Transcript: Janine Roebuck – Opera Singer (Max#49)

Max#49: Janine Roebuck
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Kevin: Welcome to Maximise Potential the podcast to educate and motivate through a range of original interviews designed to help you maximise your potential.  Brought to you in association with the award winning recruitment group Jenrick.

Welcome back to Episode 49 of the Maximise Potential Podcast.  In today’s episode we are extremely fortunate to be sitting with one of Britain’s most respected and popular Opera Singers, Janine Roebuck.
With a versatile mezzo-soprano voice, Janine has played leading roles in some of the world’s most famous opera houses enchanting audiences with her emotional performances, yet throughout the years Janine, like so many other people who appear on this Podcast, has faced a multitude of challenges as she has strived to follow her passion and maximise her potential.
Here is Janine to share her story with us all on the Maximise Potential Podcast …

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Janine welcome to the Maximise Potential Podcast.

Janine: Thank you it’s lovely to be here.

Kevin: I am going to start today with a statement that you made some time ago on one of your interviews. It is ‘If you have the ability, determination and the passion there is no limit to what you can achieve in your life.’ What prompted you to make that statement and why is that statement so important to you?

Janine: I think it’s probably because I’m a severely deaf professional singer. My hearing loss is hereditary and progressive. So from the age of about 11 I wanted to sing. The age of 18 I was told that that would not be possible. But I decided that I would have a bash anyway hoping very much that technology of hearing aids would keep up with me and apart from a couple of sticky moments that has been the case so I have been incredibly blessed. But that is not to say that it’s been an easy ride it’s actually been very tricky and frightening but I’m so glad I persevered.

Kevin: And let’s just dwell on that moment for a second just to let the audience catch up with what you’ve described. You’re an opera singer by trade. That’s your job as much as it’s your passion. This is your job, your livelihood and it has been your profession throughout your entire adult life and yet you are deaf which to most people would think surely the two are completely incomprehendable. You can’t have those two; surely you must be able to hear in order to sing.

Janine: Well I do have two rather wonderful state of the art digital hearing aids to help me. Without that I couldn’t possibly function. In terms of conversation I lip read a great deal as well. I have to see someone’s face. But when it comes to singer I guess, I’m not quite sure actually how I have done it, I think it’s one’s instinct for survival isn’t it really. It’s a question of okay I can’t do that anymore having trouble to hear, what resources do I have to enable me to continue regardless. So you learn little sort of tricks to help you sort of function I suppose. But it is not always at conscious levels you know it’s just a subconscious thing. It’s the way I learnt to lip read, I didn’t go to classes, I just do it because that’s what I needed to do to hear.

Kevin: I think I read somewhere that you refer to them as your coping techniques is that correct?

Janine: Yes coping techniques. I suppose so. And it is very stressful. I am not going to minimise that, it is very stressful. Singing itself is a very stressful thing and you need to be as calm and relaxed as possible in order to sing well. And if you’ve got the added pressure of am I going to be able to hear my notes in the orchestra and is the acoustic of this particular venue going to be helpful or a hindrance then it makes you particularly anxious and that’s not, that’s really not a good thing at all. I mean I am actually now profoundly deaf in the higher frequencies and things are getting more difficult I won’t deny that. But I am still here and I am still singing.

Kevin: Take everybody back. You mentioned it was hereditary. So let’s go back to your childhood, you weren’t born deaf. Did you come from a musical family?

Janine: Well my parents used to love to sing. My mother used to sing gloriously off key when she got to the top notes but my father did have a very beautiful voice and his mother she always wanted him to have his voice trained. I think that was an encouragement because as he got deafer over the years he was such a wonderful role model. He was so calm and so accepting, nothing was a problem. So I think that was a wonderful example that he gave me. But he still was able to sing beautifully even when he got older so I suppose I thought oh well hopefully I’ll have the same, I’ll be blessed in the same way.

Kevin: How many people told you that once they began to understand about the deafness and how it was affecting you that you couldn’t become a professional singer?

