Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be posting interviews so you can get to know members of The Toronto Consort. This inaugural post features John Pepper, an Artistic Associate who sings bass in the ensemble.
Hello! My name is John Pepper, and I am a bass vocalist. That means that I sing the most important line, and that I spend most of my time singing backup, although occasionally they let me step out and sing a tune.
How long have you been a professional musician?
My professional career started in 1971, when I joined Festival Singers of Canada. But I had had some paying gigs as early as 1966, when a folk group I was with was hired to entertain at a church social and I took home $7.50. By the way, we singers are tremendously grateful when anyone calls us “musicians”.
When did you decide to pursue music?
I don’t know; I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t singing. When I was 4 I would sing “Soliloquy” from Carousel for my parents’ guests, a 7-minute quasi-operatic scena; I don’t clearly recall this, but I can believe it, because when I start singing anything I tend to keep going until it’s over. But only when I was 12 did I start to study music and learn to read music notation.
What enticed you to your instrument/discipline?
My voice is my instrument, so rather than being enticed to it, I was stuck with it from birth. When my voice broke, it was interesting to find that I could sing lower than most of my associates and that this could sometimes be useful. On the other hand, because I love theatre, it was disappointing to learn over the years that my voice isn’t well suited to opera. But we must do what we can with the tools provided to us. What I love about the discipline of music is that even the drudgery is usually fun.
Why do you love Early Music Rep?
I first encountered early music when I was 16, in the form of the madrigals and other vocal music of the Renaissance. (Here’s one of the pieces I sang then, as performed by The Toronto Consort.) I fell in love with it at once for its clarity and complexity, and that love has broadened and deepened in the subsequent decades. Most of all, since it comes from so far in the past that there’s a lot we don’t know about it, I love that its practice is an unending search for what the experience of the music might have been when it was new. So at one and the same time it’s a contemporary creative activity and a unique way of communicating with the lives of real people several centuries ago.