manu News Menu Button
February 1st, 2005_
Hayley Westenra: Live from New Zealand banner
Hayley Westenra with the Musical Island Boys
Teddy Tahu Rhodes
  Baritone Teddy Tahu Rhodes joins Hayley in the duets "How Many Stars?" and "Hine e Hine."
Hayley Westenra

Hayley Westenra's singing talents were first spotted by her grade-school teacher.

This program is currently not available through Shop Thirteen or ShopPBS.

With her first international album release, PURE, having already sold more than one million copies abroad, 17-year-old vocal sensation Hayley Westenra is quickly reaching new heights of international stardom. Born into a family of singers, the New Zealand native has recently become both the fastest-selling debut classical artist ever in the UK and the biggest-selling local artist in New Zealand's history.

Produced by Giles Martin with his father, the legendary Beatles producer Sir George Martin, PURE finds Westenra exploring the worlds of pop and traditional Maori choral singing, as well as giving fresh takes on numbers from the classical repertoire.

GREAT PERFORMANCES presents Westenra in concert from Wellington, New Zealand, performing songs like "Amazing Grace" and "Pokarekare Ana (Come Back to Me)," and displaying the pitch-perfect talent that has already earned her appearances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and tenor legend José Carreras.

Discover the advantages of having perfect pitch, as Hayley Westenra does, and read about the events that catapulted her to international singing stardom while still in her teens in the essay by writer Ed Ward. Read the interview in Dialogue to get more tidbits about the singer's life. Find the works she performs in the evening's program as well as video excerpts in the song list.

Many local PBS stations are offering the DVD of the program and Hayley Westenra's CD PURE as Pledge gifts. To order these items, pledge now.

Top banner photos: Hayley Westenra, and the singer performing with special guest Teddy Tahu Rhodes.






















By Ed Ward

When Hayley Westenra walks on stage to perform a concert, two things are immediately noticeable. First, she's young. Second, she exudes self-confidence. And when she opens her mouth to sing, you know the reason for that second part: her uncanny ability to hit a note exactly and sustain it.

Lest that seem a fairly easy feat, at least for those people who can make the ear-to-voice connection, let's consider a few things. For many singers, the first note is a problem. That's one of the many reasons voice teachers exist. In popular music, pretty much anything goes, and complete and total accuracy isn't quite as much of an issue, although sliding into the note isn't considered good form most of the time. Many people who accompany themselves have learned how to use the vibration of the accompaniment, the physical feeling of the instrument producing the tone, as something to grab onto, but this can develop into a crutch.

And once the note's out, holding it is another problem. The tendency of the muscles involved to relax or tighten up means that they have to be tamed, exercised, in order not to slip. One common way of dealing with this is to employ what's called vibrato, a gentle throbbing that allows the tone a little leeway. Virtually every singer uses vibrato, and in the case of the most athletic singers, opera singers, it's expected and, in fact, has been enshrined in what's called the bel canto style.

Hayley Westenra's voice shows not a trace of vibrato. It is, as the title of her first international major-label album release says, pure. This is extraordinary. To keep steady over the course of an hour-long concert is comparable to Olympic gymnastics, a display of control and physical achievement far beyond what the vast majority of singers are capable of.

The thing is, she's always been able to do this, and not because she took lessons. Hayley's ability was discovered when she was all of six years old. Even her parents were unaware, although they knew she liked singing and dancing, and the day her mother, Jill, packed her daughter's ballet things off to school with her, she didn't give it a second thought. She knew that Hayley would be performing in the school's Christmas play and that she and her husband, Gerard, would attend like any proud parents.

What they didn't realize was that Hayley was the show: the play had been built around her singing and dancing. The praises of Hayley's music teacher finally made them realize that what their daughter was doing was unique. Her teacher also recommended Hayley get music lessons to take advantage of her superb sense of pitch, so she began learning the violin. It was a good choice: with a violin, you have to put your fingers down just so, or else the note is off. (And violin players, too, use vibrato, for the same reasons singers do.)

