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Now Hear This: TJ Taylor

Singing coach extraordinaire and performer TJ Taylor on his favourite musicals.

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Published: 4 Dec 2020


Time taken : ~10mins

TJ Taylor is well known in the Singapore musical theatre circuit as the go-to man for singing enthusiasts and professionals alike. Sing’theatre Academy’s associate artistic director shares with us his tips and musical inspirations.

Some people think singing can’t be taught, you either “have it” or you don’t. What’s your response to that?

The simple fact is: If you can speak….you can sing!

Now, not everyone is going to be able to sing like Mariah, Beyoncé or even Pavarotti. But…you can sing like you! We all have the same muscles to make sound but everyone’s are slightly different shapes and sizes just like the rest of our bodies, which allows everyone’s voice to be beautifully unique.

The hardest part to teach is musicality. This is something that is built up through childhood and our exposure to music throughout our life. So expose your children to music as early as possible!

What inspired you to become an educator?

I grew up in a very musical family. My mum plays piano, my dad is a DJ and my grandma used to play the organ in working men’s clubs around the North of England. When I was five, I asked my parents for piano lessons and we found the one school in the area that would take me at a young age. 

I had a fantastic piano teacher who encouraged me to not only do my exams but explore my love of musical theatre as well. I had been attending youth theatre and doing musicals since the age of 11 with fantastic, inspiring directors who gave their all for very little money to give students in the area confidence and a creative outlet. 

By the age of 15, I had combined both my piano and musical theatre passions and was performing and directing musicals for several local youth theatres in the Barnsley area and this is where I knew I loved to teach.

You work with singers from all backgrounds with varying levels of skill and experience, what are some challenges that you regularly encounter?

People forget to explore and play with their voices. Singing is such a personal thing and it is quite ‘exposing’. Most singers, experienced or professional, spend too much time worrying about how it sounds. No matter which style or genre you are singing, the singing voice is an expression. If you put so many pressures and barriers onto it, you will never truly share that expression with the audience. Sometimes there is perfection in the imperfections.

What is the most fulfilling part about being a vocal coach?

The most fulfilling part of my job is the small achievements of my students. When a student has that lightbulb moment. They hit a note they have been struggling with or break down a barrier and truly feel the emotions of a song for the first time. 

In your upcoming workshop for Voices 2020, you will be giving audiences a glimpse of musical theatre through music and dance. What was your introduction to musical theatre like?

My introduction to performing was through the school nativity at the age of 10. I was cast as Joseph and I still remember to this day being slightly annoyed that such a leading role only had one line in the whole show, "Please sir, is there any room at the inn."

After that brief introduction to the stage I was hooked. One of the teachers at school suggested I try the local Youth Theatre group. I remember after only half an hour into the session and having played a few games of wink murder, I knew I had found my people.

I recently came across the first ever performance I did at that youth theatre. Catch me in the first 15 seconds.

What is your favourite musical performance to date?

The musical that has inspired me the most recently would have to be Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. The show’s story, message and themes resonated so closely to me especially as it is set in a town called Sheffield next door to where I grew up in Barnsley, England. I remember sitting next to my Mum holding her hand tightly in the theatre when they sang the song, He’s My Boy.

What is the best thing to come out of Broadway and the West End in the past five years?

Broadway and musical theatre has historically adapted over the centuries and is always a reflection on society. Broadway over the last five years has been extremely successful in adapting its music style and format to meet the tastes of a younger generation. Six is a great example of reimagining what a musical can be, taking the stories of the six wives of King Henry VIII and putting them in a girl group and the whole show is performed in a concert setting. Rocking out to the stories of the Tudor times was not a show I ever expected to see.

We have to acknowledge how successful Hamilton has been in engaging huge numbers of people. The launch of Hamilton on Disney Plus during lockdown engaged so many new people in current musical theatre works. As we look to the future and a post-COVID world I am excited to see how musical theatre will innovate and continue to connect audiences though telling stories in new and inspiring ways.

What is the musical you would recommend to someone new to the genre?

For me if you want to see everything that musical theatre has to offer you should absolutely watch Wicked. It encompasses the best of storytelling through song and dance and is engaging for every member of the family. It really is the best that Broadway has to offer.

You’ve been a vocal coach for two very different musicals, Urinetown (by Pangdemonium) and The Sound of Music (for the international tour). Which musical is more ‘you’, and which song from either musical would get your vote?

I can honestly say they are both my opposite loves. It is like my Jeckyll and Hyde personality. I grew up watching and listening to The Sound Of Music and Mary Poppins and I have such a love for the simplicity in its storytelling and messages. But on the opposite side Urinetown is edgy, bold and loud which appeals to my love of all things belty and boundary pushing. 

I would say if I had to choose I would go with Urinetown as it not only is edgy and modern but is littered with references from musicals past and present and gives a loving nod to lots of different vocal styles and genres. One of my favorite songs would be Run Freedom Run.

Outside of musical theatre, what other genres of music do you listen to, and who’s on your playlist right now?

I love classic pop and rock. I am a huge fan of classics like Queen and Abba. Recently I have Adam Lambert and Queen on repeat. His showmanship is phenomenal and as close to the legends like Freddie Mercury that we have these days. 

But outside of this I am also a huge Jessie J fan. Her technique is stunning. The intricacies of her voice and how she plays with syllables, phrasing and emotion is so great to listen to.

What makes a great singer? Who represents that for you?

Someone who can convey a story. You do not have to sing the highest notes, belt the loudest or be the most dramatic in the room. You simply need to be able to connect to a truthful character or emotion and share this to your audience.

I would like to use an unexpected example to demonstrate this fact. Judi Dench is known more for her acting than singing. Her technique is not perfect, but in this performance of Send In The Clowns, her imperfections are perfection as she exquisitely tells the story so truthfully and honestly.

You were supposed to have performed in Pangdemonium’s production of The Full Monty this year, which got cancelled due to the pandemic. Any regrets about 2020, and what is your wish for 2021?

2020 has been a crazy year but it has forced us to be more creative, and in some ways, brought us closer together in our socially distanced life. I wish that I am able to lay off the biscuits long enough to be able to get my kit off confidently when Full Monty returns! But in all seriousness, my main wish for 2021 is that flights open up again soon so I can see my parents and family in the UK again after so long apart, which is a sentiment shared from all those living so far away from home. 

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