‘Music is my life and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world. It is what I do and who I am. I count my lucky stars everyday, that I am able to share my joy and love for music with so many people around the world’.
This simple statement is at the essence of the life, heart and soul of Australia’s international singing star Mirusia Louwerse and her continuing success. Everything this lovely ‘Angel of Australia’ does comes From the Heart, which is the name of her album to be released in Australia in September 2017.
Mirusia is a very special young woman, one of a generation of trained operatic singers now making their way in the world by embracing a classical-crossover genre, one, which as she says herself
“… really suits my voice and all those who love to hear a variety of styles”.
It was hard to believe it has been eleven years since she graduated from the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.
Since then Mirusia has had a very busy and generous life.
Meeting up and spending the morning with Mirusia and her handsome husband Youri Wystyrk recently while she was in Melbourne, was a very happy encounter. She was here to take part in the Andrew McKinnon smash hit production of Scotland the Brave, which wowed the crowd, including me at Hamer Hall.
Mirusia agreed to answering questions about her career to date to not only assist students about to embark on a musical career and their families and friends, but also audiences, to know just a little more about what it is to have a musical life on the international stage.
Mirusia: When did you know your life was going to be about music? Was it one person, a place, or an experience that first led you along the path to where you find yourself now?
“I started singing when I was a very young girl. My parents are Dutch immigrants who came to Australia in 1979. I was born in Brisbane and my first language was Dutch.
When I was old enough, my parents decided to teach me English, and the best way of teaching a language is through music and singing. Not only did they discover I could pick up the English language very quickly, but also I could sing in tune.
I loved singing as a child because I felt like it was “right” and that I could do it. Co-incidentally one of the cassette tapes I used to sing along to was “Feathers, Fur or Fins” by Don Spencer. Now all these years later I am an ambassador for his foundation the Australian Children’s Music Foundation.
Mirusia, it is now over a decade since you left the Conservatorium of Music in Brisbane did the course you completed prepare you for your musical life in real terms and if not, how would you change or add to it?
I cannot even believe it has been that long since I graduated. Going to the Conservatorium was an incredibly enriching experience. Suddenly I was surrounded by my peers who ALL wanted to be part of music and I just loved it. I finally felt like I fit in somewhere.
My favourite subjects were the practical ones like my weekly singing lessons, opera performance and musical theatre studies. One subject I did as an extra, which was not part of my specified course, was Music Industry Studies. I actually think this subject prepared me the most for the “real world”.
Not only is being a singer about performing on stage, but also there is a whole business behind it. I felt it was beneficial for me having learnt some of the business side of the music industry and in fact, would have loved to delve even deeper into that subject.
As with everything, the BEST learning experience is putting your craft into practice in the REAL WORLD. You can sit in a classroom and learn all you like about performing, but it won’t prepare you for doing an actual performance… or working alongside André Rieu… I learnt so much about working in music… internationally”.
Mirusia, you started your musical career in a very unusual way – aged 21 you flew overseas to present your credentials to Andre Rieu and found yourself flying through the air as an angel. Was that a happy experience and how long did it take to get your feet on the ground?
It certainly was a whirlwind experience to graduate one month from the Conservatorium, and the next be whisked away to live in Europe and perform in Arenas and Stadiums all around the world for hundreds of thousands of people a year.
I felt really embraced by André and the Orchestra and quickly made friends for life and I moved to The Netherlands and loved being there for almost 10 years before heading back home to Australia.
It all went so quickly – we were always on the road, looking back I cannot believe the things we achieved, but I also cannot believe so much time passed as it feels like only yesterday I was flying around as an Angel!
Think back to where the best locations you have performed since your career began, is there one that stands out?
I have been so incredibly fortunate to not only perform in huge arenas and stadiums around the world, but also some of the most incredible opera houses and beautiful scenic settings. To pick one would be absolutely impossible.
