Unusual training for the barber shop singer
Stephen O’Connell owes his success in barbershop to years of playing sport.
The Aotea College singer plays underwater hockey between barbershop competitions and said that learning how to hold his breath for prolonged periods had helped him perfect those long notes.
Stephen, 17, grew up in a musical family and started singing in church as a youngster.
Before turning to barbershop three years ago, he was part of the school drama club and had dabbled in rowing.
‘‘It was kind of a spur of the moment decision. I needed to do something and thought, ‘Why not?’ and haven’t stopped since,’’ Stephen said.
‘‘I’d always been interested in singing, but had never had an opportunity to explore that side of performing. This has opened up the door to what I can do.’’
Stephen said that with barbershop he had to rely on his ability to hold his breath, just as he did in underwater hockey.
The sport taught him how to take deeper breaths, which helped him hold notes longer and not pass out.
‘‘If you’re fit, your body holds more oxygen. I just saw it as a way to improve.’’ Inside barbershop, Stephen is a bass. ‘‘It’s the lowest part and besides the lead singer, I’m the one you hear the most.’’
His dedication to barbershop meant Stephen practised every lunchtime as well as after school in the lead-up to competitions.
‘‘Every year I’ve been involved, we’ve qualified for nationals. It’s a pretty good feeling.’’
Stephen said at the moment he was working towards nationals in Hamilton in September.
He said the goal was to score well so that they could qualify for the next international competition. ‘‘That would be quite cool.’’ In preparation for the nationals, Stephen and the other singers will work with teachers at the school to ensure they are in sync and harmonising together.
‘‘They help us with our singing and technique, but it’s up to us to put their advice to work.’’
Stephen intends to continue his singing and would be interested in joining Vocal FX, the Wellington chorus that produced the Musical Island Boys.
‘‘I see a lot of potential there, so that’s my goal,’’ he said.
Aotea College principal Kate Gainsford said Stephen had real discipline with his singing.
She said barbershop was a big thing at the college and that for the past four years at least, the school team had made the nationals.
Stephen hasn’t let his underwater hockey drop and is now training for a regional event.