Barry Snell from RNIB Connect Radio speaks with Victoria Oruwari. Victoria recently appeared on BBC’s music programme All Together Now, where she won the heats and made it through to the finals this Saturday.
Hello Victoria! So tell us, how did this all come about?
Last year, I saw that BBC One was auditioning musicians for a new show. I thought I would just go along to audition and see what would come of it. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So I went and auditioned in October. I had to go through so many stages and they kept whittling it down. When I was told that I was going to be on the show it was a massive shock!
For anyone that hasn’t watched the show yet, can you please explain the format?
All Together Now is a music show with a twist. It has 100 judges who are all musicians and they sit in an arrangement that’s like a massive wall. They have a buzzer in front of them and when you sing, if you have moved them enough, they will push their buzzer (their light lights up) and they stand up to sing with you. The more people who do this, the better marks you get. So in my case, I had 95 of the 100 people get up and that was the highest for that heat, so I got through to the final.
Because you don’t have the visual clues, were you aware people were standing for you?
It just got louder and louder, but if I was to be really honest, I decided just to focus on singing in tune. When I came out on stage at the beginning, it was silent. The first thing that crossed my mind was “Oh my God am I naked?” Normally when I come out to sing, people are clapping, but it was just really quiet. I had to pinch myself to make sure no one was staring in horror.
The song you performed Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music, why did you pick that one?
That song for me is a song of freedom; it’s a song of hope. Despite everything I have been through, it reminds me I can do something with my life and I can move on. When I was little, I remember watching the Sound of Music when I still was able to see. When the Von Trapp family climb that mountain to get away from the people that were going to hurt them, it gave me such a feeling of exhilaration. I remember clapping and saying “Go on! Don’t let them stop you!” That song was playing in the background and although I was only five-and-a-half, I knew they were going somewhere they were going to be happy.
Are you able to tell us what happens next in the show?
Tune in 7.15pm on Saturday to find out! So many amazing people made it to the finals and I have my money on quite a few contenders who I think might win. All of us will be singing a different song on the night too.
Taking you back to when you first lost your sight, is it correct that you were born partially sighted?
Yes I was partially sighted as a child and I was about four or five when my sight started getting a little bit blurry. The doctor said I had cataracts that they had to remove and unfortunately the doctor who was trusted with that process did a bit of a bad job of it and detached my retina in the process. I was flown from Nigeria to England for the doctors here to take a look and they said to leave things as they were. But then some doctors from America said to my family “Bring her here, we can sort it – we’ve got the best technology and this and that”, so any parent hearing that would want to do anything, you know? So they cobbled their money together to take me to America and one operation led to another and I found myself not able to see at all.
So how did you get into music?
I was always singing as a child. I didn’t get formal training, but I did have piano lessons. I was always being asked to sing for the school and we went to so many prestigious venues. When I was 11, my mum decided that she wanted me to stop because she thought that I was being exploited. I didn’t really know what the word meant at the time. She thought that I should focus on my studies, so I did. When I came to England at age 18, I noticed there were a lot of music classes at my college and I wanted to be part of that. I decided to do Music A-Level and that’s when I started to have classical lessons. And the rest is history. These days I direct choirs and I teach on a one-to-one basis and in workshops.
What is it like to conduct a choir without any sight?
You tend to use your ears a lot when you’re leading a choir, because you’re listening to recognise people who are struggling with a part and who aren’t. I try and devise ways I can talk to the choir with my face and my eyes. Even though I can’t see them, as they get to know me, they get to know what I mean when I make a face at them. I also use my hands to communicate. I’ll open my palm and face it to the ceiling when I want them to go higher and I’ll turn my palms down to go lower. I wouldn’t call it real conducting, but it’s a sort of non-verbal communication.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m currently studying psychotherapy part time. It’s something I’ve always been interested in; wanting to understand the impact of disability on the mind and the social impact of it. I felt the need to study something that might enable me to contribute in other ways to my community. I also want to work a lot more with my pianist, Kevin Satizabal, who’s visually impaired too. I was introduced to him in 2015 and we’re hoping to do a concert sometime before the end of this year.
For anyone who’s going through difficult times due to their sight loss at the moment, what advice would you give to them?
Don’t give up and don’t stop talking, because one day somebody will listen.
We wish Victoria the best of luck for her next performance on All Together Now!