18 May 2004 21:07_

From Kate Bush to Carmina Burana: A Conversation with Hayley Westenra


Watch for Hayley Westenra’s Radio Disney appearances in April – and tune in to Radio Disney to find out how you can have Hayley come to your child’s school!

Young New Zealander Hayley Westenra has made quite a splash in Europe with her Decca debut, Pure. Ranging from a traditional Maori lullaby to "In Trutina " (Carmina Burana) to a Brontë-inspired Kate Bush gem, the songs on Pure reflect the singer's wide musical interests. Westenra took some time to chat with iClassics.com about choosing album repertoire, having music written especially for her, and balancing a student life with her burgeoning entertainment career.



iClassics.com: Among the many songwriters featured on the album is Sarah Class. Tell us a bit about her.

Hayley Westenra: Sarah Class actually arranged most of the music on Pure. She is a lovely person, and I love her work. Her song "Across the Universe of Time," is one of my favorites. It's kind of quiet and also sort of folksy, slightly Celtic, and just free-spirited. I think all of her music has that kind of atmosphere, really.

Is there something particular that you look for in a song, or do you just follow your gut?

I do just kind of follow my gut instinct and my first reaction to the song, really, although sometimes songs do grow on me.

What is your favorite song on the album?

"Wuthering Heights" is my favorite song on the whole album. I do have a few other favorites, too - it's hard to pick just one. My mother played me the record of "Wuthering Heights" a couple of years ago and at first I was not sure about it. Then when we were looking for repertoire for Pure she brought out the record again and I had another listen to it. I thought, "Actually, this is a pretty cool song." After awhile I began to think, 'This is so awesome, I definitely have to have this on my album" and I fell in love with the song. It's such a fun song to sing.

We shot a video for it last Christmas in England, and that was so much fun! We filmed it in a derelict house that had been left open to the elements for about 15 years. So it was really spooky and atmospheric. The song is based on the book Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, which I am studying for my exams (that worked out quite well!). Basically it's about a love story between Heathcliff and Cathy, and it's very complicated because there is another guy in the equation. Cathy's a bit wild and so is Heathcliff, so it's a very interesting relationship. The song actually meant to be sung by Cathy's ghost coming back to haunt Heathcliff, so I tried to sing it a little bit spookily.

Was this the very first time you had done any recording?

I had done quite a bit of recording, actually, back home. In some ways Pure could be considered my third professional album, because I released two albums in New Zealand prior to this one. I also recorded a little demo when I was about 12, which is what helped me get a record contract in the first place.

I was quite comfortable in the studio. It was great working with Giles, as well, because he is just so funny and very relaxed. So it was a really nice atmosphere and it was really easy just to kind of record the songs because we had a good relationship. It wasn't like I had to do something again if I didn't feel like it. He would say, "You can try it tomorrow or whenever you want to." He was really flexible and really supportive. It was fun.

When did you know you wanted to start singing professionally?

I was always singing when I was younger. I did musicals and other things at school and I sang around the house with my brother and sister. There wasn't a point where I thought, "I could do this professionally!" It was kind of a gradual thing. I had a dream, a desire to be performing up on stage in front of a huge audience. I always had it in the back of mind but as I got older, it just seemed a lot more possible than it did when I was eight years old. But at the same time it was quite difficult because I was living in a small town in New Zealand, which is kind of tucked away from the rest of the world. But I guess I have done pretty well so far. I have been very lucky.

Your career has taken you to some new places. Where have you been that most excited you?

I loved Asia. Asia was really cool. Last summer I released an album there and went to Malaysia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Taiwan and Japan. It was just so different from New Zealand and anywhere else I had been. The people were lovely - I really enjoyed it over there. There was just so much going on.

What is it like having such a full career and studying at the same time?

I'm studying for some British qualification exams in June – and I'm not sure how I'm going to get them all done! It's a little bit difficult, being on the road. I want to focus on my singing, but at the same time in the back of my mind I know I should be doing some studying. I'm doing my best.

Would you talk a little bit about "Beat of your heart"?

"Beat of your heart" was actually written by Sir George Martin and Giles Martin, his son. I think they were inspired by the relationship I have with my Mom - we are really close. That is what the song is about, but it could also be interpreted as a love song. It's pretty incredible, really, just to have a song written by them.

It's also sweet that they wrote it as a father-son team. Talk a little bit about "Hine e Hine."

"Hine e Hine" is a Maori song – Maori is New Zealand's native language. It's a lullaby about a mother singing to a daughter, coaxing her to sleep. It's another gorgeous song.

There is also a selection from the Carmina Burana on here. Is it a challenge to do something like this, which is very classical?

I have actually been singing a lot of straight classical songs over the past few years., I didn't really find Singing "In Trutina" from Carmina Burana difficult vocally; I was most concerned about getting the pronunciation right! One thing I have to be careful of is not to push my voice. "In Trutina" doesn't do that, and that was one of the reasons why I chose it.

If you could sing any song in the world, what would you sing?

There is one song that I absolutely adore but I'm not sure I will end up recording it. It's actually another Kate Bush song, "The man With the Child in his Eyes". I think she's an amazing singer and song-writer. As soon as I discovered that song, I had it on "repeat" every day. I don't know whether I will ever record it or not; it might be a bit much for now, but I'll certainly sing it around the house!

You mentioned you have been on tour with Russel Watson. Are there any other artists you would like to work with? Are there artists you find inspiring?

I'd love to perform with Andrea Bocelli or Josh Groban. Andrea Bocelli's first album Romanza was the very first album I ever bought, when I was about 11. He's such a great singer. He has got a really nice voice and manages to put across emotion when he sings and I think it's really gorgeous. I guess he is just a sensitive singer, really. He draws people in to what he is doing. The same goes for Josh Groban, as well.

I guess I take inspiration from everyone, really, even just from watching people perform on TV, or listening to CDs. Celine Dion has a lovely voice; I love her vocal gymnastics and the strength in her voice. Andrea Bocelli inspires me, even though he is a male singer, and then there's Kate Bush, who is a completely different kind of singer. I guess I am influenced by anyone and everyone, really.

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