Graduate of the Month: Kenneth Reid

Tenor Kenneth Reid has undertaken a fascinating journey on his path to being an opera performer. From Paisley to the Spanish Pyrenees and from Syria to Scotland’s national conservatoire, this was not a conventional route but he wouldn’t change it for the world. Mark Good spoke to September’s Graduate of the Month.

The support of family is often credited as a major factor in someone’s success. “If it wasn’t for my parents driving me half way across the country” is a typical example of the gratitude which regularly, and understandably, shines through from those who have benefited from the support of their nearest and dearest.

Tenor Kenneth Reid has his sister to thank. If it wasn’t for her, the 34-year-old may not be pursuing a career in opera at all.

“She was getting married and asked me to sing at the wedding,” Kenneth recalled. “At that stage, I hadn’t performed in a classical context for some time so I spent the next eight months working really hard at it. To begin with, it felt like I had forgotten how to do it but I worked hard and it came back to me.”

The aria was Handel’s Where’er You Walk and that performance in 2010 marked the beginning of a new chapter in Kenneth’s musical career which has culminated, in summer 2018, with his appointment as a first tenor in the Chorus of the Royal Danish Opera.

It is an impressive tale, one underpinned by a childhood spent singing in Paisley Abbey Choir, which he joined at the age of eight under the tutelage of George McPhee, and studies on the University of Strathclyde’s BA Applied Music degree (2001-2005).

Upon graduating from that course, Kenneth embarked on a series of foreign adventures. On one occasion, he and a friend hiked across the Spanish Pyrenees while on another, he cycled alone to Russia. A further expedition saw Kenneth and a friend cycle across Syria, Jordan and part of Lebanon, seeing corners of the world and meeting people who, consciously or otherwise, have undoubtedly fed into the musician he has become.

“Those were amazing trips,” Kenneth said.

“Of anywhere I’ve been to, Syria was the best. The people were so nice and there were so many amazing things to see. I was there before the chaos which has followed but the country I saw was a million miles away from the way it’s portrayed on television.”

Upon returning, Kenneth was enjoying a successful career singing in commercial music, performing regularly with bands and living in relative comfort. “It was an exciting time. I was going on tours and keeping busy. After a while, I started doing less original material and more corporate work. It paid the bills but was less gratifying, for sure.”

The wedding performance, and the progress he had made in the build-up, convinced Kenneth to get in touch with Stephen Robertson, Head of Vocal Performance at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, for whom he arranged to sing. The feedback was positive; there was talent there, but much work to be done.

Cue the beginning of several years of study at Scotland’s national conservatoire, beginning with the Continuing Education programme. Suddenly, Kenneth had access to the institution; its teachers, facilities and the RCS community. A year later, he commenced studying the first of two Masters degrees under tenor, Iain Paton.

“Looking back, I wish I had made more of my Continuing Ed year,” Kenneth admitted. “I was still working a lot at that point so didn’t really soak up the full experience.

“Once I really started, there was a lot to learn. Many of my classmates had experienced RCS since they were undergraduates and had those years of development in the bag already.

“My technique was probably some way behind at the time but I didn’t regret it because I had been able to earn a living and gain some life experience. I just had to work hard to catch up.”

Among the performing highlights from Kenneth’s studies was a role as the Evangelist in Bach’s St John Passion, which he undertook in his final year. He was also a soloist in Ūhte, a considerable collaboration between the BBC and several departments across the Royal Conservatoire. Those years, and the opportunities available, were key to his development.

Kenneth said: “RCS was brilliant. There is often a perception that you have to study in London but that just isn’t the case. The contact time is fantastic. There are so many opportunities at the Royal Conservatoire if you are willing to take them.

“When I was at RCS, I developed the ability to cover lots of music in a fairly short space of time. Projects and performances come thick and fast so having that skill is so beneficial.

“There is also the fact that the beating heart of the building is the café bar; you pretty much have to go through it to get anywhere. That means you are always developing those networks, getting to know people who will become colleagues and collaborators in years to come.”

Kenneth’s relationship with his alma mater didn’t end there. He returned as a member of staff, becoming a valuable part of the institution’s Artistic Planning team while enjoying a burgeoning freelance career as a performer.

In August 2018, he relocated to Copenhagen for his new adventure, joining Scandinavia’s leading opera company. While still settling in, it is a role he is enjoying a lot. Kenneth added: “I really like Copenhagen, It reminds me of Edinburgh in some ways. The city isn’t too big but there’s a confidence about it. It’s very picturesque, a great place to live and work.

“I cycle to work and as I reach the beautiful, modern opera house which sits at the water’s edge, I think about how lucky I am. It’s only for a year at present but it’s the next stage of my adventure and I’m so excited to be here.”

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