This interview took place online on 13 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate Honey Rouhani.
Ian Pace: I am very pleased to introduce you all to distinguished British-Iranian soprano Honey Rouhani Barbaro. Honey graduated from the BMus course at City in 2011, and since has won various prizes and pursued an important career as an opera singer, singing such roles as Despina in Cosi fan tutti, Mimi in La bohème and Tosca in the opera of that name. Her website is below.
City, and what this has meant in terms of your subsequent career?
Honey Rouhani: Hi Ian, so wonderful to be speaking with you here. And as always a pleasure to be an alumni of City University. I was on the BMus performance degree at City and throughout the 3 years I spent there, I learnt more about music than I ever did before and after my time. As an Opera Singer I soon realised that just having the knowledge of singing and performance is not enough to have a successful career. I learnt so much about the history of music, not only Western Classical music but different ethnic groups and cultural backgrounds. In particular I loved the Ethnomusicology and Music reception.
IP: How did the study of those different musical traditions affect how you thought about music as a whole?
HR: Coming from a different culture myself, it was so wonderful to learn so much about other cultures and their importance in what we call World Music today. The importance of connecting our world with the power of Music was the most important part of my learning.
IP: Tell me about the study of music reception for you?
HR: Music reception focused on the various events that occurred after a particular piece was premiered or performed for the first time. I was so fascinated to learn that all these events and issues like people leaving the concert hall, the social conventions etc were not just particular to one genre but could be seen in a spectrum of all musical genres. I in particular remember Bizet’s Carmen and Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
IP: Two very different examples! But both with their own sets of conventions for both musicians and listeners, in terms of listening and wider behaviour?
HR: For example, in terms of Bizet’s Carmen, the convention of going to the theatre to see something was a family event. People would bring picnics and enjoy family time whilst seeing something on stage. However this was the first time at the Opéra Comique in Paris that there was a murder scene, and people left the theatre. Many believe that this was one of the reasons that Bizet died 3 months later, as he was terribly heart broken after his premiere.
IP: Whereas if they had been at the main Opéra (which now combines the Opéra-Garnier and Opéra-Bastille) in Paris, murders on stage would have been commonplace. If only Bizet had had an inkling that his opera would go on to be one of the most successful of all time.
HR: Absolutely. now every time I perform Carmen I have that in mind.
IP: Tell me some more about your experiences of performance at City?
HR: I had a great time being a part of both the Chamber choir and the a cappella group led by the wonderful Alexander Lingas called Civitas. Both taught me so much about musicianship, tone, and controlling vibrato.
IP: The music you would have sung with Civitas would have been of a wholly different nature to what you do now as an opera singer?
HR: Totally. We mainly worked on Gregorian chant and polyphony from the Greek orthodox church.
IP: A repertoire which is likely to be quite unfamiliar to many at undergraduate level, I would think? But what attracted you in that music?
HR: I learnt so much from this group, about sight-singing, being able to sing in an ensemble without necessarily being on the melody line and learning to hold your tune whilst 15 other singers are singing different lines around you. I loved the music because it was sacred.
IP: Fantastic. What do you think are amongst the most important skills worth developing during university-level musical study?
HR: The history of Western Classical Music just changed my life. I still have all my notes as well as the big book with all the post its that I can refer to anytime I want. In my career there has been many times that I’ve wanted to understand the reasons behind a composers thinking, to be able to interpret it in the right way. And I’ve gone back to my book and my notes and almost every time solved the issue.
IP: You could certainly have studied at either a university or a conservatoire. What made you choose a university department?
HR: I really recommend broadening ones horizons to different genres. When I first came to see City on an open day, I saw myself living the next 3 years of my life at City. I had heard so much about City university’s music department and had a couple of friends who had already studied there. I also wanted to have an academic knowledge as well as performance knowledge and I truly got the best of both worlds
IP: What would be your advice to any at age 18 nowadays who is thinking about pursuing musical study further?
HR: I think the best advice to the young students would be to really understand their love for music and why they are pursuing it as opposed to pursuing it as a hobby or simply as a means to gain a bachelor’s degree. The music business is not a joke, it’s full of hard work and frustrating moments, so you really need to love it
IP: Could you give us some links to hear you sing (it would be great to talk about some concerts, but understandably most performances are on hold for the majority of musicians during lockdown)?
HR: Sure, you can find some recordings on my website www.honeyrouhani.co.uk, as well as IGTV on Scenarialtd page. My performance diary for 2020 has a big red cross on it at the moment. However I’m lucky enough to be teaching and hopefully inspiring the next generations.
IP: Honey, thank you so much. We look forward to welcoming you back to City soon!
HR: It was absolutely my pleasure. Thank you so much for having me and good luck to all starting this year.