Born in London in 1991, Harry Sever showed musical talent at an early age, becoming a Winchester Quirister at the age of 8 and culminating in the BBC Radio 2 Young Choristers of the Year competition, in which he sang against hundreds of other competitors to win the prestigious title of Choir Boy of the Year, 2003, at the age of 11. Having studied under a Choral Scholarship at The Pilgrims' School in Winchester, Harry was Head Quirister of the Winchester College Chapel Choir, and from September 2004, took up musical and academic scholarships at Winchester College.
In addition to his concert performances, Harry has also featured in a number of broadcasts, including BBC Radio 2 'Easter Glory' (April 2004), BBC Radio 3's Proms series (July 2003), BBC Radio 2's 'Sunday Half Hour' (December 2003, January 2004, August 2004 and December 2004) and BBC Radio 4's morning services (December 2003 and January 2004). Harry has also given spoken interviews on BBC Radio 2 in May 2004 and on BBC Southern Counties in November 2004. In July 2003, Harry featured in a live broadcast of the Royal Promenade from the Royal Albert Hall, which was shown on BBC4 with highlights on BBC1. He also took part in Songs of Praise's Ascension Day programme in May this year, and has appeared live on Czech national television as part of a tour to the country in 2002.Harry recently sang at the Variety Club's tribute lunch to Esther Rantzen, OBE, joining Katherine Jenkins as a guest artist and joined Sir Cliff Richard and Olivia Newton-John in an evening at Hampton Court Palace in aid of the Cliff Richard Tennis Foundation in December 2004.
Over the summer of 2004, he took part in the recording of Fauré's Requiem with the Boys Air Choir (which was released on CD & video in summer 2004),and recorded Hear My Prayer with the Winchester College Chapel Choir. He recently recorded a solo album of English songs with pianist Robert Bottone which was released in July 2005 and will also be recording some tracks on 'From Innocence to Age' with Colin Upton and Charles Mauleverer in May 2005. He was principal soloist on the Boys Air Choir tour to Japan of December 2004 and has subsequently sung at a tsunami relief concert with the Burrowes family in January 2005, in which he sang with Connor, Patrick and Elizabeth Burrowes. In October 2004, he played the part of Miles in The Turn of the Screw, for Cambridge University Opera Society and also sang the solo in Chichester Psalms at the Barbican. He sang Tolga Kashif's Ave Maria in the Classic Response concert at the Royal Albert Hall in March 2005 in aid of SOS Children's charity. He is also really looking forward to playing the role of 1st boy in Glyndebourne's summer season of 'The Magic Flute' .
Boy Choir Magazine caught up with Harry on his fall break from school, and while he was supposed to be resting, he agreed to talk to us!
BCM: Harry Sever, it is a great pleasure to have you here - welcome to Boy Choir Magazine!
HS: Well, thank you for having me.
BCM: At 15 years of age, your resume should make any retired musician proud. You have won awards and have performed as a soloist all over the world. Yet, instead of dwelling on your long past, may we look at the 15 year old Harry Sever of the present instead? Is that okay?
HS: Yes, I think its great!
BCM: Letís focus on the right now. The theme of our issue is ďCelebrating the Anglican Choral TraditionĒ and you are definitely a product of the Anglican mold, having started out as a Quirister at Winchester College. Have you ever considered the fact that it was the Anglican choral tradition gave you a place to start your remarkable career?
HS: Well, definitely, from the choral tradition you get basic singing technique and from that you can start working on more soloistic stuff. But before you have the general technique for that, you canít build on that. But it definitely gives you a rock upon which you can build your singing career.
BCM: You are now just beyond the boy choir phase of your music career having recently embarked upon the long process of the dreaded voice change and maturation. There are a whole lot of choir boys who live in fear and dread of that day when their voices change. Did you feel any similar sort of anxiety in anticipation of the inevitable change?
HS: Well not really because essentially the technique that you use is the same after your voice breaks and before it. So as long as you consolidate that technique then you can use that to build this new voice. Whereas, if you havenít learned it, then itís more difficult. But I sort of practiced it before so itís easy to build on it.