Janine: Well it was one audiologist when I was 18 at university. I had just been singing Pamena in the Magic Flute and he said just keep it as a hobby because with your particular hearing loss a career in music won’t be a possibility. And I sobbed for days. I really was devastated. So then I decided that I wanted to do it anyway.

Kevin: What made you decide?

Janine: Oh such a deep love of doing it. Singing for me is such a wonderful way of expressing your feelings. For me it’s sort of primal urge to communicate, share your feelings with others and I always thought that if one person in the audience was moved to tears or to laughter by something that I had done you know my job would have been well done. But I only really ever told a few people because I was so terrified that people would stop employing me.

Kevin: I was just going to ask you about that. I was interested to ask you how long you kept your deafness hidden for and equally associated with that how you felt inside because you knew you were hiding it and then to understand how you felt afterwards when you actually did start letting people know.

Janine: I felt liberated actually. Afraid but liberated.

Kevin: So talk about the before how did you?

Janine: The before. Well anything you keep in the dark sort of festers and has a power over you, a power for ill really doesn’t it. But of course it was a very real concern and people weren’t as enlightened as they are now and if I were to turn round at the start of my career and say ‘oh I have just got two hearing aids and I can’t hear very well’ they would have said ‘maybe we won’t be renewing her contract’ you know so you had to be really careful or at least I felt I had to be. Again you know that was part of the anxiety, part of the stress and the fear. And fear is not a good feeling to have at all. So when I did finally pluck up the courage to speak out I did it very publicly on radio I think on Woman’s Hour. I thought well that’s it now burnt your bridges girl. No going back there. And it was a really nice sense of oh that feels better. You know it’s all out in the open now. Because you know people, it’s inevitable you know it’s like asking somebody to take a risk, to take a gamble and people want something that is not going to pose a problem, not going to be a risk.

Kevin: I find people spend so much time on trying to construct an outward persona that they believe is the persona that other people want to see.

Janine: That’s true.

Kevin: And they are so scared to just.

Janine: Be themselves.

Kevin: Be them and I guess that’s where I was going with this question to say how much effort was it for you to be this outward persona when you couldn’t tell them about who the real Janine was?

Janine: It’s a strain. It’s a huge strain. But I do think it comes with age, you know as you get older you think – oh I don’t care what people think, here I am warts and all love me or hate me – and I think that’s something that you develop with age.

Kevin: Do you think it’s just you begin to trust yourself a lot more or?

Janine: I think you just begin to think well you know I’m okay, I’m not perfect but I’m okay and I should be proud of what I’ve achieved and I want to sort of share that with other people really and say you know there is no limit to what you can be and do if you have that tremendous desire. And if you invest all of yourself into it you know and sometimes it’s not something you have the control over. You know you long to achieve something so much that it’s not as though you have a choice really. You know I went to university, I studied French at university and my mum wanted me to follow a different path if you will but I just so longed to sing. A couple of times when there had been problems and I though oh well this is it now the end I’m going to have to pack up now. And then, well for instance I actually had cancer about 17 years ago and the chemotherapy worsened my hearing so I thought oh well that’s it now up the creek without a paddle. But my audiologist was able to get me a stronger hearing aid with a stronger component and I was able to function again so. So just when you think.

Kevin: Sorry I’m smirking but it’s just the way you referred to cancer and you referred to the worst thing there was the fact that it impacted your hearing even more. I was just thinking that I haven’t heard too many people refer to cancer in that capacity.

Janine: Well it was my first fear. I remember them saying ‘we want to radiate your ovaries as well as a precaution’ I actually had breast cancer and a mastectomy and I said ‘oh no you can’t do that’. He said, ‘well it’s just a precaution.’ I said, ‘no, no, no it might affect my voice, it might affect my voice.’ So that was really very much the front of my mind I didn’t want that to be taken away from me. And in fact it was very important for me psychologically while I was going through the chemo and radio to still keep singing. I did some Friday Night is Music Night for example on the radio. It was important to have something that I could still do even though I was quite weak and you know not feeling brilliant.

