Hayley Westenra has made her mark on the classical
crossover scene at the age of 17.
(Jim Cooper -- Associated Press)
O'Neill Wisconsin State Journal
first word that comes to mind when describing Hayley
Westenra, who performs Wednesday night at Wisconsin
Chamber Orchestra's Concerts on the Square, is "cute."
a 17-year-old singer from New Zealand, speaks in a
ripple of bubbling banter often sprinkled with the
words "like" and "you know what I mean?"
Apparently immune to the Britney-esque stunts common
to teenage singers, she chose to set off her cherubic
good looks in a fuzzy parka in one album photo. And
although she recently signed a $4.5 million contract
with Universal Music Group, she says she usually does
her own laundry on tour, because the hotel laundering
service is "so expensive." (At the laundromat
after the show? In the bath tub)
Westenra has been building a rsum that is more than
just cute. She recently performed for the Queen of
England, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush.
She makes her U.S. orchestral debut tonight and will
join the Boston Pops on its upcoming holiday tour.
And "Pure," her debut album for Britain's
Decca label, made her the fastest-selling classical
artist in U.K. history. The album was a runaway hit
in New Zealand, Australia and Japan, and debuted at
No. 2 on Billboard's Classical Crossover Chart.
crossover" is, in fact, the best way to describe
the album. The New Zealand folk song "Pokarekare
Ana" and Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights"
are paired alongside classical excerpts and ballads.
Backed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the album
was produced by Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer
Sir George Martin. Sir George himself contributed
a pop song ("Beat of Your Heart"), and an
arrangement of "Amazing Grace."
long before she cut the album, Westenra was singing
in the streets of Christchurch. She recorded her first
album at a local studio, and most of the copies (complete
with cardboard covers folded by her family) were distributed
to friends and local fans. The record caught the attention
of Universal Records in Auckland, who signed Westenra
and released her second album. The local release shot
to No. 1 on New Zealand album charts.
recording made its way to the Decca Records office
in London. Decca president Costa Pilavachi happened
to hear Westenra's voice floating through his office
and signed her for an international deal.
then, Westenra has taped an episode of the NBC series
"American Dreams," toured middle schools
with Radio Disney and appeared on CBS News "Sunday
Morning." Last week, Westenra took a break during
her Canadian tour to answer some questions about her
experiences as a musician and a teenager on the road.
What have you been up to in Canada?
Westenra: I've been focusing on the "Lord of
the Rings" symphony music, so I've had quite
a few rehearsals since I've been here. I've been learning
all this Elvish, which isn't easy to learn, you know.
We had the first concert last night, and that was
quite nerve-wracking, because Howard Shore, the composer
(of "The Lord of the Rings" symphony), was
there. It's a great piece of music, so it's great
to be part of something so huge. Gosh, there's over
200 people on stage, with the choir and orchestra.
What kind of music do you like to listen to? Any particular
I like to listen to all types of music. I don't really
have one person that I've sort of idolized my whole
life or anything. I enjoy listening to Joni Mitchell,
Kate Bush - I actually got to sing one of her songs
on my album, "Wuthering Heights." I like
Alicia Keys, even though she sings a completely different
style from me, I still appreciate her music. I also
listen to Andrea Bocelli. He sings a similar style,
sort of between classical and pop I guess. Sarah Brightman,
I listened to her when I was younger and sang some
of her songs.
What was it like working with George Martin?
He's lovely. He's just so lovely, he's the loveliest
- he's very humble, very down-to-earth. Even though
it was so nerve-wracking meeting him for the first
time, because you know, he's a "Sir," and
you don't really know what to expect. He doesn't really
come in and push his opinions on everyone else. I
think he sort of enjoys working with people and getting
their opinions. It's just so weird that there are
other people involved in the process. It's not every
day you get to work with someone so experienced.
What do you do to relax while you're on the road?
Usually on my time off I enjoy doing ... not a lot.
It's nice going out of the city and being amongst
the trees and greenery. I love going out for a walk
on the beach when we're in Santa Monica or L.A. Or
if I'm stuck in the city, just exploring, just getting
out and about, that's nice. I also enjoy turning the
TV on as well, but ... (laughs).
Who accompanies you on tour?
I've got my dad with me. My family actually came over
to L.A. for a couple of weeks. Generally I just have
one of my parents travel with me, and occasionally
my whole family comes over if it's a school holiday
What are you doing to keep up with your education?
I've got a teacher in London, and although it's really
hard, I do try and do what I can when I'm on the road,
and I'm sitting some exams in November. I think the
hardest part is just being disciplined. It's easy
when you're in school - you have to work, you're in
a classroom, and you can't switch off. Hopefully I'll
pass (laughs nervously). It's kind of scary, you know
what I mean? I don't sound like I've really ... well,
I've just been spread out, I'll have to do a quite
a bit of cramming.
Do you stay in touch with your friends from home?
I do my best. The only way I really stay in touch
with them is by e-mail. I'm not that reliable. I always
struggle connecting my laptop when we get to the hotel
room. There always seems to be problems. The great
thing is that I know when I get back, they'll still
be there for me. They're really reliable friends.
Will you make it back home for graduation?
I just found out what day it is, and it might be a
possibility, but I'm guessing that I won't get to
it. I'll be around a few days where I think there
will still be a few parties going on, which should
be good. I don't know, I'll sort of do my best to
have a good time ... (laughs).
your schedule leave much time for socializing or dating?
not very often. A lot of people ask, "So, you
got a boyfriend?" But it's like, not really,
there's not a lot of time. I'm not in one place long
enough to meet anyone, and if I do, you're sort of
off again. I'm OK for the meantime. I'm pretty focused.
I want to make the most of this opportunity, well,
this amazing opportunity. And then maybe later on
I'll have a bit of time for a social life.
How much do you get to determine your schedule and
how you're marketed?
It is kind of up to me, my image and all that, and
the concerts I do. I just discuss things with my parents,
and in the end, they go with whatever decisions I
make. My manager, he's great. He respects my opinion
and if I said, "I don't think I could do those
two shows in a row," he's like, "Oh sure,
we won't do it." I feel very much in control.
What are your goals for the future?
I think what I'd really like to have happen is just
continue performing, continue recording. I just want
to keep going up with what I'm doing. I want to start
performing some of my own material, include it on
my albums, and try a little bit more creative control
in that area.
How is life out of a suitcase?
It's not ideal. I've been touring since February,
and the hardest thing is actually keeping under the
weight limit. I don't really buy anything, but the
weight of my luggage manages to increase no matter
Kate O'Neill at email@example.com.