By Louise Harrison
Busy soprano and vocal coach at the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA) Helen Houlihan believes learning to sing encourages creativity, fosters discipline, improves aural skills, posture and confidence.
“As the student’s voice develops and grows, they enjoy finding their expression through their voice. It is also believed that singing can lift the spirits if someone has a low mood,” said Helen.
Recently conferred with an honours MA in Music Performance from the Cork School of Music, Helen’s earliest memory of music that made an impression on her, was a piece she heard on the radio when she was just 10 years of age.
“Hearing Kathleen Ferrier for the first time on radio singing, ‘What is life to me without thee’, better known as ‘Che Faro senna Euridice’ from Gluck’s opera ‘Orfeo Ed Euridice’.
“I was completely enraptured by her beautiful singing of a most beautiful aria with such heartfelt sorrow. My mother bought the recording for me which I played incessantly. It remains a favourite aria of mine to this day,” added Helen.
At Helen’s first vocal lesson she remembers singing through a song that she already knew and then learning a piece that the teacher recommended for her, concentration on vocal technique came at a later stage of her studies.
“Music is my bliss and being involved as a performer or as a teacher is when I’m most happy in life,” smiled Helen.
Having taught voice for eight years in total and six years at the MWVA Helen said, “I have had the privilege of working with great vocal coaches and language coaches and it’s wonderful to be in a position to pass on that knowledge to students.
“Finding ways to work with students in growing and developing their voices and their particular sets of vocal issues is a challenge that I enjoy.
“It also informs my own vocal technique as I am constantly thinking of various ways of approaching technical challenges.
“I love when students reach the stage where they are not having to think constantly about vocal technique, and when they can engage with the text and focus more on communicating the story and finding the underlying emotion. I love seeing how the vocal technical development leads to a growing confidence and a freedom of expression that it brings,” added Helen.
Helen trained with Jean Holmes in Limerick and in London with James Lockhart, David Harper and Paul Hamburger. She has performed on many occasions at the National Concert Hall, the Galway Festival, the Wexford Festival Opera, with Opera Ireland, Wexford Opera, Opera Theatre Company, Anna Livia Opera, and in London at the Fortune Theatre, Eaton House, St. John Smith Square and at the Holland Park Festival.
Helen has also been a guest soloist with the RTE Concert Orchestra, both in live performance and in studio broadcast and a guest soloist on several live television shows.