How Mark Nathan & Carolyn Holt Found Success With Send-A-Song During the COVID-19 Lockdown

By David Salazar

It was early March and baritone Mark Nathan was facing a situation that many people around the world would also have to deal with – miss out on an important event due to the lockdown imposed by the global pandemic.

In this case, it was his mother’s birthday. He was living in Glasgow with partner and mezzo-soprano Carolyn Holt while his mother was over in London. There was no way he would be able to make it.

So instead, Nathan, a member of the Scottish Opera’s Emerging Artists for the 2019-20 season, opted for the next best thing – he rewrote a song for her birthday and sent it off.

His mother was so thrilled that she posted it on Facebook.

And “Send-a-Song” was unwittingly born.

Days later, a friend of Nathan’s mother reached out to ask if he could do a similar song for her son’s anniversary.

At that point, he brought Holt, who made her debut at the Irish National Opera in 2018, into the mix for the vocal aspects of the project. This video also made its way to social media, prompting even more requests.

“We had several people get in touch asking for their own songs, and how much we charged,” Holt, the winner of the Dermot Troy Prize for best Irish singer in the 2019 Veronica Dunne International Singing Competition, told OperaWire. “This spiraled and we eventually decided to give it a go as a business, so we made a website, invested in a good microphone and a green screen and have been learning as fast as we can how to improve.

“Mark has taken some online video and audio editing lessons, so the standard of the videos we are making is getting better with everyone. We’ve now had commissions from all over the world, and even have one with a few phrases of Hungarian in the works!”

Despite its quick ascension to success, Holt admitted that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

First, there were neighbors complaining about the noise with one claiming that they sounded like “a cross between someone doing an impression of a ghost and someone being murdered.”

And then there was the fear of being perceived as “selling out.”

“As you will know, there can be a bit of snobbery among opera aficionados for classical singers who tailor their performance to appeal to a mainstream or commercial audience, and we need Send-a-Song to complement our careers and not harm them,” Holt added. “We think that Send-a-Song toes that line well, and anything that can spread the joy of opera, in any form, in this dark time is a good thing!

“We hope our audiences get a kick out of it, and we hope that the customers who receive one of our songs as a gift can go back and listen to it again and again.”