I started to write this memoir when the COVID pandemic locked us all up in our homes in March 2020. It seemed as though I had been preparing for the task for the whole of my life as I had stored away everything that was needed. For example I had kept all my school reports, articles I had written, my exam papers, and more particularly all my diaries from my university days onwards. I discovered how relatively easy it is to remember the past in detail when you have all this information available to consult. The diaries may have contained nothing more than simple entries, revealing what would be happening on any specific day. But that was enough to open up memories of the past.
I have also kept every programme of every concert I have taken part in. The earliest was a tatty sheet of paper showing what was performed in a school concert in 1950 or thereabouts. Since then I have collected a whole store of information which has been tidied away in the loft for years, gathering dust: Newspaper cuttings containing reviews (good and bad), and photos of me in various opera roles. But in 2020 it suddenly proved a gold mine. My first task was to go through it all and put everything into an excel document on the computer. This contained information about date, place of performance, venue, work, and small details regarding conductor, orchestra, and performers, where they were available. This built into a huge data base, from which I could eventually extract the number of times I had performed various opera and oratorios. It certainly kept me out of mischief for three or so months when I would otherwise have been forced to twiddle my thumbs by the ongoing pandemic
Writing all this information up into a narrative has been a further nine months of pleasure. I am so glad that I have been able to do it for my children and grandchildren, so that they can get an idea of what I was doing in those days when performances throughout the U.K and Europe kept me away from home for so long. Here they will be able to learn about my time as a young chorister at Westminster Abbey, and how Field-Marshal Viscount Montgomery, the war hero, befriended me. They will learn that HRH Elizabeth the Queen Mother first introduced me to champagne! They will be able to see how various distinguished musicians took me under their wings and provided me with the self-confidence to commence my 53-year singing career. The descriptions of my work in Opera and classical concerts are peppered with anecdotes about amusing things (and accidents) that happened on and off stage – to me and my colleagues.
I am enormously lucky to have been always in work – though ill-health has occasionally dogged me. I have never baulked at hard work, and at the height of my career took on the many alternative opportunities that came my way. Thus I began a rewarding period re-editing and translating into English all of Bach’s choral works for one famous publishing house, and worked on the oratorios of Haydn for another. I took over a large Choral Society and helped it to grow in every way over a happy 12-year period. Concurrently I was busy in the summer months running a large Summer School for choirs and classical singers, which enabled me to put something back into the business that I love.
I must thank my wife, Penny, for being so supportive during the year that this memoir took to write, and letting me get on with it when I expect there were many other calls on my time. She has also been my excellent proof-reader, but plays a much more important role than that in the story of my life, beginning with the happy moment when opera brought us together one day in the 1980s.
Neil Jenkins May 2021Buy Now