When the time came to pick a title for singer Hayley Westenra’s
debut album, “Pure,”
more than just her music factored into the decision.
to the 17-year-old New Zealand native, “[the record label] thought
my voice was pure and the fact that the music isn't…manufactured
in any way, pretty clean, and the fact that I'm from New Zealand
as well… [the title] made sense.”
instantly, "Pure" became a huge hit in New Zealand,
Australia and Japan. It is also the fastest-selling album ever
on Britain’s classical charts. Confident that Westenra has marketable
talent and image, Universal Music Group recently signed the
teenager to a $4.5 million contract.
was this dream,” says Westenra, “that you know, I guess, every
kid wants to sort of perform on stage really. It was sort of,
like, ‘Wow, wouldn't it be cool to do something I love and have
a career out of it.’”
asked if she considers herself especially motivated, Westenra
replies that, while she isn’t “ruthlessly ambitious,” she does
have great aspirations in terms of “style and music. I’m happy
where I am,” she says, “but I want to keep going up and reaching
desire to expand her audience is no doubt music to the ears
of an industry anticipating a third straight year of slumping
sales. Her following of fans, most of whom are in their 50s
and above, comprises the niche that’s come to be called ‘classical
crossover,’ a bright spot for the music business.
hopes Westenra can also attract a younger audience, closer to
her own age, a wish the singer regards more as a business model
than a personal career goal:
nice when you get people your own age saying, ’Oh, that's cool
what you're doing,’” she admits, “[but] I know I'm not going
to expect a whole bunch of teens going along to my concerts.
I don't mind.”
kind of self-assurance comes from experience. Westenra has been
performing in New Zealand since she was 6, after a teacher urged
her parents to give the girl music lessons. Piano and violin
soon gave way to voice as Westenra’s instrument of choice.
siblings, 10-year-old Isaac and 13-year-old Sophie occasionally
accompany her, and have become traveling companions. In fact,
one way the Westenra family has adjusted to Hayley’s singing
schedule has been to put the whole family on the road with her.
Still, the Westenra’s family life remains far from typical.
Hayley’s career has meant big adjustments for the entire Westenra
family. Her father, Gerald, has interrupted his work as a gemologist
to become Hayley’s road manager. A big part of Jill Westenra’s
job is juggling the dual responsibilities of being a mother
and guarding her daughter’s image as an entertainer. Jill insists
that she is not a stage mother and that, despite all her success,
Hayley has not become a prima donna.
not really like that,” her mother says. “I see children who
would be like that; I see children who don't even have the opportunities
ever like that, but I think part of it's the nature of the person.”
however down-to-earth the Westenras may be, Hayley still won’t
have the opportunity to live a typical teenage life. For one,
she’s too busy to attend regular school, though she tries to
keep up with schoolwork when she can. In addition to sacrificing
both her New Zealand home and high school life, Hayley has virtually
no social life; the only dates she gets to make are for concerts.
Still, the teenager claims not to mind.
don't mind that I'm missing out on that aspect at the moment,”
Hayley says. “I mean, I'm sure, and probably in a year's time
it might be quite nice to have a boyfriend and meet someone,
but you know, at the moment I'm pretty excited about what I'm
doing…I want to make the most of this opportunity and I don't
want to let anything get in the way, really.”
now, Hayley’s plan is to spend the next six months in America.
According to her record company, she already is a celebrity
in 20 percent of the world, and she plans to spread that fame
to the remaining 80 percent through working promotions and television
appearances. None of this, however, seems like work to Hayley.
singing part doesn't feel like work at all,” she says, “that's
the bit I enjoy.” The bit, Hayley adds, that is “pure enjoyment.”
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