You’d be hard-pressed to find a person with a more extensive resume than Jacques Snyman’s. Certified personal trainer, rugby player, bodybuilder, model, countertenor.
That’s right, countertenor.
“The best way to describe it is that I sound like a female when I sing, but I still have my testicles,” says Snyman.
Not a talent you would expect from a bodybuilding rugby star, but Snyman says he is working on changing peoples’ perceptions.
Right now I seem to attract attention first because of my physique, and second because of my signing voice, he says. I’d like to get to a point where I can swing that the other way around.
And soon, locals will get a chance to see and hear Snyman for himself. He’s set to return to St. Petersburg for a performance at The Studio @ 620 at 5 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 26.The concert is titled “A Musical Look at Love Thru the Ages.”
Growing up in South Africa, Snyman says he came from a family of both athletes and musicians, so his love of both sports and music wasn’t out of place in his world. However, not everyone shared his viewpoint.
I would have loved to have singing lessons growing up, but I was quite frankly told, “You play sports. There’s no room in our realm for people who play sports,” he says.
So he immersed himself in sports, and undeterred by the naysayers, sang in his school choir. He won national championships in gymnastics, long jump, and triple jump, and competed on an international level in the decathlon, and by the time he reached college age, he was a seasoned athlete. But he still had music in his heart.
I continued studying sports when I went to university, but in the meantime I also really loved singing, and so when I went to university, I wanted to take it a little more seriously, he says. But unfortunately, I was sort of pushed out of it because, you know, “rugby players aren’t supposed to sing.”
His rugby and track and field pursuits eventually led him to London, where a friend introduced him to opera. He was immediately hooked and went on to sing in a handful of amateur operas as a tenor.
Then three years ago Snyman discovered a hidden talent.
I was in South Africa on an extended vacation, and one of my friends was in a male vocal group there, and they were sitting around a piano one random Monday night and he said, “Come join us,” says Snyman.
“So we were all having a good time, and we did this song and I was just fooling around and started singing in my high register, and the guy playing the piano turned around and said, ‘Who the hell was that?'”
Snyman began to nurture his newly found talent and began performing with the male vocal group. One of Snyman’s solos ended up on tape, and he decided to take a chance.
I have a friend who is a vocal instructor at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and I sent him the recording of my solo performance, he says.He emailed me back and said, “Oh my God, will you come back to London?” He felt that there might really be a future for me in this path.
When he again found himself in London, he met and studied with under the tutelage of his friend. But Snyman didn’t want to limit himself to only vocal lessons-he wanted to study music.
“Unfortunately in Europe, you can’t study music at a conservatory if you’re older than 35,” he says.
“Being a few years over the limit didn’t stop him from forging ahead to his goal,”he just found a different route to get there.
I looked around and a friend of mine suggested I try America for my studies, and I ended up at Broward College in Fort Lauderdale,” Snyman says.
It was in Ft. Lauderdale that Snyman met his husband, and they together relocated to Baltimore, Md., where Snyman now studies at the Anne Arundel Community College.
“I think because of my sports background, I have a bit of a “do-or-die” kind of attitude, so I either do something 110%, or not at all”, he says. “There’s no midway, I don’t like doing things half-assed, I think that’s a waste of everyone’s time.”
Snyman sees the cultural differences between the various places he has lived, studied, and traveled, and finds those differences intriguing.
“The music I perform is baroque music, which isn’t often performed in America and then being a countertenor adds to that, he says. But I just came back from Italy where I did a tour, and I was in a bar and the bartender asked what I was doing in Italy, and I told her I was a singer, and she asked what voice I was, if I was a tenor, baritone. I said “No, and she asked, “Oh so are you a counter-tenor then?”
“In Europe it isn’t that unusual for someone to sound like me, it’s a little better known than with American audiences.”
However, he knows that history plays a role in cultural awareness.
America and South Africa, they’re both very young cultures compared to places like Europe. So when it comes to opera and music, although in some places it’s 200 year old music, you go to Italy and sing music from 1500,says Snyman. The cultural attitude of America is very similar to that of South Africa, and it’s one of exclusivity, in a way.
“If you don’t have a degree, you can’t sing here or there, If you don’t have this degree, you’re not going to perform at this place or that place. Really it does’t matter. It’s a question of can you sing? Can you perform? That’s what it is supposed to be about.”
But his goal isn’t only to entertain; he also seeks to bring a message against bullying.
“I believe we are on this earth to teach people something, and to learn something from other people,” he says. These days it’s a little easier for younger generations to be out, there isn’t such an enormous stigma like there used to be. However, there still is the problem of bullying, and often times kids will choose to stay in the closet because they want to avoid being bullied.
“And I know it isn’t like that for everyone, and it isn’t just a problem in the LGBT community. People can be bullied for being a redhead, for wearing glasses. But because of my connection within the LGBT community that is where I started with it.”
Snyman hopes he can further develop his message by partnering with an anti-bullying charity for his upcoming show and future performances.
“I want to do more with it, I want to eventually go into schools and talk to kids about bullying,” he says. ” It’s something I’m still working on.”
And that will add yet another accomplishment to the resume.
WHO: Jacques Snyman
WHAT: “A Musical Look At Love Thru the Ages”
WHERE: The Studio@620, St. Petersburg
WHEN: 5 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 26
TICKETS: $25 at TheStudioAt620.org