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Far from an average teenager

By Lorraine Lucciola, Standard-Times correspondent

Kevin Westenberg: In the three years since she arrived on the international music scene, Hayley Westenra has won fans worldwide.

The house lights slowly fade to black amid the fluttering of programs and the nervous whispers of ushers hurrying to seat latecomers.

The expectant mood is calmed by the hypnotic strain of a single pan flute floating through Boston's palatial Wang Theater.

A dusky illumination comes up on stage to show a small but powerful combo of just four additional pieces — piano, rhythm guitar, bass and drums.

Without fanfare, the poised 18-year-old chanteuse from Christchurch, New Zealand, confidently strolls to center stage, raises the microphone to her lips and offers her signature song, "Pokarekare Ana," a heartfelt folk tune lamenting the separation of lovers.

Hayley Westenra doesn't have to embellish the moment or do much more than this, but she does. Her delivery packs a wallop in its simplicity as she responds to a remarkable vocal ability, almost seeming to be under her own spell.

The audience's attention is gripped as she silences the 3,700-seat hall with a strong, sure, perfectly pitched soprano that could, quite literally, be a gift from a deity.

For most adolescents, the three-year span between the ages of 15 and 18 inches along at a snail's pace. Miss Westenra, however, has not spent the last three years idly crossing off days on a calendar. In fact, her down time is limited. She still completes school assignments on the road, and looks forward to visiting with friends when she returns home. When possible, her parents travel with her. She calls her Mum her hero.

"My friends tease me about my career, going all over the world but when I come home, it's like nothing has changed," she says. A new pair of sassy jeans, high-heeled boots and feminine blouses are the wardrobe accoutrements for hanging out as well as concert appearances.

At 15, Ms. Westenra's rise to international performing status was boosted by her first CD, "Pure," (Universal Classics Group, Decca Records), which soon topped the charts at home in New Zealand and Australia, and ultimately graced European and North American markets.

While promoting the CD, she performed before the Queen of England, Prime Minister Tony Blair and President George W. Bush. She became one of the youngest artists to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall, a historic benchmark of success, and has also concertized at Sydney Opera House in Australia as well as Great Britain's Royal Albert Hall and Wembley Arena.

Unlike many teenagers, Ms. Westenra has seen much more than the insides of planes, tour buses, dressing rooms and concert halls in her travels. Some of her most vivid memories come from a trip to Ghana, where she served as a United Nations ambassador.

"It is the complete polar opposite of everything we know in our own lives," she says.

At 18, Ms. Westenra's recently released second CD, "Odyssey" (also on the Universal Classics, Decca label) clearly signals a mature and diverse musical journey and coincides with her privileged slot as opening act on the 2006 World Tour by Il Divo, the internationally acclaimed, pop opera male singing group.

"There is something for everyone" on "Odyssey," she says.

Unlike many recording artists, who churn out the same melodic note by fits and starts for the duration of a CD, Ms. Westenra takes listeners on a diverse musical junket, featuring comfortable folksy favorites such as "Both Sides Now", a powerful variation of "Ave Maria," an upbeat, bluesy attitude in "I Say Grace" and a commanding choral punch in "Prayer."

Her cross-genre appeal is delightfully evident in "Dell'Amore Non Si-Sa," a beautiful duet with Andrea Bocelli, and "She Moves Through The Fair," a dreamy, tonal piece, spiced with Celtic flavor.

Ms. Westenra's personal "odyssey" appears be buoyed by a spiritual component, fueling her tireless dedication to the business of concert appearances and recording tasks. Yet, she remains grounded by the close support of family and friends and the guidance and inspiration of her upbeat manager, Steve Abbott, while bowing to the rising demand from admiring fans for more.

In summing up her feelings about the whirlwind career that has blossomed for her over the past three years, she hesitates for just a moment then clearly utters one word. "Blessed."

source : published by: www.manawatustandard.co.nz & stuff nz
credits : roger mansbridge
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