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Way back in our second issue of Capital Melody Thomas interviewed two young female Wellington musicians: Isabella Moore and Estère Dalton.
The opera and the electric blue witch-hop artists were on very different paths to achieve their dreams. And, at the time, Melody predicted they were both “destined for international success”.
We thought it was worth a re-revisit.
This story was first published in July 2013.
For Isabella Moore, an operatic soprano, the way is marked out with singing competitions, international study, and theatre performances. Estère Dalton is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer, the markers include shout-outs from bloggers and other tastemakers, musical collaborations and relentless gigging in bars and at festivals here and overseas. For now they are both living, studying, and chasing their dreams from Wellington.
“The city isn’t about ‘trends’ or ‘what’s in’ but is more about being yourself and sharing your uniqueness, which – in my opinion – is what’s really ‘in’,” says Moore.
“It’s a fantastic hub of creativity and inspiration,” adds Dalton, “There are so many talented people about, so much to take in.”
Moore was born in Wellington but grew up in Auckland, where her parents still live. In 2011 she moved back to the capital to study under soprano Margaret Medlyn at Te Kōkī, the New Zealand School of Music (NZSM), a joint venture of Massey University and Victoria University of Wellington (VUW). She’s pursuing a postgraduate diploma in classical voice, and considers performance an extension of her study.
“Outside of university you are being judged on your appearance, voice, technique, age, everything really. You may get an ‘A’ in your recital assessment but it doesn’t necessarily mean opera companies will like your voice or that you’ll have a successful career,” she says.
Dalton grew up here and first entered the public eye as a musician when she took second place at the 2009 Smokefree Rockquest regionals, as well as the national award for women’s musicianship, while she was a student at Wellington High School. Dalton’s father was born in Cameroon and now lives in France, and her closest support is her Mum. “I’m always raiding her fridge for the yummy stuff that I can’t generally afford like good feta cheese, Vogel’s bread, organic peanut butter and real maple syrup! Food support!” she laughs. From Wellington High it was an easy move up the hill to VUW, where Dalton now studies anthropology and philosophy. “I never wanted to learn music theory or train as a vocalist at a school. I just knew it wasn’t for me. Studying philosophy and anthropology have extended my thought processes and the way I view the world greatly. Both subjects have a poetry to them which is incredibly motivating in terms of song writing,” says Dalton.
So how do two up-and-coming young musicians who also study full-time manage to pay the bills? Like most musicians in New Zealand, their art doesn’t cover the rent. Moore’s family help her out financially, and she receives money for living costs from the government as long as she remains a student. “That’s been a lifesaver. Although it is making my student loan look impossible,” she says. She also performs at the occasional corporate event or concert, but in order to fully focus on her studies she doesn’t take on too much extra work. Moore can afford to do this – she’s still considered a “baby” in the opera world. Depending on determinants like vocal range, weight and timbre, female opera voices are broken into three types – soprano, mezzo-soprano and contralto – soprano being the highest. From there, types are further broken down into categories called Fächer – inside the soprano type there are five – and while Moore’s voice hasn’t fully matured yet she’s heading towards classification as a Dramatic Soprano.“It’s common for sopranos with this voice type not to peak until they are in their 30’s. So, at 22, it is highly unlikely that I’ll be offered any lead roles with any opera companies. Opera is basically the opposite to pop music, kind of like fine wine, the older the better,” she laughs.
Dalton also receives a student allowance and works part time, but to gain traction in her side of the music industry, she needs to be gigging. Every two or three weeks Dalton performs onstage somewhere in New Zealand or more recently abroad. She’s one of three vocalists in nine-piece supergroup Brockaflowersaurus-Rex and The Blueberry Biscuits, but the music she makes on her own is as a “bedroom music producer”, a term embraced by those who produce music, generally electronic, from the safety of their own homes. Using her MPC (Music Production Centre), affectionately named “Lola”, Dalton creates tracks using her voice, various instruments and drum samples.
“Prior to that I used to do lots of solo-acoustic gigs, but I love drumming and rhythms and I was really excited by the idea that I could record anything I wanted and make music out of it. Some of the samples I record are just me turning a door knob or banging on a desk,” she says.
For a large number of bedroom producers the bedroom is as far as their music gets – not counting the internet – but Dalton is building an increasingly impressive fan base by taking these songs to the stage, performing simply as Estère – singing live over songs created at home with Lola.
“When I started making beats with Lola it was always with the intention that I would go out and perform with her. I liked the idea of making the music that I hear in my head and translating that into a live setting without relying on other musicians to execute the sound for me. I wanted a machine band basically,” she says.
Since she began performing as Estère, Dalton’s songs have featured heavily on the playlists and charts of New Zealand’s alternative and non-commercial radio stations, she’s performed at Camp A Low Hum and for the 2013 Wellington Jazz Festival at The Opera House, as well as shows in Melbourne, London and Paris. This year will see her perform everywhere from Westport to South Korea.
Isabella Moore’s sights are also trained on international stages, but she has more study to do first. In September she will head to the Wales International Academy of Voice in Cardiff to study under world leading operatic tenor Dennis O’ Neill. “After Wales, I’m thinking of either auditioning for Young Artist programmes in Europe and America or heading to a music institution in America to do more study. I ultimately want to be singing in opera houses around America but I need to network and one of the best ways is to study in one of their top institutions, for example, The Juilliard School of Music,” she says.
Moore and Dalton are young women with big dreams and the drive to see them through, but they’re also both surrounded by people who believe in them, and who never told them to “get a real job”. “Although I was told by my careers advisor at high school to continue to take Mathematics and Economics ‘just in case’,” laughs Moore.
But Moore knew a creative career needn’t come with a back-up plan – she has a living example in her Grandfather – celebrated poet and writer Albert Wendt. “His success as a creative mind made me feel like a creative path could lead to a viable career, and that I should follow my passions and do what I love, because only great things can come from it,” she says.
And when they’re both little old ladies looking back over their lives, what needs to have happened for them to call it a “success”?
Dalton hopes to “create music that can stand on its own and that I am proud of. And to perform all over the world and produce albums that inspire and interest people.” It also means being able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle “not struggling to pay bills”, and of course being able to buy “nice peanut butter and musical machinery!” For Moore success is about working hard, loving hard and having no regrets. “Singing is what I love, so, if I could make a career out of singing opera, I’d call that a success,” she says.