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Hayley Westenra
Original (Universal) Biography
July 2001
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It's a rite of passage that is repeated hundreds of times a year, up and down the country. The annual school show. A chance for adoring parents to grin and bear it while their children sing flat, forget their lines, and maybe trip over the scenery.  Everybody expects a few laughs and some family bonding. Certainly nobody expects genius… but occasionally, just occasionally, it appears.

It was at just such a show that young Christchurch mum Jill Westenra first witnessed her daughter Hayley’s extraordinary talent.

“Her school put on a show called ‘The Littlest Star’,” she says. “Hayley was just six, and all she’d said to me was ‘mummy I need my ballet gear’. So I went along and found that in fact she was the littlest star, and there she was singing away holding the microphone, and she was note for note precise - I thought how does she even remember it?” Teachers approached Jill after the performance and told her that her daughter was a pitch perfect vocalist and suggested she take violin lessons. It was the beginning of a relationship with music that’s been the driving force in Hayley’s life ever since. 

And it’s a connection that’s come completely unforced. In stark contrast to most kids who have to be forced to practice, Hayley took every opportunity to perfect her talents – quickly adding piano and recorder to her repertoire of instruments, and learning to read sheet music by age seven. It was also around this time that her passion for musical theatre began to take shape. Spying a newspaper ad for a performing arts school production of ‘Cinderella’ she took the paper to Jill asking;  “how do I do that mummy? I want to do that.” What followed was a remarkable stage career as a child vocalist. By age 11 Hayley had appeared in over 40 productions, including ‘Annie’, ‘Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs’, ‘The King and I’ and ‘Alice In Wonderland’. She’d also sung on TV shows ‘McDonalds Young Entertainers’ and ‘What Now? and performed annually at the ‘Coca–Cola Christmas In The Park’  event. “It’s a really great feeling,” she recalls, “ when you’re on stage you’re sort of in darkness and then you step out into the lights and it’s like you’ve moved into a different world.”

By 2000 Hayley decided she wanted to record, and entered the studio to produce a demo album for herself she describes now as a “momento”. But it was a momento that would soon prove instrumental in moving her career from multi-talented vocalist, to fully fledged recording artist.

Recording finished and with violin in hand, Hayley and her sister Sophie (also a gifted singer) decided to spend the day busking on the streets of central Christchurch. The pair quickly drew an enthusiastic crowd. “There’s was this one woman who asked us if we’d recorded anything,” she says, “so I sent her over to mum, and she really wanted to buy a copy of my CD.” As luck would have it, the young busker’s fan was a journalist with local television station CTV, who arranged for Hayley to sing on air. The appearance captured the attention of country star Gray Bartlett’s management company, and a deal with Universal Music soon followed. 

Although she does enjoy listening to pop music, Hayley says her Universal debut will feature “the sort of music I like to sing” which is an eclectic mix of classics such as ‘All I Ask Of You’ and “Mists Of Islay” as well as a number of Andrew Lloyd Webber songs and operatic works by Gounod and Schubert. Something of an opera buff (her favourite vocalist is Andrea Bocelli), Hayley is now studying French and German at Burnside High School. “It’s important for a vocalist to be able to sing in any language,” she says. “I can sing in Italian, although I can’t speak it yet.” Still only 13, she’s obviously got plenty of time to learn – if she can fit it in between her hobbies of indoor rock climbing, swimming, cross country running and netball. Fun though these other pastimes are, Hayley says music remains her top priority – and she’s getting better with age. “Girls voices develop as they get older,” she says with a smile, “so my top range is getting higher and my bottom range is getting lower. It just keeps getting stronger and richer all the time… who knows where it will take me.”

If Hayley Westenra’s self-titled debut is anything to go by, we’re guessing very far indeed.

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