By Louise Harrison
Student of the Mid-West Vocal Academy (MWVA), Soprano Helen Hancock, will perform at ‘The Art of Song’ concert, in the Yeats Tower of Thoor Ballylee, Galway at 8pm on Saturday August 24, as part of Heritage Week.
The Oranmore native, now in her fifth year of vocal studies with tenor Owen Gilhooly, has just returned from Abingdon Summer School for Solo Singers in the UK, and is looking forward to performing with her piano accompanist.
“I love singing with Mark Keane and Thoor Ballylee is a gorgeous intimate performance space. I always enjoy explaining the background to the songs and arias which brings them to life for the audience,” said Helen.
A teacher in Coole Music in Galway, director of recorder ensemble ‘The Whistleblowers’ and choir the ‘Marine Singers’, Helen originally qualified and worked as an engineer.
Though she had studied singing in the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM) and at Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) while studying in UCD, it wasn’t until she met Owen at a conducting summer school in Limerick that she returned to vocal studies.
“What a fateful day, I had always wanted to resume solo singing but didn’t know there was anyone teaching at that level in the West of Ireland. I started with Owen in the MWVA and he believed in me, and pushed me from the start. In that time I have done grade 6, 8, ARSM and have just completed my DipABRSM,” added Helen.
Though used to public speaking, Helen said she was quite shy and nervous when she began singing as a soloist, but over time has learned to harness the adrenaline of performance and believes it now it makes her sing better.
“Becoming a singer doesn’t happen overnight, I have plenty still to learn and my studies will never end but I think the Licentiate Diploma is next on the menu. I find exams give you a good target to aim for when you are outside the Conservatory system.
“The DipABRSM forced me do loads of reading on history of music which really enriched my understanding of what I am singing. I sing every single day, I have children so when they are at school that is my lesson and practice time. I record all my lessons and work on the detail over and over again and with Owen there is always loads of detail,” Helen smiled.
Helen said solo singing involves a lot of time spent alone and you have to be a self starter with a lot of self belief. She has driven from Galway to Limerick for four years for her weekly lessons with Owen, which she said was a big commitment but she has found it to be incredibly rewarding.
“Having a teacher who is also a performer is great, he, like any performer, is constantly working to improve his own voice and that knowledge and skill really comes into his teaching. I never dreamed when I started out how far I would get and I am really optimistic for bigger things in the future. I owe Owen so much, becoming a singer has brought me home to myself and is the most significant thing I have ever done for myself,” added Helen.
Having a week of singing in the UK, Helen will attend another vocal course in France in September.
“Those weeks are magic and keep you going for months. In the normal world people don’t always understand the life of singer and it is amazing to be with people who think and feel like you do- your tribe,” said Helen.
Helen has had much experience of performance in multiple setting over the last number of years, but this year her ambition is to sing with an orchestra, “I have sung so much choral repertoire with orchestras in the past, but I always looked at the soloists with such envy. I didn’t know back then how much work would be involved to get to that level”.
Helen and Mark’s performance on August 24 will include a varied programme of Baroque, opera, art song and musical theatre.
Admission is €10 for adults and €5 for children and tickets are available on the door on the night. Refreshments will be available at the interval.