This interview took place online on 25 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate Bernice Chitiul.
Ian Pace: Today’s interview is with Bernice Chitiul, who graduated from the BMus programme in 2017. Bernice is an opera singer, who debuted as the Queen of the Night, in Mozart’s Magic Flute, with the Welsh National Opera Orchestra. She is also a pop singer and was a contestant in the Romanian National Selection for 5 consecutive years. She also works as a songwriter, Vocal/A Level & GCSE Teacher and music/video producer. See below for some links to films of Bernice.
(Bernice singing Vivaldi)
(A very different video from 2012)
IP: Bernice, it is great to see you again! Tell me some more about your musical background before you came to City? You were a renowned pop singer in Romania, then went to study at the Purcell School in London, yes?
Bernice Chitiul: My parents have been a source of musical inspiration since I was a child. They were a successful band until I arrived and ruined it all Of course the attention has shifted upon me ever since and my first original song was recorded by the time I was 4 years old entitled ”A Little Star”. I had a competition every week in Bucharest and for the rest of the days I would practice hard to get good results. I hardly had free time to spend with friends or for summer holidays. Even the Summer holiday was indeed spent at the sea side but for the Summer Contest that was happening there. This however implied that I would not be allowed to sunbathe, swim or enjoy the sea side because it would affect my singing performance as the salty air would affect my vocal folds Splendid. Most often competitions were on TV and I started making connections and so I was then invited to different Shows. Eventually I had to choose between X Factor and The Voice by the time I was called by the producers. This then led to the Eurovision Participations and slowly introduced my songwriting. On one of the shows I sang ”It is a man’s world” – James Brown & Pavarotti version which implied some classical singing too. I tried to experiment with classical singing back then, I fancied the idea of being an opera singer. One member of the jury said that If SHE could not combine both Pop and Opera singing techniques, she doubts that I will be able to. That was – funnily enough – the reason why I came to London and began my classical career To try and see if it indeed is true. I went to Purcell School – in 2013 I had my first classical performance at the Wigmore Hall, which gave me an incredible boost in classical singing, and then chose to study at City University of London to get my 3 years intake of musical ”food” Of course after a Master degree in Opera at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama let’s say that I master both pop and classical technique and yes, it is possible. It is thus best to believe in ourselves and work towards making our dream come true whatever that may be!
IP: How did you find the adjustment between the two very different types of singing, not least in terms of the physical requirements on the voice?
BC: I was so passionate about this aspect that I chose to reinforce the idea that a complete artist should be able to perform any type of music genre. I have outlined a journey from Pop to Jazz, Musical Theatre to Classical Singing in my major presentation at City University of London during my final year of study. I have explained the difference between the singing techniques and demonstrated it within a performance each. After doing my 5 years research, I then could shift from one technique to another easily. It feels like maths or music theory – once we use the perfect equation we will get the right result. Before I struggled having my larynx tired after singing only 20 minutes now I can sing as long as I wish and my voice will not get tired. Of course one needs to understand the difference between the tension on the vocal folds in both Pop and Opera.
IP: What made you choose City for your undergraduate studies?
BC: I chose City University because of the variety of modules it provides. The advanced Music Theory along with the Studio Recording/Music Production and Performance modules seemed to be just perfect for me. Also the Classical Style, 19th Century Opera Music and Composition module shaped my mindset completely to a higher level – just perfect for my next destination: Masters Degree.
IP: How did the ‘academic’ modules you studied (including studio-based ones) relate to what you were doing as a singer?
BC:The Music Theory module helped me understand the harmonic world and express myself better when talking about why the arias I sing the most are so touching. Also it enabled me to communicate with conductors and musicians in their musical language more efficiently. It enhanced my sight reading and not last, given that I am a songwriter too, I was eager to find smarter ways to compose music and approach interesting chord progressions.
The Composition and Studio Music Production added more boost to my songwriting and confidence.
The Classical Style module introduced me to relevant historic composers who made it in the music industry in a very clever way. One of the composers which had an impact on my songwriting and singing career was Haydn. He had to adapt to the English short and harmonically simple music, compose for the audience, sacrifice his vast harmonic knowledge to compose simple music, get the English audience’s attention/praise and progressively along the years make his compositions elaborate and longer. He educated his audience, and he succeeded. We all need to adapt and learn to smoothly elaborate any musical opportunity.
The 19th Century Opera Music module was a very concentrated package of information of about 60 renowned operas including music theory details, historic background, vocal analysis down to even the collaborative process between the composers and singers. This module was such a great knowledge boost to the Operatic world that was waiting for me just around the corner
IP: How about your ensemble work relating to African, Latin-American and other traditions?
BC: First of all I am very thankful for the fact that I was given the opportunity to coordinate my own ensemble module in the first year, called Berliozya. It gave me an opportunity to work with musicians, understand how to deal with individual musicians, organize/report rehearsal times and concerts. I also thank the members of the ensemble for choosing to be part of my module and taste how it would be like to work with other musicians within an ‘Opera House’ setting.
I totally loved being part of the Latin-American ensemble as I made progress in improvisation and complex rhythm writing. I also was very proud to find that later after I graduated I found myself knowing the most important songs that all the Latin American ensembles sing. I could very easily join them. It also helps me as a teacher – as I believe understanding rhythm is a key role in a successful musician and have a vast knowledge of Latin Music harmony too. Gamelan was a great ensemble to be in as well as it opened my musical horizons.
IP: What would you recommend to others thinking of studying music as part of higher education?
BC: I would recommend them to take into consideration that it may take a lot of effort, practice, sacrifice and patience. Sometimes we would have to adapt to new circumstances and if we do not have opportunities – to learn how to create them. For sure once one will finally make it, one will have a tremendous sense of achievement. City University of London would be the best place to study at as it is focused on individual careers with a lot of options to choose from. The teachers are interested in everyone’s achievement and very supportive.
IP: Bernice, thank you so much for this interview. Do you have any further links you would like to share with us?
BC: hank you for this conversation and thank you for keeping an eye on Alumni Students. Here is a performance I had at Eurovision 2018 in one of the most touristic salt mines in Romania. It was a great but also scary experience as this was a couple of miles underground. While I sang the high operatic parts my heart was in my mouth