drama competition) in my city of Mackay in Australia. Pretty sure I received rapturous applause... from my mum.

  • BOOK IT / MUSICA INTIMAE: SOULFUL SOUNDSCAPES

  • WHERE: Chamber, The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane

    WHEN: Saturday, 3 and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $25 (excludes booking fees) from bit.ly/28XVUSJ

My first show with Vox was earlier this year for the Singapore HeritageFest. We were lucky enough to perform in the Rotunda of the National Museum and the acoustics were amazing.

Do you still get nervous on stage?

Yes, but I think that's not a bad thing. A conductor told me when I was young that "you don't want to get rid of the butterflies, you need to get them to fly in formation".

What's the harshest criticism you've received and how do you deal with it?

Last year, when I was just getting involved in Vox, we took part in a choir competition. The feedback from the judges wasn't supportive - it was technical. I remember comments about the dynamic levels between the sections. What bothered me at the time was the tone. It was dismissive. It was difficult for everyone to process. The group had worked hard and felt they'd tackled the quite challenging pieces well.

The good thing about Vox is that everyone is quite supportive. Our conductor Shah (Mohamed Shahril Mohamed Salleh) encourages us to take feedback and criticism as a learning experience. The judges' comments made us better as a group.

What, to you, is a good performance?

A double call for encore. But, obviously, a double encore is unusual. For me, it's a good performance if there's that moment when the group hits a note together perfectly and it sounds fantastic. The whole choir feels it and you catch us looking around at each other as in, "Did you hear that?"

What's the most important thing for aspiring choristers to avoid?

Thinking that the first rehearsal is indicative of what it will be like. Odds are that at your first rehearsal, your fellow members will be more familiar with the pieces, the group's dynamics and conductor's style. You have to make it through the first four rehearsals, after that everything improves rapidly.

What do you do after a show to relax?  Are there any post-show food cravings or favourite places you go to?

A lot of us go for food and drinks post-show. The performance feels really short, so afterwards it's cool to hang out and relive it a little. After our last show, I had a really good prata-burger at a pop-up stall, so if I can find that again, I'll be happy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Ex-choirboy finds voice again'. Print Edition | Subscribe