O-level music failure becomes music chair at Juilliard School

by Darrell Babidge and Jayne Kyprianou

Darrell Babidge

Darrell was born in Bournemouth, the middle son of John and Iris Babidge. Music and the arts were a part of his childhood; his grandfather played keyboard in a band and his dad had a striking voice and loved to sing.

Singing wasn’t Darrell’s forte, to begin with, but he did have a love for the piano, inspired by his wonderful piano teacher, Miss Martin, who taught him from the age of 10. His uncle, Bryan Aubrey was also a supporter of his musical ambition and bought him a metronome.

At the age of 16, despite his early promise, Darrell failed his O-level in music, although he still played the piano and sang at his local church. At this point singing was still an untapped passion in his life.

After serving a full time mission in Scotland for the Church, Darrell went back to work at the solicitors practice of Lester and Russell. He enjoyed the work and the solicitors loved him and his work ethic.

They encouraged him to go to the careers office to find out what he would need to do to become a legal executive. Darrell was encouraged to pursue the vocation that meant the most to him. It was to be a pivotal conversation, for he left the office determined to follow a career in music. The advisor had told him that such a path promised little money or future, and yet something had been sparked in the young man’s imagination; even though the path was far from straightforward, he had a vision to follow.

At the age of 23 he auditioned for the London College of Music, using both voice and instrument (piano) as part of the audition. He was successful and in 1990 started at the college as a mature student. Darrell was mindful of the career advisor’s warning, but his love of his chosen field blossomed and overrode any other practical or financial concerns.

During his time at the London College of Music he attended a performance of The Magic Flute at the English National Opera. There he had an epiphany, setting the wheels in motion for the next shift in his career.

Transferring to the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, Darrell won a prestigious competition and was employed by the Glyndebourne Festival Opera. His voice was starting to be heard.

Darrell graduated in 1997 and attended Brigham Young University in Utah, USA to complete his master’s degree. From there, he moved to New York City to study at the Manhattan School of Music, for his third degree in the subject he had once failed while still a struggling schoolboy.

Whilst in New York he met and married Jennifer Welch, a renowned opera singer in her own right. In 2005 Darrell, Jenny and their two little sons moved back to Utah where they were both asked to teach at BYU. Darrell was eventually offered a full time position, and Jenny decided to be a fulltime mother.

As a professor of music for 14 years, Darrell was hugely successful, with his students winning major international opera competitions. One of his students, Rachel Willis-Sørensen, was invited to sing at Prince Charles’ 70th birthday party at Buckingham Palace, who has since gone on to be a highly successful recording artist.

In 2019 Darrell was approached by the world-renowned Juilliard School and offered a full time faculty position. Darrell, Jenny and now five children moved back to New York.

His abilities opened many doors. He was part of the Channel Four programme on Glyndebourne Festival Opera; he sang with the BBC Symphony Chorus in the Last Night of the Proms; and he was a soloist at the BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall, and a member of The Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square. He has also sung at the Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall.

In 2021 it was announced that Darrell would be chair of the music faculty at the Juilliard School. It can be no surprise to learn that his students have also won many competitions and have appeared on The Voice and America’s Got Talent. One student has also been nominated for a Grammy award.

Not bad for a young man who failed O-level music and was told a career in music had no future.

In Darrell’s words, “Never give up your hopes of doing something you love! I always knew I had a passion for music; my 16-year-old self just didn’t know it.”