BCM: There are going to be a lot of boys out there who are going to be happy to hear that, Harry! There is still some considerable controversy about the best way to manage the changing boyís voice. What sort of advice were you given by your mentors and were you prepared in any way in advance? Can you give other boys in the same position any good advice and hope to cling to?
HS: Well, I think that the main issue is that it has to settle before you really start using it. A voice change is a very complex thing. For some people it can go very quickly. But for others, it can take a while. So you need to essentially let it settle first Ė a little bit. And then you can build on that. But you need to essentially keep singing, really. You need to know where your voice is at. Then, from there, you can see where it ends up. But as long as you keep singing and trying to work out where your voice is lying, then it is easy to understand it.
BCM: As a young man with some maturity behind you, is there anything you would have liked to have done differently with any of those 15 years? Would you have worked harder or would you have relaxed and played more?
HS: The great thing about being at a choir school, such as the one in Winchester, is that there is a really good balance of time. You can do as much sports as music. So you have a great balance between them Ė youíve got an equilibrium. People think itís all singing Ė but, in fact, itís not all singing. Thereís as much sports and other stuff to do as well. And you get as much play time and work time as any other schoolboy in the country. Itís really balanced. Itís great!
BCM: Because of your intense schedule and bookings and music recording - did it ever seem like just a job or a chore? Do you ever feel like you would rather be doing something else?
HS: The thing is, itís such a great experience to do all this music Ė and the great thing about it is that it doesnít take up a huge amount of time. So even though youíre doing these amazing things, itís not hugely time consuming, so thereís still time to do sports and other activities Ė so itís not a chore at all. Itís a great thing to do Ė itís really fun.
BCM: You have been a member of many choirs including the Boyís Air Choir. What was it like being a member of that group?
HS: Other than the Boyís Air Choir, you donít get to sing with the other choristers around the country. Thatís the one time that you really bring together these singers and itís so exhilarating to sing with these brilliant choristers from around the country. Itís great!
BCM: There is one of the readers of this magazine that asked me specifically to ask this next question Ė so I will: Do you still maintain contact with the Burrowes brothers or any of the other members?
HS: Well, thatís quite funny, actually. Recently, Connor (Burrowes) asked me to do a recording for film score. Iíve done a few for him before. But this is where my voice is changing, so I said unfortunately, no, I canít because my voice isnít really up to it. But my brother, who is a chorister at the moment, in the same choir that I wasÖ I said that my brother who has a great voice would (agree). In fact, tomorrow, heís going to record at the film score what I was going to do with Conner. Itís just sort of a psychic turn of events! Itís brilliant.
BCM: Thatís awesome! What is your brotherís name and how old is he?
HS: Heís Hugo and heís 11. Heís in his penultimate year in the choir. Heís going to sing tomorrow which should be really fun Ė and Iím going to watch him!
BCM: Thatís great! You have performed with a number of famous musicians including popular artists like Sir Cliff Richard, Olivia Newton-John, Katherine Jenkins and Aled Jones, as well as many deeply respected classical musicians. Which of those have made the deepest impression on you?
HS: Last year we were doing Mozartís Magic Flute Glyndebourne Opera. The singer that sang Papagano was Chris Maltman who is a sort of well known baritone Ė and he is such a powerful and versatile musician, so in control of his voice, that I thought it is powerful and you can see how his singing works. He made a great impression.
BCM: If you had to choose one or two of your own personal highlights from your treble career, what would they be?
HS: Probably singing, ďHear My PrayerĒ. We did that last year in New York with the choir which was really fun. It was such a great performance. It was so fun to do it. And the other thing would probably be recording with Boys Air Choir and touring with them in Japan. Itís such a great bunch of guys. It was such a fun experience.
BCM: Let me ask a question that may be cheating here, but between the United States and Japan, which was the coolest for you?
HS: I donít think you can really compare them Ė theyíre so different. In Japan, there were these fans that just loved the whole idea of boys singing. Whereas in America, these people who came to the performance were musicians who understand the music, but who hadnít really experienced boys choir voices. They had heard (of) them Ė but there are not a huge number of them in America and they were really curious about it. Whereas in Japan, they were just sort of over the moon Ė it was amazing. But, theyíre not really comparable.
BCM: Thatís a really good answer. Youíve successfully preserved your fans in both countries with than answer.
HS: Iím glad!