Kevin: What did it give you?

Janine: I suppose a sense that it was normal, it was all alright I could still do what I loved doing most in the world and so it gave me hope I think and confidence to fight to get better in order to continue doing that. Which is you know a really great thing. My cancer was very advanced and very aggressive. At the Marsden now they call me their little miracle because I am still alive and kicking 17 years later. And I do very, very strongly believe that the mind plays a part in us becoming sick and can also play an incredibly powerful part in us being healed. I believe that with my whole heart. And I think, what was important for me to understand because I needed to make changes in my life, you know there is no point having cancer and then going back to the same old life there was a reason. You know life is actually, it looks like it’s not a very good thing but it’s actually a rather wonderful thing, it’s a wakeup call, it’s a ‘oh I don’t want to die just yet I’ve got so much to do’ and so it can act as a real spur you know. Please, please don’t be tempted to give up, roll over and give up, you know fight it with tooth and nail, fight it. You know send it packing. You have that power; you have that power to fight that and to win.

Kevin: Did you find you told a lot more people about your deafness after your cancer?

Janine: Yes I did, probably.

Kevin: I’m just trying to work out, did you find that that experience unshackled you, took away whatever you were still.

Janine: I’m just trying to think of the timescale, do you know I can’t remember, I can’t remember. I think probably that was part of the self acceptance you know and the fact that actually I’ve got, I just had the sense that I had a lot to achieve in life, there is a lot I want to do and I’m not going until I’ve done it. We have to fight for what we want in life. We have to fight. I think life is a fight, can be a fight for so many people and you know the worry is that we give up don’t we because it all looks too difficult. But unless you fight you don’t achieve great things. You don’t overcome, I think we have the ability to stand something on its head and out of bad we can bring good.

Kevin: Why do you have that mind set as opposed to the giving up mind set?

Janine: Why do I have it?

Kevin: Yeah why do you fight?

Janine: You see I remember people saying to me when I had the cancer ‘oh you know you’re so brave’. And I thought what a silly statement because there is no option. For me it was a question of well I have to obviously. Actually that’s not strictly true now I think about it; initially I was choosing the hymns for my funeral. For a little, thank you for reminding me of that, initially I was thinking oh well this is it then. Yes I did for about three months I was sort of very accepting of it all you know and thinking well this is it. And then I thought well hang on a minute I don’t want to go just yet and that’s when I began to really fight for my life. And yes I have had to fight, it’s been hard being a deaf singer but oh my goodness what joy, what fulfilment, oh it’s just been the most wonderful life and I’m so thrilled that. I’m singing actually better than ever and I just love it. I was just recently involved with a very interesting project at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and it was an opera about the life of a deaf American astronomer Annie Jump-Cannon. It was called ‘A Quiet Life’ it was really a work in progress. And this was a piece that was specifically written for people who can hear and people who can’t which I thought was a really novel and lovely idea. And so it was to all intensive purposes a multi sensory opera. So there was a lot of visual and vibrational and you know they put microphones under water. But was particularly lovely about it from my point of view it was all quite last minute and I was getting, I love to be very well prepared you know months and months in advance and I’m calm. And this was all being written rather at the last minute and pages were coming to me a couple of days before the performance and I was having kittens really and I thought ‘oh my gosh I can’t do this’ I was completely out of my comfort zone and frightened again. But was so lovely they said to me look we know you are going to have problems, we’ve asked you to be in this because you are deaf. The whole group of people, everybody in the band, the other performers they were all wanting to make a difference to the lives of deaf people and I just thought that was quite extraordinary and very gifted people and very kind lovely talented people. So if I had a problem they said great now then let’s see how we can fix it and solve it. And that for me was such a novelty and it was, I couldn’t even trust it for a few days I thought well they don’t really mean that I’m being a nuisance and I can’t pitch that note because I can’t hear it. But they were phenomenal you know. I was pushed out of my comfort zone but my goodness my confidence you know shot off into the stratosphere as a result of having been involved with that so it was really exciting. So it was a real challenge and exciting.

