Samantha Jade Ash
Something else you need to know about Samantha Jade Ash is that she’s a very upfront girl. I remember once on one of Twitter’s Follow Friday’s (#FF), Samantha said to me, “Hello, Operatoonity. Why didn’t you include me in your Follow Friday list?”
Good question, Samantha. I doubt when I was seventeen, that I would have had as much confidence as she has interacting with adults. In fact, I rarely talked with adults. But Samantha’s a pro at it.
I knew there was something different about Samantha, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then she posted a link to her blog on Twitter, and I read her profile. That’s when I learned that Samantha was, in fact, totally blind.
I could scarcely believe it. This self-assured young lady who is a presence on Twitter is physically blind? I also listened to her audio clip. Right then I decided that when soprano month came around next spring, I would ask Samantha if I could interview her on “Operatoonity.”
And thankfully, she said yes. Because when you read this, you’ll be inspired by her story, just as I was. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll feel a stronger connection to things that are good and right in this world, as I did, courtesy of one Samantha Jade Ash.
Samantha, welcome to “Operatoonity!” So nice to have a chance to talk with you.
I grew up on the Isle of Man, a small island in the British Isles in between England and Ireland. I still live there and am planning to move to a college for the blind in Hereford, in the UK, this September, all going well, and if I get the grant.
When did you begin singing? Did you start with lessons? Do you still take lessons?
I still take lessons. I started singing when I was about 4 years old, just singing little pop songs, that were on the television or radio at the time, and used to make my own, about how good my Nana was on the keyboard.
I then was recommended by the teachers, that I join the Manx Youth Choir, at the age of 13. I joined, with the prospect of the choir going on tour. I was placed in the mezzo soprano section. I knew that straight away, it was too low for me and did not show my voice at its potential. Luckily for me, the sopranos were just a seat down, so I moved, without them noticing, telling them, “I am soprano, not mezzo.”
How and when did you become interested in opera?
My granddad always used to play records of Maria Callas, Joan Sutherland, Jose Carraras, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, and all the greats. He would play Mario Lanza at Christmas and there is one song that will always be sentimental of his, and that is “Guardian Angels Around my Bed.” It was a prayer written by Harpo Marx, and Mario Lanza sang it. Every year, I would be in my room, and the sound of his voice would drift up through the house from the record player downstairs.
I’ve been exposed to opera from the age of just a few months probably, but never really knew I loved it. The real time I discovered my true love for it, was Christmas 2007. Just before, I had suffered with a cold. I started to get pains in my back, which became worse over the week. One day, I could not move or breathe properly, as the pain was too bad. I was rushed to hospital and told I had pleurisy, where the lining of the lungs is inflamed. Sitting at home, recovering on Christmas day, I was called by Nana to listen to Andrea Bocelli‘s story on the television. I tried to decline, but came down. Immediately, when I heard his voice, I burst in to tears. I ran from the room, grabbed the CD I had received for Christmas, ran to the stereo in my room and played it, trying to find the song, “Melodrama” that made me cry and want to be like him so much. I found it and burst into song, as if I knew the tune already.
"Time to Say Goodbye"
That is also where my dream for a singing career started. a few months after, I was told I could sing for the school album. I decided I would do it. Running into the music room, I discovered they were writing their own songs, which I knew I could not and would not want to do. I asked, “Could I sing in Italian?” The teacher agreed. That was when I sang “Time to say Goodbye.” After that, I was stopped on the streets, being asked “Are you the young singer that sang ‘Time to Say Goodbye?’ My son showed it to me and that was the only song he loved on the entire album.”
Over and over I was stopped by different people. It felt really strange at first, but then as I got used to it, I enjoyed it. I was prepared to talk and still, always am.
Have you been to the opera? If so, what are your favorite artists or recordings?
I have never been to the opera, but it is something on the list; I need to sort out, if I want to become an opera singer.
My favourite tenors and sopranos are: Maria Callas, Dame Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Montserat Caballé, Renata Tebaldi, Renata Scotto, Angela Gheorghiu, Jose Carraras, Placido Domingo, Juan Diego Florez, Rolando Villazon, Andrea Bocelli, and many more of them which would be too much to write probably.
You’ve been blind since birth, yet you started playing piano at age two? How did you learn to play at such a young age? Do you still play?
I was born premature at 25 weeks, weighing 1 pound 11 ounces. I was one of a twin, but sadly after I was born, just two days later my twin, Benjamin, who was 1 pound 14 died. I was diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, where your retinas become detached. My nana started encouraging me to play the piano, as it would strengthen my fingers for a braille machine. I was given small keyboards, and got very cross when I couldn’t play with two hands on them. I used to say: “Why can’t I play with two hands on this thing! I want one where I can play with two hands.”
I just knew my way round the keys because of the sounds and always found middle C, 4th octave before playing anything. I went in to a solo performance contest at primary school. I played a prelude by Bach. They had a hard decision to make between a friend of mine, who danced or me. When they said my name, that I won the cup, I was stunned. I told my friend to go and get it as she had won not me. She said: “No go up there Samantha! You’ve won!” Lifting the cup, I was amazed and in tears.
Do all your hobbies revolve around music?
Samantha speaks a little Urdu, a language of India and Pakistan
No, my hobbies are also languages, geology, the likes of plate tectonics, volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornados, and things like that. I also love languages, and speak French, German, Spanish, Italian, a little Urdu, and a tiny bit of Chinese and Russian. My German and Spanish need improving though as they are very bad! I also like the human body and medical things as well. I watched documentaries when I was younger about how everything worked.
What are your goals regarding your music studies?
I would, after I have been to a college for the blind to develop my independence, like to study at a music conservatory and gain a degree in music and then opera, then, if singing works out, go and perform around the world in places like the Metropolitan Opera, the Royal Opera House in London, and go to all the huge arenas, too. I would also like to give master classes and teach people, passing my passion for singing and opera on to them too.
You have a blog, and I met you on Twitter. I know you also use Skype. How are you able to use the technology or how is it adapted for you since you can’t see?
I use a screen reader, a piece of software that speaks items on the screen. For my mac, I use Voiceover, which is built in to the machine, for my net-book I use Jaws, a screen reader you unfortunately have to buy. I just use the keyboard for everything and learn all the shortcut keys.
It’s been said that when one sense is taken away, people often have heightened development of others. Has this happened to you?
Yes, my hearing is more acute then any of my other senses. I notice that more so when onstage. All of a sudden, it’s like someone has turned up the volume, and I can hear almost everything around the room, even a pin drop.
If you could tell people one thing about yourself you would like them to know, what would it be?
I would let my voice tell you that one thing, I love singing and would love to become an opera singer. If you listen to me singing, that’s when you’ll know.
Here is an audio clip of Samantha practicing an aria at home with a backing track done by an orchestra:
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You can follow Samantha Jade Ash on Twitter @SamanthaAsh1993 and read her new blog at http://samantha-samanthajade.blogspot.com/. And Samantha, it is my sincere wish that you have a chance to see a live opera performance sooner rather than later!