BCM: In America, there is a cultural perception that a boy singing may not exactly be a cool thing to do, and therefore we have a hard time filling our choirs. From your perspective, is there also a similar issue in the UK? Or are there other reasons for the problems that British choirs are experiencing in chorister recruitment?
HS: I donít think thereís an attitude toward people singing in England because itís such a frequent occurrence. People are singing all across the country. And, as I said earlier, there is so much time to do other things like sports and academic work and just chilling with friends and whatever, that there is no real attitude towards it. Iím not sure about the problems that British choirs are experiencing. In the choir that I was (in) the people were very happy to do it because thereís no attitude towards it.
BCM: As well as singing, you are also involved in many other areas of music. Which particular aspects of your musicianship are on the go at the moment or are being planned for the future?
HS: Iím playing the piano a lot at the moment. About six months ago I played a Beethoven sonata and in a weekís time Iím playing Schumann's 'Papillons' at school in a concert. And also, Iíve just started conducting and thatís really an exciting experience, because Iíve never done anything like it before. In about six months time, Iíll be conducting two pieces at school again, which will be really fun. Iím just getting to know whatís itís like Ė but itís a great experience!
BCM: Harry, when did you start playing the piano?
HS: When I was four, I think, I started having lessons. Then I started doing grades with my teacher and since then Iíve started to play a lot more and recently Iíve started developing technique.
BCM: You know, Harry, Iím the father of five sons and at four years old, I kind of hear your mom involved in that somehow. Is that true?
HS: Yes, she is very keen to get us doing music Ė all of my siblings. My dad says he was a chorister one day, but I donít really believe that having heard him recently. He said he was a great singer, but Iím not sureÖ.
BCM: Oh my! Well, you know, your mom, Judy, is such a great person, I had to fit her into this interview somewhere. I hope youíll forgive me.
HS: Yes, certainlyÖ
BCM: If you could have the perfect life and anything you wanted, what would you be doing? For example, letís say a magic genie popped up and told you that you could have three wishes for your life right now. What would those be?
HS: For something that I would want to be doing Ė probably working in an opera house. Obviously, there are various different thing you can be doing, but either conducting or singing. I did an opera last year and the whole atmosphere is so relaxed and so exciting and they are such brilliant people that work there, I think it would be such a fun thing to do.
BCM: Most young men your age are buying CDs to fill their music shelves with. If I came over and scanned your shelves, what CDs would we find there? What music do you collect, Harry?
HS: There is inevitably some classical music, but not entirely. There is a lot of new music. There are some great new British bands. For example, there are the Libertines - Pete Dohertyís first band. Then there is Coldplay who are very, very good - the three albums that Iíve got are really brilliant. And then thereís the American Band, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who are just brilliant. I love them.
BCM: Thatís nice to know. How do you make every performance or recording session fresh and special? When you show up to do a recording, how do you get into it?
HS: Doing so many takes can sound dull and repetitive, but in fact, the music is written in such a way that there are a lot of different ways of actually performing it or singing it. So trying to bring out several different aspects each take in the music is a really exciting thing to do because you can try and work different bits of the music which gives such a more rounded outcome.
BCM: I have done my homework on Harry Sever and I found out that you enjoy theater, films, and opera, of course. Am I to anticipate that we might see Harry Sever on the stage or the big screen one of these days?
HS: Actually, itís funny that you say that. Iím performing in a play in a few months time at school called Not About Nightingales by Tennessee Williams.
BCM: An American! Tennessee Williams is an American.
HS: Yes, Iím trying to perfect my American accent at the moment. I think itís meant to be deep south, but Iím toning thatÖ
BCM: Uh ohÖ Iím from the deep southÖ I can give you some coaching on that.
HS: Yeah, thatíll be great! Then next year, Iím directing a play with a friend of mine, but Iím not sure which one yet Ė possibly the Caretaker, but we havenít decided with one yet. Thatíll be really great, Iíd love to do it.
BCM: You know Harry, I believe that you probably watch a movie once and awhile, is that right?
HS: I do, yes.
BCM: Of all the movies that youíve seen recently, which one of those do you wish you had been cast in?
HS: Well, actually Iíve been watching quite a lot of (the television serial) 24 Ė the series that is set in real time. I know it sounds childish, but Iíd love to play the main character in that. Heís sort of an action hero.
