Oscar Castellino Con Brio July 2012

Goan-origin baritone Oscar Castellino, currently at the Royal College of Music London, was recently on holiday in Goa. He spoke to the Navhind Times in an exclusive interview.

It’s been great reading of your recent "feather in your cap", where you sang for the Queen at her Diamond Jubilee. Tell us about it.

It was a complete surprise to me when I got a call from the vocal department of the Royal College of Music (RCM) to perform at the event. The RCM being the most distinguished music conservatoire in the UK was given the opportunity to put forward singers for the occasion. The college approached current students as well as singers well into their performing careers that have been associated with the college in the past. We have a total of eight different levels of singing students at the college from the undergraduate, postgraduate and opera school courses. I am in the very first year. The singers in my batch are all very talented performers and to be one of the two selected from our year to sing was a great honour. To be a part of such a rare Royal celebration is very special, this being only the second time in history that a British monarch celebrated a Diamond Jubilee. We were live on international television and some of us were interviewed at the BBC studios later besides various other press engagements. The singers and I were invited to tea at the House of Lords on July 12 but I left for Mumbai on July 8 to perform at the Con Brio festival so had to skip it.

You’re unusual in that you came relatively late into classical singing, aren’t you? Tell us how you began singing as a child or youth, up until the time when you first enrolled to "Giving Voice to India".

The voice, especially the male voice, develops at a late age after changing during the teenage years. It is ideal to begin serious training in one’s early twenties. I met Patricia Rozario when I was 23. To understand the marvels of classical music as well as to find a way to contribute to it requires a mature mind and the courses offered by the college in Music History, Performance Practice, Professional training, Alexander Technique are best received when one is not too young. Growing up in a boarding school in Mussoorie, my childhood was a beautiful encounter with nature. I bring in that experience, as well as four years of working in a corporate job, and they help me in my efforts towards being a well-rounded performer. I am also lucky to have met people in the last two years who have shown faith in my abilities and what I have to offer. They helped me set my priorities right. I look more to contribute to music and society, and collaborate with other musicians rather than compete with other singers. Prior to meeting Patricia, I sang at Alfred D’Souza’s choir, the Stop Gaps Choral Ensemble in Mumbai. When I joined the choir I did not consider myself much of a singer, but Alfred recognized my talent and gave me opportunities to showcase it. I am happy to see Alfred collaborate with Patricia and there are many singers from the choir who are now training with Patricia.

What has been your experience at "Giving Voice to India"?

It is very unlikely that I would have taken up singing if not for “Giving Voice to India”. Patricia and Mark (Troop) could have earned more money teaching for an hour in London that what the course charges for an entire week of training here! That speaks of their motivation and desire to make a change. I’d even say that one can benefit more from GVI than any workshop in Europe. Patricia’s students in London are some of the most successful in the college, winning many competitions, and if singers in India take her ideas on board, we will surely see quite a few singers taking it to the next level. Mark on the other hand brings in a wealth of experience and knowledge with his role as Vocal coach. I have been to many vocal coaches in London, and Mark, although primarily a pianist, is among the best one could hope to work with.

It is good to see the response GVI has received as well as its expansion to Ahmedabad and Pune

You managed to get into the RCM, competing against aspirants from all over the world. How stiff was the competition?

I did not know how tough it would be until I travelled to London for the audition and met fellow aspirants who had received years of training. I realized that besides having a good voice, I had to be unique to stand a chance. I gave my best shot at the audition and then presented myself at the interview, convincing the panel that I could contribute to the music scene. Coming from India and bringing in very different cultural experiences helped my cause. Recommendations from eminent artists like Patricia, baritone Tom Krause and pianist Norman Shetler strengthened my case. I was one of the ten selected from over 600 aspirants, so those were heavy odds!

You’ve worked hard at the RCM. How has it been? Tell us about your experience there.

The RCM gives its students many opportunities to learn and perform, but it is up to each student to make the most of them in their own individual way. As a result of my initial success I was offered the Blair Wilson Award and the Lee Abbey Award. Blair Wilson was a very successful tenor who died early and I am proud to carry on his name and legacy. Being associated with his name helps me work harder to maintain the highest standards. I have a great working relationship with Patricia who is my principal study teacher; that is something all students dream of.

What lies ahead, in the immediate and distant future?

The first year was a good start, but I now need to take it to another level and start planning projects that I can involve myself in, as well as ideas for concerts that I can come up with. I hope to perform in Goa and other major Indian cities in 2013-14. I need to get working on suitable repertoire. The College has selected me to perform at the Victoria and Albert Museum in December. From the second year we start with French repertoire. French is a language I am not acquainted with; however I am very interested in linguistics and learning new sounds. Indians are generally bi-lingual or tri-lingual which makes it easier for us to learn new languages.

What advice would you give to young aspiring singers, and their parents, based on your own experience? Apart from the sheer joy of singing being its own reward, is it "worth" the effort, in terms of having a career with a reasonable income? After all, that’s what every parent desires for their child.

If a young singer believes he or she has the talent, commitment and diligence, the sky is the limit. The first thing is to get in touch with a good teacher. I am lucky to have Patricia. It is very important to have the right attitude, and not keep comparing oneself to others, and to find your own calling. India has a lot of demand for teachers, so even if one does not make a fortune performing all over the world, there is always a lot of teaching to do and a decent income to be had. I strongly believe that we have a limited time on this planet, so it is important to discover in what way we can best make a contribution.

We wish you all the very best, Oscar. 

Thanks. I hope to be performing in Goa soon!

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Navhind Times Goa India on 1 August 2012)