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Backstage with Elias | Emily Helenbrook

My friend, and vocalist Cory Gallagher called me one day and asked if I can give him input on lighting for a Christmas concert he was having at a local South Buffalo church. I accepted, and met him the day before the show, during rehearsals. I arrived and was quickly introduced to pianist Frank Scinta, and vocalist Emily Helenbrook. Cory and I went about our business as the two musicians began rehearsing. As we spoke about lighting ideas towards the back of the church, I hear this beautiful operatic voice coming from the stage. I found it difficult to focus, it was powerful, well trained, and basically I dropped my jaw to the ground. That was the subject of our story.
Emily-Helenbrook-Buffalo-NYEmily’s roots are of the highest musical order in Buffalo. Her grandfather, Mathew Tworek was an original member of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as a violinist, and master musician. He was a member of the BPO for over 60 years. “I was inspired by my grandfather’s playing. He played with his heart, and I always knew I wanted to be the artist that he was. I knew I had a voice so I thought that was the best way for me to be like him”, she tells me. He, and her aunt, Adrienne Gryta were a huge influence early on in her choice to pursue music. Aunt Adrienne is also a vocalist and appeared with the BPO throughout her career.

Growing up in Alexander, NY, Emily’s first performance was in elementary school, at a talent show called The Follies. She performed “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” with her siblings, dressed in Wizard of Oz characters. Her older brother played the flute, was dressed as the Cowardly Lion, Her twin brother played the piano, as the scarecrow, and Emily as Dorothy. She was obsessed with Judy Garland, and contributed to her desire to sing. “It’s a cute story”, Emily says.

stan“My aunt took me under her wing, gave me the proper repertoire, made sure I wasn’t hurting my voice.” She says. At 11 or 12 years of age, Emily auditioned for Eastman Community Music School. She studied with Patricia Alexander, the mother of renowned vocalist and 4 time Grammy Award winner Renee Fleming, in Rochester. She was a part of it for 6 years, took piano, music theory, and performed with her grandpa, and aunt. It was sometimes called 3 Generations of Music. “Some of the best times of my life”, recalls the 20 year old soprano.

During that time, Emily performed with several symphonic orchestras, and at many prestigious concert halls, including Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in NYC. That was a result of her winning the Barry/Alexander International Voice Competition. During the visit, Emily was able to take a vocal lesson from Renee Fleming at her penthouse. CBS Sunday Morning Show recorded it and used a segment on their show. While this stuff was happening, she realized she can make a career of it.

from the top 4Currently, Emily is a junior at Eastman School of Music, also studying at the University of Rochester, in pursuit of a dual degree in vocal performance and political science. She is also in a certificate program called Arts Leadership program. Emily explained to me the highlights of its mission statement, “this program recognizes that success as a professional musician requires more than superb technique and artistry, success also requires entrepreneurial savvy, strong communication skills, fluency with emerging technologies, commitment to audience education, public advocacy for music and the arts.” Carol Webber is her vocal teacher at school. “She’s the best thing that has ever happened to my voice. Very direct, but embracing, very whimsical when teaching” Emily states. Carol Webber’s motto is “You simply cannot sing if you have nothing to say”.

From The Top--EH 16Our performance featured quality musicians, including pianists Linda Appleby, and Frank Scinta, violinist Sarah Rice, tenor Cory Gallagher and poet Amy Gallagher. As strong as their performances were, it was Emily’s performance that outshined them all. The highlight of the evening was “He’s Got The Whole World In His Hand” as performed by Kathleen Battle, the same song that blew my socks off the day before at rehearsal. It was one of those personal moments of mine that begged the question, “this stuff really exists in Buffalo?”

Emily will be plugging in to her deepest musical roots, performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra on March 27, 10:30 am, and March 28 at 8 pm.

Emily is a strong advocate for classical music. “I have always believed that intelligence is not how much you know, but how much you can know. I believe that music cannot and should not be perceived as an elitist art, anyone can learn about classical music. And if a listener is able to simply appreciate classical music, the emotional spectrum this music provides is boundless.”

She also has an interest in enriching young lives with the love of music. She says, “You know in your heart what makes you happy. For me, that is music and everything that surrounds it if you want to try for a career. That love must be so much a part of you that you couldn’t see yourself living without it”.

“I’m extremely grateful to my family, my mother especially. They’re the reason I am able to pursue this dream. I was inspired musically, but also their unfaltering support for every endeavor has helped me pursue the dream”. Great passion, tremendous musical pedigree, hard work. Emily has the ingredients to propel a successful professional career. I will be paying attention.

From the Top recording done last spring: The recording is from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, “Mein Herr Marquis” (click here to listen).


Written by Elias Benavides

Elias Benavides

A goofy kid from Buffalo's lower west side who loved to play the guitar and loved live music. Has moved on to sound engineering, stage lighting, anything live music. Now he's writing about musicians on BR too. Why am I talking in the third person?

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