Darell Moulton, one of the UK's top piano experts and singing teachers, has died at the age of 79 after living with motor neurone disease.
Darell was an extraordinary human being who I was proud to have as a friend. He was a ‘wise' man, and when I first met him his softly spoken advice for a young man like me, straight out of university and thrown into London's theatre scene, was very welcome and greatly needed.
His curriculum is quite astounding.
He taught voice at London's famous Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) for 50 years from 1971; he was the voice co-ordinator at the Webber Douglas Academy for 30 years; and had a brief three-year stint teaching at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama too. He also acted as vocal advisor to the Arts Council of Great Britain for five years. His students at RADA included Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes, Timothy Spall, Mark Rylance, Tom Hiddleston, Clive Owen, Matthew Rhys, Sean Bean, Ben Wishaw… with half a century of teaching there, it became a very long list.
He had many strings to his bow (an apt cue to mention that he studied violin at the Royal College of Music, together with piano and singing) and he was the piano consultant for 30 years at the RCM and the Royal College of Organists. My home piano was re-hammered, regulated, and tuned by Darell.
He was born in Carlton, a ten-minute drive east of Nottingham. He began tuning pianos as a teenager and in 1963 happened to tune one for a concert in Nottingham given by the pianist Vladimir Ashkenazy. Ashkenazy was so delighted with the condition of the instrument that he asked to meet its tuner after the concert and was amazed when the 19-year-old Darell presented himself.
Half a century later, in 2015, Darell was at the RCM to see his nephew, Chris Moulton, receive an HonRCM (honorary member of the Royal College of Music – an award that Darell himself had received from the then Prince Charles in 1994) and Ashkenazy was there, along with Kiri Te Kanawa and Thomas Allen, to receive an honorary doctorate. Darell went up to him to let him know how his comments back in the 1960s had changed the course of his life, and Ashkenazy replied, “So you were that young man!” He remembered the occasion well because he was on his first tour after winning the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition in 1962 and was also about to play Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in public for the first time. He was nervous, though he relaxed somewhat when he placed his hands on the keys of such a well-prepared piano – he clearly remembered the young man who had tuned it.
Although Darell excelled in his piano work – Yamaha even flew him to Japan to advise on the training of piano technicians – it was teaching vocal technique that gave him the greatest satisfaction.
Darell had also started singing in his teens, and his piano teacher encouraged him to apply to go to the RCM as a singer. In the mid-70s he was singing roles such as Nemorino in L'elisir d'amore and Ferrando in Così fan tutte but he realised that his voice wouldn't permit him to sing the roles he dearly wanted to: the Alfredos and Rudolfos. However, his rich, mellifluous tenor voice was suited for parts in oratorios and so he maintained a concert and recital career alongside his ‘day job' until the mid-90s.
Darell wrote, “Vocal ‘technique' is nothing more than instinct (sometimes purely animal) that must be understood, then released; the prime reason being that the actor may then have free self-expression and, consequently, communication.”
His success working with acting students brought about an unexpected additional career in his sixties and seventies when he was employed by a major management training company to run courses in Personal Presence, taking him around the world from Frankfurt to Bermuda.
Although he was regarded in awe by many of his students – which had to do with his seductive voice and no-nonsense approach where everything was explained, and problems were solved – he was against the ‘guru' status that some teachers cultivated.
“There are many so-called ‘methods': countless teachers claim theirs is the ‘only way' to sing or speak but rely on ‘tricks' and ‘imagery' that can often verge on mysticism! At best, this may give a student instant, but temporary, ‘bravura' to get up and ‘sell' a performance; but without any real knowledge, or acquired skills, to use in the future. At worst, the student may become so totally dependent on the teacher, that a consultation is required before every performance.”
So he didn't teach a ‘method', but said: “My aim is to enable the individual student to understand how to analyse and constructively use these ‘methods' of vocal production; to make sense of them in the context and perspective of striving towards strengthening the total understanding of the voice and the simplicity and security of true vocal emission.”
Darell died in the arms of his partner, the bass Graeme Broadbent – they were together for forty years.
Darell Moulton 22 February 1944 – 23 May 2023
Darell Moulton – an obituary by Philip Raymond on behalf of the singing team at RADA
It was with a very heavy heart that we heard that Darell Moulton passed away on Tuesday night, May 23rd. He died very peacefully after a relatively brief but very difficult struggle with Motor Neurone Disease. We are terribly saddened by this news and send our deepest condolences to his loving partner Graeme and his family.
Darell retired from the Academy in 2021, after more than 50 years of singing teaching on the acting course. The singing team, as well as many other members of staff have missed his radiant presence since he left, as well as his artistic and creative inspiration, his effortless friendship and not least his incredible smile.
So how can you evaluate 50 years teaching at RADA? The striking element is at first glance the longevity which, in itself, is remarkable! But anyone who had the pleasure of knowing Darell would understand that, like the man himself, there were so many layers to explore to get to a deeper and more rounded understanding of the life and career of our remarkable friend. His all-too-evident passion for teaching at RADA will no doubt remain unsurmountable and this was supported by a steadfast reassuring strength of character, first-class musicianship, an innate understanding of theatre and an overarching and indefatigably nurturing soul. His influence and inspiration on all around him cannot be underestimated, from generations of his students who would become some of the world's finest actors such as Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Ralph Fiennes, David Harewood, Tom Hiddleston … and the list goes on and on, to a body of staff extending way beyond the confines of the singing team. He would be, more often than not, found in the staff room engaging with great delight and energy, latterly belying his long service, in philosophy, pedagogy, music, theatre and his rich and eclectic life experiences; making a trifle for Katia Ricciarelli and José Carreras was my personal favourite of the more trivial and light-hearted anecdotes which punctuated his seriously insightful nature. He had a thirst for knowledge which was truly amazing. The story of his personal journey could only really have been understood by him, but he was proud to share that he came from humble, working-class roots and that his development as a young child was in many ways very slow. It was through a great deal of personal strength, he would share, and also in having the luck to stumble upon a champion who recognised and nurtured his extraordinary talents that he entered the Royal College of Music as a classical singer and went on to become a singing teacher at Rada alongside his professional performing career. As with many great artists his teaching work was truly authentic and came from a place that he knew well. As a teacher he would, with such strength and compassion support the student who was struggling, nurturing them through. History would have it that in so many instances he was afforded a quiet delight when learning that their career was going from strength to strength.
Darell leaves a truly remarkable legacy to the art of singing on stage. He is a key pedagogue in a chain which goes back to very early singing on stage, the birth of Drama Per Musica. His work, in line with what we believe were the principles of the development of this art form was focussed on the relationship of speech and song. He believed that we shouldn't try to sing, as such, or make a singing tone as an end in itself but that singing was in fact a fundamental form of human communication. He showed his students and debated with his peers on how to work on the instrument to find freedom of expression and how to fully engage the imagination when exploring great works of art. This philosophy is sadly not a standard in the wider world of singing on stage. Students of singing, he would say, are all too often taught how to “make vocal tone” or indeed, produce the aesthetically “best” tone in the belief system of their teacher and this would be explained to them as “technique”. This did not sit at all well with Darell as he believed that it created fundamental inequity, valuing certain vocal qualities above others. He taught everyone that their voice was as valid as any other and it was the job of the student to work on it, guided by a set of simple principles, so that it could authentically express the highest musical and theatrical values.
Darell's extraordinary body of work at RADA was like much fine art – invaluable. He was also a so very dear friend to many of the RADA staff past and present and a much respected and loved teacher of many of our nation's finest actors.
Rest In Peace Dearest Darell
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.