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05 Mar 2019

Southbanker Image

High-rise singing

Since moving to Freshwater Place in 2012, career music teacher Gary May has privately trained up to six singers per day, five days a week from his apartment.

In a music teaching career that spans more than 40 years, Gary is one of the most sought after singing teachers in Australia. From classical and opera to pop and music theatre, he has trained some of the most talented performers from around the world.

So sought after is his expertise, he has been able to build a business where his clients now come to him! And while his daily singing lessons have come to the surprise of many of his neighbours over the years, he said the acoustics in his apartment surprisingly provided ideal conditions for his practice.

“Once I shut the door of my music room you can barely hear anything in the corridor. It’s so faint. I’ve never heard anybody complain and a lot of my neighbours know what I do in here now,” he said.

“I used to tell my students if they bump into anyone in the elevators not to tell that they’ve been coming here for singing lessons but I don’t need to bother any more!”

With little more than a piano and some sound panels, his corner apartment provides the perfect high-rise singing studio. And in a career that has taken him to all parts of the world, it’s little surprise that he has finally settled here in Southbank.

Gary first started singing as a seven year old and has been passionate about music ever since. He said that once his voice broke during adolescence, he knew that teaching, rather than singing was his true calling!

Originally from Dubbo in New South Wales, he trained in classical singing and piano at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, which led him into an extensive career working with opera companies, both as a coach and conductor.

During the 1980s, having spent extensive periods training and working between Italy and Australia, he would land his first role in Melbourne with the Victoria State Opera Company. And while he admitted it wasn’t his most enjoyed role, it represented a turning point for his teaching career.

“I wasn’t happy in the job but the great thing about it was the contacts it gave me,” he said.

“Within six months I had a great job set up teaching here. I was self-employed, I didn’t have to answer to anybody, I tripled my money and people in the arts aren’t terribly well paid so it was really good!”

While his true passion is training the operatic voice, he said that once he launched his own business demand for his services soon came flooding in from music theatre, cabaret and even pop singers.

And since then, he hasn’t looked back. Although while music teaching is what he is renowned for, he did share with Southbank Local News that he rose to temporary fame in 2000 for an infamous incident at a Barry Humphries show at the Princess Theatre.

Some readers might recall news at the time covering the story of a music teacher suing Mr Humphries for throwing a gladioli flower at him during a Dame Edna Everage show. You guessed it, that music teacher was Gary! While tossing flowers was part of Dame Edna’s act, the cut end of the stem nearly caused Gary permanent eye damage.

However, when he decided to launch legal action, he said he had no idea of the public reaction that would follow.

“My lawyer calls me one morning and said ‘Gary, you better go and buy a paper.’ There I am plastered on the front of the paper ‘Melbourne Singing Teacher Sues Barry Humphries’. They released it thinking that it would intimidate me to pull out,” he said.

“I thought I’m not going to be bullied because I was the one that was hurt. Within a few hours there were TV cameras at my place and I was in the middle of teaching.”

“Apparently after that he was just throwing them to the first few rows very softly but once my case made the news there were others who came forward saying they’d also been hurt. So I’m the one who put a stop to that!”

While the experience provided a rather unwelcome highlight, it did lead him to move overseas to London where he would meet his now husband Wayne and begin a new chapter in his life, which has also lead him to Southbank.

“I really like it here in Southbank,” he said. “I’ve gone in all sorts of different directions but I think I’m finally doing what I was meant to do. It took a while but I got there in the end!”

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