Opera Singer & Singing Coach: Helen Astrid
Helen Astrid is in high demand as a singing coach and has helped thousands of individuals and organisations successfully reach their singing goals. She launched The Helen Astrid Singing Academy in London in 2001 and receives substantial press coverage for her work with regular broadcasts on radio and television, including BBC1 News, The Paul O'Grady Show and What the Butler Saw, both for Channel 4.
She was awarded a Scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music and gained her Diploma in 1988, presented by Diana, Princess of Wales. She then pursued a career as a soprano soloist at most of the major U.K. music venues including English National Opera, Royal Opera House, Garsington Opera and the South Bank.
Helen was born in Kingston-upon-Thames and educated in Kew and Richmond, Surrey. She is married with two divine cats, Paloumbi and Tula.
FΩRMIdea News: In what ways do you make your singing lessons uplifting?
Helen Astrid: My Clients tell me they feel uplifted after a lesson. I’ve no idea what happens but it’s something magical. I love showing people how to express themselves in the music they’re singing by giving them the freedom to let go. This brings such joy to people’s lives and seems to transform them.
Does singing improve your life and health? If so, how?
My philosophy is that singing saves peoples lives. Yes, really! It connects us with our deepest fears, our longings, our desires and ambition. No other activity can do this so brilliantly. Singing is more recognised now by the medical profession, and it’s used in some NHS practices. There has been extensive scientific research into the benefits of singing not just on a health and well-being level but also for people who have long-term illnesses such as chronic lung disease, Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. Singing connects part of our brain which we don’t use when we speak and uses muscles in our whole body, making us feel good by the release of sexy endorphins into our bloodstream.
Where do you teach in London?
I teach in South-West London. Some Clients send me their driver and I’ll go to their home and we’ll do a three-hour blitz of Puccini arias for example.
Do you teach workshops as well as one-to-one?
I run team-building singing workshops for companies who are looking to bring their staff together. It could be because there are lots of changes within the organisation and there’s some uncertainty and a need to reassure their employees or find creative solutions to issues that arise. It could also simply be because they want to experience an uplifting singing session trying out Gospel singing or a chorus from Verdi’s ‘Nabucco’. It really is transformational! I’m also excited to be co-running ‘Celebrating Songs of the Nations’with conductor Nicholas Cleobury in connection with the Rugby World Cup 2015 for which I’ve received sponsorship from the RFU and Civic Pride Fund.
Are there any lifestyle / dietary restrictions for singers? Any lifestyle changes to commit to for peak vocal health?
Yes, certainly. You do need to keep yourself fit like an athlete and maintain a regime. If you have a major performance coming up, you’d ensure you get plenty of sleep, avoid noisy places, avoid talking too much and watch what you eat and drink. For example, avoid dairy products as they coat your vocal cords with mucus and that’s a disaster for a singer or excessive amounts of tea and coffee. However, some singers take this all too far and become obsessive about their voices. But I think you’ll get to know your body and limitations very quickly.I was once called up by the manager of a very famous singer who had a performance that night in London and he needed a special type of herbal tea to help clear his throat and could I give any advice over the phone. I did, of course.
What would be your advice to someone who passionately wants to sing but has an awful voice?
There are no rules about who can or can’t sing. Doing it professionally is another matter and you have to be damned good. If you love to let your hair down with a good warble despite protestations from loved ones, the shower is usually a good bet or the car for some privacy!
Can anyone sing?
Most people can sing though most claim they can’t.
Who is your favourite singer of all time?
This is the hardest question ever! If I had to listen to just one singer until the day I die, it would probably be Jonas Kaufmann singing operetta. Ask me tomorrow and I’ll say something different.
What type of music do you prefer to sing? Classical? Lieder? Jazz? Pop? Opera?
I trained as an opera singer, so that’s my real passion. However, one of my favourite genres is Lieder. Nothing beats Fischer-Dieskau singing Schubert! My playlist is really varied and there are times when I love Abba or a wild rock riff.
Is singing a good way to learn a language? Does it improve intonation and pronunciation?
Singing is a great way to understand more about other languages. Most opera is in Italian, German, French and English and in order to sing and interpret them properly you really do need to know the meaning of every single word. The best vowels are Italian because it’s such a beautiful, open and forward sound. Mamma mia!I’m not sure it necessarily improves intonation and pronunciation. This must come from a good solid technique which I teach people.
In many religions, singing and chanting are a way of meditating and praying? Would you agree with this?
What tips can you offer a singer who dreams of a professional career?
Follow your dream and don’t give up. Know that the life of a singer is demanding and you may be travelling away from home much of the time. The rewards are enormous so it’s worth sticking at if the talent is there. You could also read my book Singing Tips at your Fingertips, which is like having a singing teacher in your pocket! www.thehelenastridsingingacademy.com
Research suggests singing is good for us - BBC with Helen Astrid
Tell me the truth about opera | Helen Astrid | TEDxSquareMile
Additional up-to-date information (16/01/2016):
Helen has just given her first Tedx Talk on ‘Tell me the Truth about Opera’ at Cass Business School, London. Further speaking engagements are in her diary throughout 2016/17.