From The Back Desk - Eamonn Dougan, The Sixteen

We take a break from talking to orchestras and bring you a special Back Desk interview from the stellar choral ensemble The Sixteen's Eamonn Dougan, who tells us exactly why your trousers should be firmly fastened on stage...

eamonn dougan the sixteen

Name: Eamonn Dougan

Instrument/Voice: Bass

Ensemble: The Sixteen

Why did you decide to become a musician?
Music was always what made me feel happiest. I went to university knowing that I wanted to work in music, but unsure of doing what exactly. My voice was still very young and I was unsure whether I'd be able to sing professionally. As I got older and learnt more it seemed like a more realistic possibility and it grew from there.

What's the one performance from your career that sticks in your mind?
There are so many good moments to look back on it's impossible to pick out one. My recent favourite recent with The Sixteen was performing at the Edinburgh festival 2013: 2400 people in a sold out Usher Hall listening to some fairly obscure polyphony and loving it.
What's the most embarrassing thing that's happened to you on stage?
Again, there are plenty of options to choose from. I had a wardrobe malfunction while singing Masetto in Don Giovanni and my trousers fell down at an inopportune moment with Zerlina. I have also been known to have some issues with giggling. It is very difficult to sing while you're laughing.

If you could work with one musician, living or dead, who would it be and why?
Thinking specifically as a singer, I listened avidly to the French baritone Gerard Souzay when I was a student and he was someone I always tried to emulate. His immaculate style and artistry made a big impression on me and I'd have loved to have had some lessons with him. However, if I only had one choice it would have to be Carlos Kleiber for his incredible vision and attention to detail.

In concert, have you ever thought, "I can't actually sing this bit very well, I'm going to mime and hope no-one notices"?
The Sixteen is a relatively small group, sometimes only two singers per part, so there isn't really anywhere to hide. More importantly I'd never want to let my colleagues down by ducking out of a tricky passage. Voices are of course susceptible to illness, so there can be times when discretion is the better part of valour and it may be wise to not give that particular high note everything you've got.

Could you give us an example of the downside of the profession, something that the average concert-goer might not know about?
The travel can be wearing. We cover a lot of miles over the course of a season and it does take it out of you. This coming year will see lots of friends reaching a significant birthday and often concerts clash with parties, so there can be a knock-on effect on your social life.

Does the touring lifestyle bring out rock star behaviour in the choir?
It's important to know how and when to let off steam. We like to have a good laugh and there is the occasional late night, but more often than not it's just a drink and some food after a concert - not really very rock 'n roll.

Have you witnessed any serious diva strops in your time as a musician?
You don't tend to get diva behaviour in the choral world - it wouldn't be tolerated by your colleagues. I've seen a few major meltdowns from conductors and soloists, but none which I'll tell you about here.

What's the biggest challenge facing musicians like you these days?
Developing audiences. Attracting a younger cross-section to concerts remains difficult. So many groups now run wonderful outreach programmes which are doing great work, but it's an ongoing issue.

What's the best thing about being a musician?
I work alongside many wonderful colleagues, performing amazing music, and on the Choral Pilgrimage often in the most spectacular venues. People always say "you're so lucky doing something you love", which, of course, is true. It's important to remember that and nurture your natural enthusiasm. When you see the reactions from audiences at the end of concerts, you know that we are indeed lucky to be doing this.

Eamonn Dougan is Associate Conductor, coaches young singers as part of Genesis Sixteen and leads choral workshop events for The Sixteen. More here.