Kevin: Interesting so actually in doing something that normally you would go completely the opposite way from this has actually been one of the best experiences.

Janine: It was actually it was really uplifting yeah, really good. So it’s that whole thing of you know you realise you’ve become a little bit safe, you’ve become a little bit complacement you know you think ah well I’ll only do this and perhaps I won’t do that. But actually it was quite thrilling to be, to be challenged and to say do you want to take this challenge on. I was in two minds, I was hesitating thinking I think I’ll tell them I can’t do this, I think I’ll just tell them I’m backing out you know. But I didn’t and thank god I didn’t because it bought its own rewards.

Kevin: Do you get nervous when you go on stage?

Janine: Absolutely you do and you should get nervous. I remember my lovely old teacher Freddie Cox used to say to me it’s like a current of electricity that you need that energy but it’s a question of whether you plug it into a reliable source and use it well or whether you stick your finger in the socket and you know give yourself a nasty shock and.

Kevin: Go on just explain what does that mean to you by plugging it into a useful source more than electrocuting yourself?

Janine: I suppose it is going with that heightened sense of nervousness energy, its harnessing it isn’t it. So you need to have that wonderful energy, the excitement you know when you hear the audiences settling in their seats and chattering and rustling their sweetie papers you know, and the orchestra tuning up, it all adds to the high sense of oh it’s so exciting. But of course you are frightened, of course you are. If you became complacent you would be an absolutely ghastly performer I think. I think it sort of, perhaps subconsciously but pushing out your aura round about you and the energy that you have. We all have energy within us and it’s a question of whether we let that energy consume us or whether we think it’s worth sharing with other people. Yeah I think that’s what it’s about and I suppose that is true of anything in life it’s not just in terms of theatrical performance is it, it’s a question of whoever you meet, whoever you engage with that you as well as I hope being a good listener that you feel that you have something positive and life enhancing to share with them. Life is wonderful and we should enjoy it as fully as we possibly can. We have a right to expect good things and to call good things into being in our own lives but I think there is nothing more rewarding than wanting to share that with other people and to make life a better place for them as well. I think that’s important because by focusing too much on ourselves life becomes very narrow doesn’t it, a bit boring sometimes. Whereas reaching out to others just opens up a whole new dimension really. And it’s all about putting back into the world a little of the joy that you have got out of it isn’t it.

Kevin: And we are going to come on to how much broader your life is now. It’s not just Janine opera singer its much broader with how much involvement you have within promoting equality within the deaf community. And more so about taking away boundaries and beliefs that you are limited.

Janine: Yes reducing the stigma of deafness and um.

Kevin: I mean let’s talk about, you were one of the key speakers at the Conservative Party Conference very recently and I think that was kind of the key part of your message wasn’t it.

Janine: Yes one of their fringe events and it was ‘Learning to live with a lifelong disability’ and living well with that. That’s the key isn’t it you know you can limp along and exist but can you live fully, are you prepared to make that happen, are you going to seize all the opportunities there are and do the research you need to do to find out what’s available to enhance your life and to make it possible for you to still be in the loop.

Kevin: And what messages do you like to put out to people when you are making these speeches?

Janine: Well one of the things I like to say is when somebody tells you that you can’t do something do it anyway.

Kevin: Tell us more about that, go on.

Janine: Well I just think that’s important you know I did that I suppose. People don’t know, people don’t know they think that they know what problems you may have but they don’t know that you have the capacity within as indeed all human beings have to be overcomers. I am a great believer that what to some people might be a stumbling block can equally be a stepping stone. It’s just really a question of your frame of mind. It’s a choice isn’t it. You chose whether you feel overwhelmed by something and aren’t able to do anything about it or whether you feel that you can take control of it and improve things. You fight for what you want I guess.

Kevin: Do you find that its maybe fuelled your motivation or given extra meaning to when you are actually performing on stage?

