Magazine article Management Today

Giving Voice to One's Passions

Magazine article Management Today

Giving Voice to One's Passions

Article excerpt

On the stage of London's Barbican Hall, Sir Michael Perry began to recall some rather more exotic platforms. 'During my time in Buenos Aires, I enjoyed a standing ovation at the majestic Teatro Colon after Purcell's Fairy Queen. True, I was alongside 100 other people but I was thrilled out of my pants.' No need, then, to ask if the former chairman of Unilever's interest in choral music means more than just a listener's love and knowledge of the subject. Not only does he sing, as a bass, in choirs, he even does some conducting, if time permits.

Alas, it seldom does. 'When I landed up as chairman of Unilever, there were very few chances. I was a member of the Bach Choir briefly, but I was unable to make the statutory three-quarters of rehearsals or even any of the concerts. The director, Sir David Willcocks, was very understanding but in the end I realised it was all a bit silly.'

Perry is relaxed and ebullient as he tells how he discovered singing relatively late. Even at Oxford, with its great choral tradition, Perry took little notice of 'the curious goings-on in chapel'. It was only later he discovered that the voice was something that could be used without real training and at a sophisticated level. 'It happened when I was working in Bangkok, of all places. I fell under the spell of a brilliant young man- the marketing director of the local Shell subsidiary. He drew me into music and singing in his local church choir.' Perry, as part of a mainly expatriate choral society in the late 1960s, performed Bach's St John Passion, and, he says, 'it really went from there. To sing a St John in a place like Bangkok where nothing like that had ever happened before was pure magic. We were doing Bach in the jungle, or at least surrounded by it.'

Singing in the jungle may seem extreme but Perry firmly believes that the location can bring an extra frisson to music-making. 'I've been unmoved by technically perfect performances of Bach's B minor Mass in London,' he says, 'but I'll never forget the experience of hearing it during my time in Tokyo. Or the performance of it in Buenos Aires, conducted by a Roman Catholic priest, which had spirituality oozing out of every single line. …

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