Avril Lavigne. Forget Charlotte Church. The
latest teenage siren on the block is Hayley
Westenra, who sings songs by classical music
greats rather than self-penned, whimsical
confessionals, and projects a voice that rivals
Andrea Bocelli. IZUAN SHAH speaks to this
talented young lady
IS probably safe to say that 16-year-old Hayley
Westenra is capable of overthrowing some of
the current hot teen queens of music. Just
listen to her singing voice, which can swell
from angelic and serene to operatic and commanding
and you’ll know why. Hayley was six years
old when she performed at the school Christmas
play where a schoolteacher noticed her perfect
pitch. It was suggested to Hayley’s mother,
Jill, that Hayley take up a musical instrument
to encourage her talents and so began Hayley’s
musical journey, first with violin lessons,
followed by piano and recorder lessons.
the time she was 11, Hayley had already notched
over 40 appearances in stage productions,
sung on TV shows and performed in major concerts.
Her big break came in 2000 when a broadcast
journalist heard Hayley and her younger siblings,
Sophie and Isaac, busking in their New Zealand
hometown of Christchurch and approached them.
The chance meeting led to Hayley’s TV appearance
where she caught the attention of a leading
New Zealand concert promoter, Gray Bartlett,
and later landed a deal with Universal Music
self-titled debut album, Hayley, in Spring 2001
ousted the likes of Robbie Williams, Dido, Westlife
and Craig David from the top spot of New Zealand’s
music charts for four weeks, and went triple
platinum to make Hayley the country’s fastest-selling
artiste in history. The Christmas album, My
Gift To You, followed soon after.
recently signed a contract with worldwide
classical music label Decca Records (a subsidiary
arm of Universal), and the result is Pure,
which will be released in New Zealand this
month. Pure’s 14 tracks include a rich mixture
of classical pieces, pop-tinged numbers, crossover
songs that blend the two, as well as tracks
that border on world music and new age epics.
The teenager also delivers two songs sung
in Maori as a sweet testament to her Kiwi
a listen, Pure is atmospheric as a rule and
constantly uplifting. The music is laden with
styles as diverse as classical crossover,
choir and traditional Maori elements, and
Hayley’s versatile vocal range breathes life
into the classic cover versions. The selected
repertoire on the album (which includes compositions
from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Leonard Bernstein,
Johann Sebastian Bach and Charles-Francois
Gounod) also reveals a rare taste for more
sophisticated forms of music — rare for someone
this telephone interview from idyllic Christchurch,
Hayley admits that she was brought up on classical
music but loves listening to pop as much as
the next teenager. To further attest to that,
Hayley mentions that a pop radio station is
playing in the background.
sound amazing on the album. Did you choose
the songs and if you did, why
you very much. Yes, I did actually have a
hand in that. I made it known to the producers
that I really loved the songs that I was singing.
Because you don’t want to be singing something
you don’t like (laughs). On the album, there’s
quite a mixture of music, from classical songs
to pop songs, so I’d say I chose the songs
because I like different styles of music.
Although there’s no particular reason why
I chose each one, I’d say I chose the songs
does it feel to work with the likes of (producers)
Giles Martin and Sarah Class after busking
in the streets
was really amazing. You’d expect it to be
quite nerve-wracking, but the people I worked
with were really lovely and made me feel relaxed
and comfortable. They certainly helped make
it easier for me to perform well.
does it feel to perform in front of thousands
Well, let’s face it — I do get nervous. But
it’s such an amazing feeling being up onstage
with huge masses of people in front of you.
It’s just a really incredible feeling. The
audience gives you a real buzz and it’s such
a great atmosphere. I love it.
are your musical influences
I wouldn’t say they are influences but some
of the singers I really aspire to are people
like Celine Dion. It’s not like one particular
person whom I aspire to though. When watching
singers at concerts or on TV, I guess you
just tend to pick up things from them and
pay attention to them sing, and it all really
helps you at what you’re doing.
the other hand, I don’t want to copy anyone
or anything. Currently, I’m just having fun
exploring different styles. I haven’t an exact
idea of the sort of repertoire I want on my
next album. I’m exploring crossovers, which
is the area between pop and classical, so
a lot of the songs on my album fit that category.
The melodies are based more on classical melodies,
and they’ve got English lyrics written to
them, so it’s a bit different from what people
probably have heard or are used to hearing.
do you feel about having fans
have to say that at first, when I released
my first album which was when I was about
14 years old, it was really weird to have
people come up to you and ask for you’re autograph.
It nice having them because it makes you feel
good, you know (laughs).
you have any other interests or passions besides
also play the piano and violin as well, and
I also enjoy dancing. I love acting.
sing in different languages (English, Maori,
Italian, French) as well. What propelled that
on my album, I have two songs that are sung
in Maori. The reason why I recorded them is
because they’re both gorgeous songs and also
I just really wanted to share some of that
Kiwi flavour because that’s where I come from
and I just wanted to share that with the rest
of the world.
you were to make a full-on pop album, how
do you think you’d fare against Avril Lavigne
Umm, I don’t think I do music quite like Avril
Lavigne. I would probably do something more
like Celine Dion, or definitely something
more in between — not straight pop. No, I
wouldn’t make a pop album.
your favourite thing about singing
guess my favourite thing about it would be
performing in front of an audience, because
that’s where you get feedback from and it
makes you sort of work hard for it. It’s just
a really good feeling performing in front
of a huge crowd. Like I said, you just get
a real big buzz out of it.
Westenra’s debut album, Pure, will be available
locally from July 21. The singing phenomenon
is tentatively scheduled to be in Kuala Lumpur
from Aug 11 to 12 for showcase performances
and a concert
thanks to Gareth K.
News Menu 2003