Melbourne-based former Perth soprano Phoebe Deklerk is not your average classically trained singer. Not only does she sing at weddings and birthdays but her entertaining services extend to singing at funerals. You can catch Phoebe at her FRINGE WORLD show, Phoebe’s Fond Farewells: Everything you wanted to know about Funeral Songs but were afraid to ask! January 29-30, and February 1, 4-7 & 9 at Cheeky Sparrow. Phoebe Deklerk sat down with MICHELLE PHAN to discuss the shifting change in funerals and the specialty on personalising songs. A very unique lady, she was born in Japan, is a lover of cats and cooking, and a multi-hobbyist. Not as morbid as you might expect!
In your words, how would you explain your show in a nutshell?
It’s a cute, thought-provoking funeral themed cabaret that gets people thinking about what songs represent them.
Why the topic of funeral?
I’m a funeral singer and I really enjoy it, more than wedding singing to be honest. Funerals are a time we go inward and connect with ourselves, the world and our loved ones.
Where did you get the idea (light bulb moment) of personalising funeral songs?
It’s a part of the job. When I’m asked to sing at a funeral I always ask if the deceased had any favourite songs – what they listened to the most. The songs should reflect them and serve the guests.
You mentioned the Melbourne Fringe show where you last performed, how was that perceived, and can you share with us of any highlights experienced with people who attended your set?
The outcome of the show was funnier than I expected. It may be a ‘depressing’ theme, but it achieved my goal – people left thinking about their songs and how music can represent them. I found it endearing when an audience member told me that they shed tears of joy and sadness during the show.
What’s your ideal funeral; look, feel, and sound like?
I would love to be involved in a living funeral (a living funeral, also called a pre-funeral, or a life celebration is a funeral held for a living person; common for people that are terminally ill). It would allow me to get to know the person we’re celebrating. It’d be unique, personalised and there’d be something funny too. There’d be a dress theme or request, like blue shoes or something simple. Who knows, maybe theatre funerals might become a trend at some point!
My research tells me that you were born in Japan…
I was. I was born in Fukushima, where the nuclear power meltdown was situated. My family also lived on a tropical island called Ishigaki. I lived in Japan till I was six and when I came to Australia, I was called the Blonde Chinese Girl.
I also didn’t speak English, so I learnt it when we moved to Perth, not long after we came to Australia. My brother and I have non-Japanese names and so the Japanese locals found it difficult to pronounce them. My mum would introduce my brother as Tate, “said teh-toh, like Po-ta-to.” I then apparently took it a little far and introduced him as potato head in Japanese which doesn’t sound like Tate at all. Potato head is jagaimon-atama.
What’s a snapshot of Phoebe’s life – what is it like where you live and what’s your daily routine like?
I work full time on my business, which is all related to singing, from Tuesday to Saturday. I work well with routines so my mornings are the same. My health is very important to me as a healthy singer means a healthy career. I have two cats that I adore. Petting them is one of my favourite five minute breaks from working. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking for myself or for social events.
Melbourne is not the best place to move to from Perth. I had to buy a whole winter wardrobe and the weather is unpredictable. My main disappointment were the beaches, they’re not really beaches. I don’t think I’ll be able to go through another Melbourne winter.
Who inspires you?
Lots of people inspire me. (From) world renowned opera singers to people that I encounter every day. It’s not necessarily a status that inspires me, but the story behind it. I love it when people take a leap of faith and make things happen for them. I find this so inspiring and anyone can do it. I try to inspire myself. It’s one of my goals to inspire other people to do the things I want to be inspired to do. This probably sounds like a loop, but I want to give back and give more.
You recently received the Creativity Australia With One Voice grant, can you tell us about the community choir in Coburg, VIC?
It’s a small choir at the moment and we rehearse at a community house. Everyone gets supper afterwards and it’s a lot of fun. We sing songs like You Don’t Own Me and You Raise Me Up. The focus is really on engaging the community and bringing people together, the forum is singing and supper. We have our official launch when I come back from Perth, in February. I’m really excited to see how the choir can impact and involve the community.
Do you have any other secret hobbies we should know about?
(Laughs) I have a lot of hobbies. I knit, I sew, I bake, I have a veggie patch and have an interest in herbs and their medicinal properties. I want to get back into dancing and I’m planning on learning to scuba dive with sharks in Queensland. My biggest hobby is probably trying new things, especially things outside my comfort zone.