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May 2016

How being homeschooled led to writing a novel and becoming an opera singer

By Tormey Woods

The Kawanishis family

Tormey at a concert for renowned composer and orchestrator Ennio Morricone.

Hi there (don’t feel the need to reply), my name’s Tormey Woods, and I’m a writer and opera singer living in the south of France. I also happen to be sixteen and homeschooled since birth and the subsequent article you’re about to read is my experience with homeschooling as a form of education and lifestyle.

My time these days is mainly focused on writing my second novel, having finished my first which fell under the sci-fi genre, and singing in three different choirs as a bass, these being Junior Opera (a branch of the Opera Orchestra National of Montpellier), the Montpellier Symphony Choir and a small group called Ensemble Conspectus. During my short time as a singer, I have sung in front of a crowd of twenty thousand people with the composer and recent Oscar winner Ennio Morricone as well as in the Festival de Musique d’Aix en Provence in an opera directed by the world’s top conductor Sir Simon Rattle with the London Symphony Orchestra. I also have a solo role (Grabuge from the Bold Gendarmes) in the upcoming opera Geneviève de Brabant in the Opera National de Montpellier next month. (Find out more on my website, Despite not learning to read until I was nine, when I was fourteen, I started an English Literature Degree with the Open University and completed the first module with an above average score.

And here’s the thing about all of these accomplishments. (Rather impressive if I do say so myself. And I do.) I attribute nearly all of them to the fact that I was homeschooled.

Here’s why.

Being homeschooled since the beginning meant that I was able to focus on the things I enjoyed, these being mainly related to the arts. These changed pretty regularly, my first passion being music when I was four and wanting to become a guitar-playing rock star. (I returned to this passion for music, albeit in a more classical fashion, and it’s now what I’m pursuing professionally.) It progressed from subject to subject as I grew. I lagged behind in certain subjects (mathematics will probably continue to elude me for the rest of my time on this planet), but excelled in other subjects and activities, years ahead of my peers in school.

Being home educated allowed me to pursue whatever activities interested me most, whether it be history, philosophy and other mentally stimulating activities (especially the first and second World War) and such a long list of different sports that I sometimes forget some of them. The most long lasting activities were karate and theatre. I also spent about two years each doing gym, yoga, climbing, swimming, Viet Vo Dao, classical and modern jazz dancing.

I maintain to this day that every activity contributed towards my education (although not academically). Karate taught me a huge amount of self-control that was lacking in my life with my ADHD.  Theatre taught me to act, which, let’s face it, is a useful skill in all walks of life.

I was never taught that shooting for the stars was wrong, I never had my spirit broken and most importantly I was never taught to hate learning. Because of all this, I was incredibly ambitious as a child and remain so today. I wanted to be the best at whatever I did and it took me a long time not to take it badly when I wasn’t. I still remember crying the first time I got a silver medal in a karate competition (I’d won gold in the four competitions before that). I then went in a completely different direction from the sporty path I’d been following (or at least added something more, since I continued doing three sports at the same time), and when I was twelve, I started my first novel. I loved reading more than anything and it just felt natural to start writing my own novel.

The day after my fourteenth birthday, I contacted the Open University to see if I could start an English Literature Degree with them. (I’d written half of my novel at this point.) After a test of eligibility, comprised of a short essay and an interview due to my young age, I was accepted and spent the next six months studying at university level and passing every essay (final module score of 63).

Later that year, just after I took a break from university to finish my novel, I heard about Opera Junior, a branch of the National Opera of Montpellier of young people between 15 and 25 who, well, sang opera. I’d never really listened to opera before and I didn’t have any real musical experience, but for some reason I still decided to try and learn how to sing classically in a week to pass an audition it takes some people years to pass. Incredibly, I passed, and without even being asked to sing my second required song.

Since then I have devoted nearly all my time to pursuing writing and singing. As a result, I’m now a soloist in Junior Opera and have started a second novel.

If I had anything to say to people who are homeschooled, or to somebody considering homeschooling their child, it would be this: Homeschooling is what put me in the position to be writing this article today, and I’m far from unique in my success. There’s a reason Open University accepts people as young as fourteen; it’s because of all the homeschoolers who were too impatient to start their life later—when they could be starting it now. If you have a dream, something you want to accomplish in life and you don’t let anybody tell you that it’s not realistic or likely to happen, then you are fully capable of making that dream a reality.

After all, I’m living mine.

Tormey Woods and his family live and homeschool in France, where they operate the website Parent Concept as a source of information and connections for homeschoolers in France.

 Other Resources

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s France page.