Janine: I think it’s nice to feel that you’re intention is to be a force of good in the world. It’s just having that desire isn’t it to share what you have learnt with others I suppose.

Kevin: Where do you go when you sing?

Janine: Where do I go?

Kevin: Yeah.

Janine: It’s almost a spiritual experience when all the factors are right you know you are almost transported really to another plane. I remember singing Revel’s “Scheherazade” in France and there was a swell of music behind me from the orchestra and I almost floated off. You know it was the most powerful and moving thing. I mean music is such an amazing medium really and it’s a lovely way of sharing all that we are and all that we feel and all that we fear.

Kevin: Does it just feel as though you are not even conscious of what you are doing?

Janine: Well I think it has a very spiritual dimension and I think that as a result I have a very spiritual dimension. I think I’ve always got a very enquiring mind, I always think that there is life beyond, life after. I mean the whole word inspiration comes from spirits, so I think you know we are mind, body, soul and spirit and I think when you are singing they all just sort of come to life. They all come together and it’s a really beautiful thing.

Kevin: Definitely. My final question for today because we have covered so much. The objective of this Podcast is to help people maximise their own potential so if there is one gem of information that you take with you all the time or you refer to all the time what would the one part that you would like to share with others be?

Janine: I think possibly, certainly something that means a great deal to me is literally treat people the way that you would like them to treat you. I think if you lose sight of that in any profession or any walk of life then I think you’ve lost something really vitally important. So I think if you have that core of wishing to treat others as you would have them treat you then I think you can’t go far wrong really.

Kevin: Janine Roebuck thank you very much for your time today and for appearing on the Maximise Potential Podcast.

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Kevin: We have interviewed so many people now on the Podcast who have all overcome challenges of their own in order to enable them to realise their goals and in many cases their dreams. Janine’s story epitomises this in a truly awe inspiring manor. Personally I am still coming to terms with the magnitude of what Janine has overcome to realise her dreams and how her career is now enabling her to make positive changes to how those with hearing and other disabilities view their own limitations. Janine has given us all so much to consider within our own lives especially her observation that she accepts that life is a challenge and that we all have a choice to either embrace this fact and push through it or just bow to it. Janine also reiterated the importance of sharing your life with others and reaching out to others. Putting back into the world as a way of giving thanks for what the world has given us. Janine from all of us at Maximise Potential thank you very much for joining us and sharing your story with our audience.

On to some news updates. The big announcement is that Maximise Potential has just been crowned European Podcast of the Year. The awards were entered by over 2,800 podcasts throughout Europe and the panel of judges received over 2.5 million votes making this one of the most highly coveted awards in the podcast industry. Quite simply we won this award because of the incredible support from our audience and also our sponsors the Jenrick Recruitment Group. So I would like to thank you personally for both making this moment a reality. Thank you.

I have left links in the show notes for you to learn more about Janine, the European Podcast Awards and of course our sponsors Jenrick so please come and explore these at your leisure.

That is about us done for this episode please come and connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or send us an email at podcast@maximisepotential.co.uk leave a comment, make suggestions, suggest an interview or quite simply leave a review on iTunes. All of it is great to receive and helps us incredibly steer the podcast for the future. Instead of our usual music from Xerces to finish with today I am very pleased to leave you with two tracks from Janine. The first is ‘I dreamed a dream’ from Les Miserable’s and the second will be from Handel’s Messiah.

Thank you for tuning in and we will be back very soon with another episode from the Maximise Potential Podcast. Bye Bye for now.

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Interview transcription kindly provided by “AP Transcription” – for more details, please contact: peterstranscription@gmail.com

About the Author

Hi, I'm Tom Burkinshaw, I co-produce the Maximise Your Potential Podcast and Website and my goal is to help as many people as possible be successful in life, careers and business, by offering free coaching and mentoring through a series of unique interviews from inspiring people who all display exceptional self-belief, mental toughness and desire to achieve. Thank you for taking the time to visit Maximise Your Potential!