Where are tomorrow’s stars coming from?
Don’t be surprised if some of the biggest names of the future emerge from the current crop of young talents on the Semiahmoo Peninsula.
Take South Surrey’s Richard Tichelman, for example.
The 15 year-old singer-guitarist-songwriter is an undeniably able performer, with an assured presence, and clean-cut appeal.
He also possesses a smile likely to charm the hardest-nosed industry professional, and an unpretentious, agreeably modest manner to go with his obvious musical gifts.
Little wonder that he scored a double triumph recently – winning the Abbotsford Idol contest on June 23, and, closer to home, placing second only to friend and musical colleague Josh Bogert in the Roadhouse Live Talent Contest on June 14 (fellow Elgin Park Secondary student and musical collaborator Ava Carich placed third).
“I didn’t set high expectations on winning Abbotsford Idol,” the soft-spoken Tichelman (pronounced Tickle-man) told Peace Arch News.
“But I set a high standard for myself. I knew I was up against some pretty good singers and vocalists, but I knew If I could do well, it would be a good thing for me.”
Although taking the top spot in the contest was a surprise to him, it’s made him all the keener to pursue music, Tichelman said.
“If I can take it to a professional level, that’s what I want to do.The thrill of being onstage is something I love – it’s such a rush to be on stage; to see people smiling and laughing, even singing along.
“And the bigger the crowd, the better I am.”
That’s something that Tichelman got to test with one of the prizes of his Abbotsford Idol win – an opening set for headliners Emerson Drive and Aaron Pritchett for the Canada Day Kickoff concert June 30 at Abbotsford Centre.
Even though the venue’s full 7,000 capacity wasn’t used for that concert, Tichelman’s mom, Tracy, still calculates that upwards of 3,000 people caught his 15-minute set.
“It’s the largest crowd I’ve ever played to,” he noted. That includes placing third in the BC Junior Talent Search and opening for the Powder Blues Band at the White Rock Sea Festival last year.
He was only in Grade 7 when he took the plunge into the BC Junior Talent Search – his first ever contest.
“I wanted to take my singing to the next level,” he said. “That’s when I discovered I could do this, that I could take it somewhere.
“Each time I come off stage, win or lose, I still have a smile.”
Other notable events in Tichelman’s already burgeoning resume include singing with the White Rock Children’s Choir from 2011 to 2013 (along with Bogert), being selected as one of 12 finalists – out of 4,000 entries from across Canada – for season seven of YTV’s The Next Star, and placing second in this year’s Teen Fest in Cloverdale.
He’s still awaiting word whether he made it into the Star Experience teen songwriting contest conducted by Shaw Multicultural Channel’s eveRIAthing show.
And he’s also looking forward to seeing the completed version of an original rock opera video project, The Vampire To Sing His Song in the Sun, for which he enjoyed shooting scenes recently for director and composer Issah Contractor.
But what’s lost in all the current attention focused on Tichelman – and something that would never be suspected by anyone who’s seen his confident rapport with his audiences – is the fact that he has struggled, from his earliest years, with a learning disability.
Ironically, Tracy said, he once used to shy away from music – not wanting his mom to sing nursery rhymes, or hear her and his older sister, Elizabeth, singing around the house – “which was difficult,” she added.
Diagnosed with ‘written output disorder’ – a form of attention deficit disorder limiting verbal self-expression – he was taken out of Southridge School and placed at Fraser Academy in Kitsilano for Grade 3 and Grade 4, before being streamed back into school locally in Grade 5 at Chantrell Creek Elementary.
The expertise of teachers at Fraser Academy – such as music teacher Gary Gillespie – in dealing with students’ ‘learning differences’ made a huge difference to Tichelman’s development, he and Tracy agree.
Something clicked musically for him at the age of nine, in Grade 4. Taken with the James Blunt song You’re Beautiful, he decided he wanted to sing it at an upcoming parents’ tea.
With Gillespie providing guitar accompaniment, he worked on the song for three weeks before debuting it at the event for Tracy and his dad, Bob.
“After that, my mom said ‘you really have a talent – do you want to take singing lessons?'” he recalled.
“I have it on video,” Tracy said.
“We sat there and couldn’t believe it. This was the boy who wouldn’t sing anything – or get up in front of people.”
His parents and Elizabeth – who just graduated Elgin – have been tremendously supportive of his musical career every step of the way, he said.
He’s also very proud of Elizabeth, who has been accepted into UBC but is also volunteering to work at a primary school in Fiji for three months before she begins studies.
“She’s always been very proud of me, and I strive to live up to her example,” he said.
“Sometimes it’s hard because she’s a great student.”
Tichelman – who recently branched out into writing his own songs, such as Dream and Fog-gotten (sic) – has embraced many influences and styles, he said.
“I’ve sung everything from a Stevie Wonder Christmas Song to a bit of Bruno Mars and Olly Murs, and some classic rock songs – I like the Beatles and April Wine and CCR and all those guys,” he said.
“With my guitar I like to put that funk riff with this R & B scale, and throw a bit of jazz in there, while, vocally, I just do my thing.”
Fog-gotten, a more folky, open-tuning song, is a tribute to his late grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s – but with whom he could always connect musically (“I’d really, really like to get involved with music therapy,” he added).
Tichelman is unstinting in his praise for all the adults who have mentored him, including vocal and performance coach Don Wolf, with whom he’s studied since 2011.
“He’s such a phenomenal guy, from the stories (of the business) he can tell to getting down to the technical stuff. It’s been so beneficial to me – it’s not only brought out my voice, but also the performance aspect and working a crowd.”
His experience with White Rock Children’s Choir founder-director Sarona Mynhardt also gave him valuable exposure to the more classical side of music, he said.
“Sarona has a traditional style of teaching which was wonderful in helping me develop my voice in more than just the pop sound – one of the things I found beneficial was harmonizing with Josh, which is something I picked up and can use whenever I want.”
Mynhardt’s husband Johan – Tichelman’s automobile shop teacher at Elgin Park – has also given him valuable life lessons about the importance of a good work ethic, he says.
“He pushed me and made me become who I am,” he said.
He also gives high kudos to the school’s guitar teacher, Tom Myring, for being “a phenomenal teacher and a role model” (Tichelman is also grateful for the guitar basics he learned in private classes with local instructor Jesse Birch) and now-retired drama teacher Stan Engstrom, who directed him as a Grade 8 student in the school’s production of the musical Grease.
“Stan is a brilliant teacher who always had my back – he taught me how to be big on stage, but also little, intimate things you can do that will draw the eye.”