Over to you, the De Lanerolle brothers

By Yashasvi Kannangara

Singing brothers Rohan and Ishan began singing individually and teamed up as ‘the De Lanerolle Brothers’ on March 3, 2010 at a sell-out concert.

Touring Austria and Singapore in 2010, they have won audience acclaim and with their first anniversary looming, it’s preparation time for ‘Live 2” a concert on March 3 at Water’s Edge. They sat down with the Sunday Times this week for an interview. Extracts:

Q: What was childhood like?

I: We didn’t really sing a lot together as children, just wrestled each other all the time after watching “Defenders of the Earth” (laughs). Once Rohan pushed me and I fell and broke my tooth. It didn’t really hurt that much, but I screamed and cried loud just to get him into trouble. Rohan was of the opinion that I was brought into the world to play cricket with him and mind you I never got to bat, only bowl. And when he started playing with a leather ball I used to bowl and then run and hide. We have a six-year age difference and you are obviously aware of who is older (gestures towards Rohan). When I was twelve, he became this caring, protective older brother which was sweet, but was also a problem for me. Because I was still twelve and all I wanted to do was wrestle.

Q: You both started singing as separate performers. What initiated the union?

R: It was all thanks to Ishan. I began my professional career in 2000 and I was singing mostly outside Sri Lanka, in Britain and the US. My performances became more active here around 2006/2007 and Ishan was always a guest performer. When we sang together people used to always come up to us and ask us why we weren’t singing together professionally. They loved it. Ishan used to always say that we should sing together. In 2009 The Platters came to Sri Lanka and we were the opening act and sang together at Waters Edge and Cinnamon Lakeside. The response was fantastic. And then Ishan would say, “This is what I told you!” And then we seriously started thinking about it. Ranil De Silva, the advertising guru of Leo Burnett suggested we relaunch as the De Lanerolle Brothers and take it to the next level. Ranil was the influence for the branding. So I guess the inspiration was Ishan’s constant pestering (laughs) and the request and response of the fans.

Q: We know about the tunes you sing to but what kind of music do you follow and enjoy listening to?

R: I listen to all genres from opera to classical to instrumental, the blues, jazz and even spiritual. Let’s not forget Reggae-- a good Bob Marley song. I really enjoy the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and the 90’s music. Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson and Shania Twain. Not a huge fan of the 2000’s.
I: I think I can say that I like all types, even songs of today. Including fusion and choral of course. Anything except performers breaking musical instruments, I suppose (laughs).

Q: Singing. What inspires it?

R: Nothing inspires us to sing like music does. But there are also performers like Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Mario Lanza, The great Caruso, and Beniamino Gigli who are inspiring. Our former Choir Master Russell Bartholomeusz also made a huge contribution to get us where we are today.
Q: Miming on stage has become a trend among performers in the current industry. Any thoughts?
I: The great thing about performing live is that you entertain the crowd with your own voice. The artists we spoke of earlier, at the time of their peak, they had no recording facilities. They still sounded amazing. There was no editing, just the raw human voice.

Q: How do you complement each other?

R: Between us we can hit pretty much any and every note. Not many people have the option of singing very high and very low at the same time. I sometimes wish I can hit Ishan’s low notes.
I: Likewise. I wish I can hit the high notes that Rohan hits.

Q: Being Thomians, what role did the school play?

R: S. Thomas’ College gave us a lot of opportunities to showcase and enhance our musicality. School was where we first harnessed and projected our talents. We were lucky to be educated musically by a set of wonderful teachers and coaches. The Thomian choir can go up against the best there is, even internationally.

Greatest moment: Performing at the city of Graz to a capacity crowd of 2500

The standard and quality are so high. When I first started singing with the St. Thomas’ Choir, which was the first thing I did as soon as I became a Thomian, it was like someone pushed me in the deep end and expected me to start swimming. There is no spoon feeding. You must work hard and find your way. There is a lot of guidance but you had to pull up your own socks and do well.

I: When I came from Prep the first thing I did was to get involved in all the extracurricular activities I liked. Choir, band, drama society, at one point I was president of five or six societies. Another thing was that S. Thomas’ really gave us a chance to make choices and explore options. These were not choices influenced by parents but as students we were expected to do things on our own. The school really encouraged this.

I remember starting the Thomian Chamber Orchestra in school and when I initiated this we didn’t even have a master in charge but we still continued till we later hired a teacher. Even the basics like letter writing, and performing in public were given foundation at school. We were the first brothers to win the best actors award too. Rohan played the villain of the play and I the mad old lady.

Q: So how alike are the Lanerolle brothers?

I: As you can see we don’t look alike (laugh). We are both Rohan and Gangelie’s sons and share the same blood group, O Positive and that makes us universal donors. But the similarity stops there. Rohan and I are like the earth and sky. What unifies us is our music. We both work very hard and make the best of our differences.

Q: So any other interests apart from song and music.

I: We teach as voice coaches. And what we strive to do is bring out the creative side in the children. Rohan handles the more senior classes and I the juniors. We have our own tea company that we run and manage. I am in charge of the marketing aspects and Rohan runs the operations division.

We are also engaged in outreach programmes that focus on encouraging new talent. We work with a lot of choirs and hold workshops. We recently conducted a workshop in Galle for 250 children. I was recently invited to judge a talent competition in Jaffna and I was really very impressed with the talent. Rohan and I try to help people as much as possible. We never refuse an appeal.

Q: Greatest moment?

R: In Austria, at the city of Graz. 2500 people all applauding you… that was the greatest feeling.

Q: Any advice to the upcoming young talent of the country?

R: Firstly you must find teachers who know the subject. Hire technically sound coaches who are up to date. Any young voice could be damaged if not treated correctly. I learnt this lesson well. Secondly, repertoire. What must you sing? What you like is not what you can sing. Identify your voice, your scope; find what suits you the best. We see that mistake being made a lot. Thirdly and finally, be patient. This applies mostly to the classical singers. Just because you sing a simple piece today it does not mean that you can sing complex pieces in a year. I began singing the Masters at the age of 35. It doesn’t happen overnight.

Q: How should a professional performer treat their voice?

R: What works well for the singer works well for the voice. For example, I avoid iced products and milk before singing or while training, whereas Ishan works well with both. He even has a chilled coke before getting on stage sometimes.

I: You must figure out what is good for you.

Q: What are the songs you love to perform?

R: Anything from opera to contemporary pop - Music of the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, a couple of Sinhala numbers and fusion.

I: We are very versatile with regard to our choices and have the skills and ability to sing all of it.

Q: The De Lanerolle Brothers are…?

I: A drama to deal with (laughs).

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