In the Spotlight – Gareth Owens
In the first of a regular blog spot focusing on individual choir members and their LCV stories, we present to you Welsh tenor Gareth Owens. His tale is dramatic to say the least – in fact you may wish to have a handkerchief to hand.
Gareth doesn’t remember a time in his fifty years when he hasn’t been singing. “Being Welsh, it’s in my blood,” he explains. “I’ve sung with everything from school and chapel choirs to barbershop quartets”. He also has some competitive solo singing under his belt, mainly classical recitals, musical theatre or unaccompanied folk songs. So to say that he has been an asset to LCV is somewhat of an understatement!
Gareth’s home is in North Yorkshire, but he recently found himself based in London during the week, as Vice President of a financial services software company. He wanted to join a choir to help pass the time while away from his wife and family back in Yorkshire, so he searched on-line and came across LCV singing on YouTube. “They seemed to be having a good time, so I joined,” he explained. Little did he know at the time just how significantly LCV would feature in his life. Over to you, Gareth:
“In March 2015, I began a new job that involved staying in London to work on a client site from Tue-Thu most weeks. I started ‘shopping’ for a choir that rehearsed on Wednesdays and discovered LCV. From my very first night I knew: ‘this is it’. I quickly made firm friends, learned the repertoire and started going on Tuesdays as well. Before long, I was arranging my international business trips around choir rehearsals and concerts and was spending weekends in London so that I could sing with LCV at events such as the London Marathon.
On 23rd March 2016, a year into my membership, I was singing my heart out at the LCV City branch and then in the pub afterwards. Without warning, I collapsed with a very serious heart problem – an aortic dissection. I could so easily have died that night, but the love and support of my LCV friends is what I remember most. One called an ambulance and made me comfortable; another came with me and held my hand all the way to hospital; a third finished the bottle of wine I had ordered and then turned up at A&E to check how I was! A fourth used his professional expertise in the days that followed to help ensure that my affairs were in order (I really thought I was dying).
My days and spirits were lifted by messages and visits from lovely LCV members. One month on, I was able to sit up in my hospital bed and watch the Spring concert live on Periscope. Then, in the interval, some of my tenor mates Skyped me from the bar. The hospital can’t have been very clean, because a speck of dust got in my eye at that point! By May, I was well enough to have open heart surgery. I wasn’t allowed to leave London for some weeks afterwards, so my LCV friends visited me regularly at my temporary home in the Isle of Dogs. My vocal cords were damaged during the operation and I had no voice for four months, but my choir pals never lost faith and encouraged me in setting a goal of being able to sing again by Christmas 2016, which I achieved.
I’m so glad I was a part of the LCV community when all of this happened. The benefits of belonging are profoundly more life-enhancing than just having people to sing a few tunes with. Thank you – to the Swan family and to the whole of LCV. You’re very special and so much more than a great choir.”
Gareth’s ill health means that, sadly for us, he is no longer in London for work. Fortunately though, he does have a daughter here, giving him an excuse to pop down now and again. When he told me he was coming to London with his wife to celebrate his daughter’s 21st birthday, I invited them all to come to my studio for a photo shoot to mark the occasion.
To my surprise Gareth’s daughter, Sarah, arrived carrying a trumpet. I discovered that musical ability, and passion, runs in the Owens family, as she is an accomplished trumpet player who won a scholarship for a four-year Trumpet Performance degree at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music & Dance in Greenwich. Sarah is now in her third year and is playing with several well-known orchestras at some pretty impressive venues, including the Royal Albert Hall. She may still be young but she has a fanfare for HRH the Duchess of Cambridge under her belt, and last year she spent four months as an exchange student at the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy in Budapest. Gareth’s two sons are also musical: Jonny, 23, plays Euphonium as well as being a prize-winning Drum Major on the Yorkshire brass band scene. David, 19, plays trombone at Loughborough University with a group called Tuxedo Swing and sings with a university choir called LSU Sing. All of this makes Gareth one very proud dad!
It was a pleasure to photograph Gareth with his talented daughter on such a significant day alongside his lovely wife, Judith. Gareth is sorely missed at LCV, for his company as much as his vocal ability. But we’re glad that fateful night last year resulted in a happy ending, and that Gareth has reason to continue coming to London, to see Sarah perform. Which gives him a chance to catch up with us, and of course sing with us too.
You can find out more about Sarah Owens, Classical Trumpeter and where she is playing in London here: www.sarahowensmusic.com