Hayley was also lucky in growing up in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city large enough to have a cultural awareness, but not one on which the eyes of the world are focused. She was able to find a good violin teacher and a good piano teacher, and she had two younger siblings, Sophie and Isaac, who were also musical. This meant that she grew into her teens feeling that making music was a natural thing to do, and the feedback she got made her realize that it was something she was good at. When she was 13, she decided to make a record, a modest sort of thing, a "memento," as she called it, for the people who had expressed delight when they heard her perform. To celebrate its release -- there were only 1,000 copies pressed -- she and Sophie set up on a street in Christchurch and began to play.

In one of those strokes of luck that would be corny if you tried to put it in a film script, one of the people in the crowd that soon gathered was a local journalist who had a television show, eager to know if they'd recorded. She bought a copy of the CD, and Hayley's career was born. She appeared on the journalist's show, and a concert promoter, Gray Bartlett, caught it. He, in turn, contacted Universal Records New Zealand, who put her under contract.

Her first professionally made album, HAYLEY WESTENRA, debuted at number one on the New Zealand pop charts, its mix of classical and pop tunes appealing to New Zealanders just as much as the Westenra kids' street performance had in Christchurch. It became the fastest-selling album by a local artist in the country's history, and Hayley returned to the studio to record a Christmas album, MY GIFT TO YOU, which also did well.

By this time, news of the young sensation had traveled to England, where Universal's classical department, the Decca Records Group, decided to see if her appeal could extend beyond the North and South islands. Putting her in the studio with Giles Martin -- and his father, George, who had once guided another provincial pop sensation called the Beatles in their recording career -- the management sensibly stuck with the formula that had worked so well before. The resulting album, PURE, made Hayley the fastest-selling classical artist Britain had ever seen and Decca had ever had. She has been touring and performing ever since, including appearances in the United States with the Boston Pops and at Carnegie Hall.

Hayley Westenra has managed to handle all of this with equanimity and poise, which she puts down to her New Zealand upbringing. She knows what she's got, she's in no hurry to exploit it, and she's very happy to be able to share her gift with the world.


The evening's program was recorded at the St. James Theatre in Wellington, New Zealand. To see an excerpt from the concert, click on the Watch the Video links below.

"Pokarekare Ana" ("Come Back to Me")
Hayley Westenra

"River of Dreams"
Music by Antonio Vivaldi
Lyrics by Charlie Dore
Hayley Westenra

"Across the Universe of Time"
Music and lyrics by Sarah Class
Hayley Westenra, Sophie Westenra

"May It Be"
Music and lyrics by Enya, Nicky Ryan, and Roma Ryan
Hayley Westenra

Music and lyrics by Karl Jenkins
Hayley Westenra, Wellington Cathedral Choir

"Beat of Your Heart"
Music and lyrics by George Martin and Giles Martin
Hayley Westenra

"Who Painted the Moon Black?"
Music and lyrics by Sonia Aletta Nel
Hayley Westenra

"How Many Stars?"
Music and lyrics by A.R. Rahman and Don Black
Hayley Westenra, Teddy Tahu Rhodes

"Spiritual Medley"
Hayley Westenra, Musical Island Boys, Elim Gospel Choir

"Both Sides Now"
Music and lyrics by Joni Mitchell
Hayley Westenra

Hayley Westenra: Live from New Zealand

Hayley tackles "Both Sides Now," the poignant Joni Mitchell song that became a hit when Judy Collins recorded it in the late 1960s.

"Wuthering Heights" was among the 45s in her parents' record collection, and according to Hayley, she fell in love with the song as soon as she heard it.

To listen to these tracks, visit the PBS web site HERE
The free RealPlayer plug-in is required. Get RealPlayer

Note: Some audio and/or video degradation may be noticable if the web is busy.

"Wuthering Heights"
Music and lyrics by Kate Bush
Hayley Westenra

"Hine e Hine" ("Maiden, O Maiden")
Music and lyrics by Princess Te Rangi Pai
Hayley Westenra, Teddy Tahu Rhodes

Related Web Sites


Hayley Westenra World

Askonas Holt: Teddy Tahu Rhodes

Musical Island Boys Online

NGC Wellington Sinfonia

Wellington Cathedral Choir

Link advised by Dabbs Woodfin


News Menu 2005/1 News Menu 2005/1

Home Page