The healing power of music

Debbie Norman
Debbie Norman
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Hundreds of people will gather to hear Sheffield soprano Deboroah Norman sing in aid of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity. Catherine Scott meets her.

Sheffield opera singer Deborah Norman believes in giving something back.

“People with a musical talent are blessed and I believe have a duty not only to pass on their knowledge to others, but also to use their talent for good.”

To that end Deborah is appearing for the third time this weekend at the Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity Proms in the Park.

“I grew up in Sheffield and went to school there and knew of the great work done by Weston Park Hospital. It is a great afternoon, a real family affair which is lots of fun.”

As well as supporting Weston Park Hospital Deborah is involved with the charity Lost Chord which enlists professional musicians to work with dementia patients across South Yorkshire and beyond.

“I truly believe in the power of music, particularly classical music, to heal,” she says.

Deborah was born in Sheffield and attended Abbeydale Grange School in the city. She comes from a musical family and therefore it was always likely that she would follow a career in music, although it wasn’t until secondary school that she realised that career would be in singing.

“I came from a very musical family but nobody had been an opera singer before. I wasn’t a very good violinist and I was an average piano player, but I had a fantastic singing teacher John Shaw, who saw some potential in my voice and really mentored me.”

Deborah did A-level music at Langsett Music Centre, one of the settings for The Full Monty. After graduating from the University of Essex with an Honours degree in music, the soprano was offered a scholarship at the Royal College of Music.

She made her professional debut in 2000 as Maria in West Side Story at La Scala, Milan, and the Ljubljana Festival. In 2001 she made her debut at Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, singing Chloe in The Queen of Spades.

Although her singing career continued after the birth of her two daughters, she recalls changing her eldest daughter Emelia’s nappy on stage at the Royal Albert Hall, now they are 12 and 10 she says she doesn’t travel quite as much.

“I am still very busy doing concerts, especially with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and I also teach,” says the soprano. “But it isn’t as easy to travel now my daughters are older and I want to spend time with them.” She now lives in Nottingham and is passionate about getting more people, young and old, interested in opera.

“It does suffer from having an elitist label and I can see why, but it is unfair. Opera is a very expensive art form to put on and if you compare it to something like going to see a Premier League football match then it is not expensive. It is so important that we invest in the arts such as opera. We have such a wealth of talented singers in this country and yet many of them end up having to work abroad. When you go to Italy, Germany or France, places smaller than Sheffield have their own opera companies.”

Not only does she perform opera but she spends much of her time listening to it.

“When I am preparing for a role I listen to all my favourite classical opera singers from the 1950s and 1960s for days before hand and then enough is enough I have to do it my own way. But I also listen to what other opera I think it is important to keep up with what is happening in the opera world.”

Proms in the Park in aid of Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity takes place on Sunday from 2.30pm to 5.30pm at Losehill Hall YHA, Castleton, Hope Valley.

Gates open at 1pm for picnics. Advance tickets: £15 (concessions £13)

A fantastic line up, a great day out, and a very important cause. Family, friends, picnics and flags are all welcome.

For more information and for tickets visit http://wphcancercharity.org.uk/proms_in_the_peaks.html