Phinehas Bynum: Seychellois-American opera singer traces his island roots

(Seychelles News Agency) – Phinehas Bynum, a Seychellois-American classically trained singer and multi-instrumentalist, has said that opera was not initially a career he thought he would pursue, but that his childhood experiences played a big role in the fact that he now sings opera.

The 33-year-old who lives in Minneapolis in the United States. He was recently on a holiday in Seychelles and spoke about his career journey with SNA.

His mother, Clarence Bynum (née de Letourdie), is Seychellois and his father is an American college professor, who, when he was in the Peace Corps in his youth, met Clarence in Seychelles. The year Phinehas was born, they moved to the United States. He is the oldest of three brothers.

Bynum explains that there is some family musical precedence here in Seychelles, and he expressed an interest in exploring that facet of his heritage.

Jany de Letourdie is my mother’s cousin. And I am named after my grandfather, Louys (my middle name), who played accordion and clarinet and sang with his quintet “The Jazz Quintet” all across Praslin and Mahe. He played at hotels like Coral Strand and Mahe Beach. My aunties and uncles also have played and sang across Seychelles, and whenever I would visit as a kid, we would all sing and play together.”

Jany de Letourdie is a renowned talented artist from Seychelles, known for her contributions to music and theatre. She began her singing career at the age of 17 and is a very popular, award-winning singer, songwriter and composer.

“I’m still discovering my Seychelles roots, but the more I learn, the more I see how the musical roots of my family here in Seychelles have enabled me to become who I am today.”

A childhood passion for music

Bynum said that he started singing when he was very young in church choirs as he had a passion for music, and his parents enrolled him in a choir school. 

Bynum now sings opera and that is influenced by his childhood.

“I think a lot of it comes down to what I listened to growing up. We had a record player; mama would play [Luciano] Pavarotti records, and the choir school that I went to, had a classical focus. Then I studied vocal performance when I made it to college,” he said.

He did not sing opera until after college because his voice was always too loud in choir, as he “was always the tenor in the back row who was singing too loudly, and so I kind of discovered a home in opera. I kind of came to it late, but I found that it was always a home that I had been missing.”

Bynum said that he started small at first, singing in some opera choruses available to him.

“The city of Minneapolis has a lot of music, so a lot of choirs, a lot of ensembles, and I sang in the chorus of a production of Sweeney Todd. I did that a number of times, and a few years, maybe 13 or so productions later, I got my first lead role in an operetta called “Candide.” That was the first big break for me,” he said. 

He added that he performs in musical theatre as well. His most recent production was a musical.

“I wear a jacket because it’s a Christmas show; it’s cold, and there’s lots of snow. I’m the first one on stage, and I worked with a costume designer there; they sewed the Seychelles flag into the lapel of my jacket. I got to put that on every night I went on stage; we had over 30 performances. Maybe someone noticed, maybe nobody knew, but I knew. That’s very meaningful for me,” said Bynum.

Apart from music, Bynum, also works in the technology field. He maintains that he is able to do both through a lot of dedication and hard work.

“I am also an automation engineer in the daytime. I work with computers and do software programming. I also do music at night. In college, I studied computer science and vocal performance. I practice every day, and then when I’m in a production, maybe I’ll have rehearsal three or four times a night, and then we’ll have anywhere between five shows and thirty shows. The most productions I’ve done in a year was six or seven. On average, it’s three to four,” he explained.

Bynum reiterated that he has always been proud to be Seychellois, and that his family returns to Seychelles every few years to visit.

“I think the older I get, the more connected I feel to my heritage. I would love to sing in Seychelles; this time I’ll be working with the choir at St. Paul’s a little bit, and then I’ll be performing in church on Sunday as well. I very much enjoy coming to Seychelles though I have not yet explored coming in a professional capacity. It’s always been for family.”

Bynum in the operas La Traviata and Carmen (Phinehas Bynum-promotional) Photo License: All Rights Reserved

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