BCM: Itís not childish at all, Harry.
HS: I know that playing an action hero sounds not too matureÖ
BCM: Well, we all sit around in our armchairs doing that, you know.
HS: Yes, Jack Bower, who is the main character, he can do anything. Heís just trained in absolutely everything. Iíd love to play him because he has such a great role.
BCM: I also found out through my snooping around, Harry, that youíre fond of travel. Whatís the absolute most interesting place youíve been?
HS: Each year we go to Kenya because my parents got married there. We go there every year with family and friends. Itís so relaxing Ė itís so sunny and sort of chilled out Ė we have such a great time there. Weíll be going in two months time and Iím really looking forward to that.
BCM: If you could choose where you would like to go besides that, would America or Florida be on your list perhaps?
HS: Yes, definitely. We went to New York, as I said, last year, and that was such a brilliant experience because I had never been there before. My dad has been there a few times and he said that it is a great place to go. So Iíd quite like to go back to there because itís just amazing and different (compared) to England, away.
BCM: I expect that every 15 year old young man has a long list of things they want to do in life. I know as a 15 year old I certainly did! What is at the top of yours?
HS: Again, Iíd like to do lots of plays because theyíre sort of inspirational things and having seen loads as a child, Iíd like to do more of those. Iíve met so many amazing people thorough music. And to meet more amazing peopleÖ Last year, for example, I went to see Domingo singing at the Proms in London Ė and to meet someone like him would be inspirational Ė it would be really great.
BCM: I know that you like music Ė thatís obvious. But do you have any other private passion in life, Harry? Is it politics? Is it sports? Is it good food? What is your intense passion?
HS: As I said, I really enjoy sports. I like football Ė or soccer in American (laughter) - and rugby. Itís just so great to get out onto a pitch and run riot for an hour or two. Itís so relaxing, anyway.
BCM: So you are into rugby?
HS: Yes. Definitely. I donít play at the moment, but I played a lot at prep school and itís such a great game.
BCM: It will also drain all your energy in a big hurry.
HS: Yes it does, but I think thatís quite a good thing once and awhile. If youíre sitting inside you get a lot of energy blocked out, and it gets rid of it, which is useful.
BCM: Absolutely! You know, Harry, there are a lot of choir directors all over the world who read this magazine. As a chorister fresh out of the choir boy system, the whole experience is fresh in your memory. What advice would you like to give them? What should they do more effectively or differently to make their boys and their lives better?
HS: I think what is absolutely crucial Ė very important - is to get a balance between music and other things. Because if the choir boyís life is completely built up by music, then it becomes quite monotonous and boring. Whereas if he has loads of other things to do like sports and other things, then it is really fun. The balance is the most important thing, I think.
BCM: And there are a lot of choir boys who read this as well. What advice would you give the new guys or the guys in the middle that may make their careers better?
HS: I think probably the most important thing is to not always sing the same kind of music. Because if you sing choral music, you get this voice that develops that is very choral. Whereas if you sing other kinds of music, you get this voice that has a more rounded tone to your voice. So, for example, if you sing Baroque music, you get one specific kind of tone Ė or classical. And then you can do secular music and pop music. Itís all good for your voice to get a more rounded tone and to get different kinds of music into it is great.
BCM: If we look at Harry Sever five years from now Ė ten years from now - what do you think youíll be doing, Harry?
HS: My plan for the moment Ė and itís obviously prone to change in the next week Ė I think what Iíd like to do is to read something other than music at University. Say, for example, I might read modern languages which I am a great fan of at school, and then after that go to music college to read music or perform. So that my career, when it came to that - it sounds so far in the future Ė so that I have an option between music and something else so that if music didnít work Ė if it failed - that I could always fall back onto that. Or, if I donít want to go into music at all, then I could go into the other thing that I read at the University.
BCM: Than sounds like a great plan! Harry, thank-you very much for your time and spending it with us today. And we want to wish you the best of luck in your life and in your career and we will certainly be looking for all those music productions that you have coming out in the near future and in the coming years.
HS: Thank-you very much!
To view a video of Harry Sever singing, click here.
Copyright (c) 2006 by Boy Choir Magazine and Quantum Editions