But a shortlist would be the overwhelming feeling of performing at the Semperoper in Dresden, my first performance at the Sydney Opera House, which was always so iconic to me and still is, and the glorious outdoor concerts with André Rieu for example on the Vrijthof square in his hometown of Maastricht.
The vibe is always electric and while singing you can hear a pin drop, even though there are more than 10,000 people sitting on the square.
Nerves can be a crippling emotion for all live performers… how do you face and overcome your fear when you walk out on a stage… does practice or preparations help.
I have never really had an issue with nerves. I think the only time I get a little “nervous” is when I am airing a song for the first time, or when the rehearsal period has been too short and everyone is feeling a little underprepared. This happens a lot because of the busy schedule, but I get it adds to the exhilaration of the performance and makes you feel really proud afterwards.
Is there a plan, or do collaborations with other artists just happen.
Most of the time, it is right time, right place, and right vibe. Sometimes you just meet someone and know, this is awesome, and we would work well together. And then you just make it happen. I am releasing a new album in September called ‘From the Heart’ and on the album I have a number of guest artists.
One of them being my long time friend Lachlan Gillespie, who is now the Purple Wiggle in The Wiggles – we used to sing together as teenagers and always stayed in touch and it is so awesome to celebrate our achievements in music together.
So on the new album is a song called “Love is a Gift” which we used to sing together. Now that we are both married (Lachlan married Emma Watkins, the Yellow Wiggle, and I married Youri Wystyrk who I met as part of Andre Rieu Productions), we felt it would be special to record this song 15 years on and it has become one of my favourite tracks on the album.
Opera is a significant tradition in western culture … what advice would you give students seeking to study and work in the world of opera based on your experiences.
“As an absolute lover of singing opera and classical music, I am always a little sad at the small amounts of people who come to see this style of music. It is SO beautiful and so amazing. Yet, it lives on no matter what.
For new opera singers who want to pursue a career in opera, there are so many paths to go down and it sounds all a bit airy-fairy but you really need to follow your heart and sing what you LOVE to sing.
I love performing on big stages and singing in concerts, so performing with André Rieu was absolutely a perfect fit for me… when you start out in this career it is hard, and not many people succeed and can live off singing alone. That is the hard reality of this career.
One piece of advice would be to absolutely follow a music industry or a business course alongside it. We all love to sing, but we also have to realize we need to earn money with it too and be able to pay our bills at the end of the month.
So often I see singers who are not business minded and only think about their love for performing, are excited about the prospect of being the “chosen one”, and caught up in it all, don’t properly negotiate their contracts.”
How has having a supportive partner in your life changed it?
“Youri has been an absolute blessing to me. The thing I love is that he isn’t married to me because I sing and have created a name for myself; he is married to me for me.
He has to live with me more than he sees me on stage, so it is important to find someone who is there for you for the right reasons. Being a singer is a lifestyle, and a partner needs to understand this.
From just getting up in the morning and making sure you have a voice to watching your diet in case of reflux and not being in a draught in case you catch a cold and all of those things, that may seem trivial to “normal people”, for a singer, this is our life. I think this is why people can call us “divas” because literally everything we do is influenced by our career”.
Living life in the public spotlight Mirusia must be a challenge: what are its benefits?
I love to touch people’s hearts with my voice and to make them feel warm inside. I love it when I hear from people on the streets or in my fan mail inbox, that I made them feel great or helped them heal during a difficult time. It’s why I do this. Yes, I also need to make money and feed my family and pay my bills, but the main reason is because I always seek human contact and to be able to do that by just singing, that will always make me amazed.
I also like that I am able to help people and charities and I am involved with two charities that I stand behind and love to create awareness for.
There was just one question left about the future.
Congratulations are in order to you and Youri; your baby is due this Xmas… after that in terms of your career, what do you expect will be next?
“I can’t wait to take my new little roadie on the road with us. Our baby will travel with us wherever we go on tour and hopefully, one day, be involved in the music industry too!” she said. “Who knows, maybe in a few years I will be singing duets with a new star!”
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017