First time in the spotlight

Written by: 
Samantha Daynes

Brianne Helms stood at the piano, wearing a white blouse and long pink skirt, one arm leaned on the back of the piano as she faced the audience and sang.

Helms’ fellow students had never seen her standing upright before, as she has cerebral palsy and moves around campus in a wheelchair. This was her first solo performance, which she said she found unexpectedly enjoyable.

Helms performed “How Could I Ever Know?” from the movie “The Secret Garden.” Upon finishing, a smile shone on Helms’ face as she took a bow. Before she walked offstage, leaning on the piano for support, she gestured her thanks to pianist Stacy McCarrey.

“I can’t believe I did that. It was awesome,” Helms said of performing in front of an audience. “It was surprisingly fun. I thought I would be a lot more nervous than I was, but once I got up there, I just did it.”

Helms said she has been playing the saxophone and performing in band concerts for almost 10 years. Her first experience singing in a performance was with the BYU-Hawaii Concert Choir.

Helms, a senior studying music from Indiana, was one of 12 music majors who performed at “Island Magic: Opera Scenes” on April 6. The students, as part of their class, performed both opera and musical theatre pieces in a showcase of their talents. Along with the musical theatre piece, Helms sang “Per la Gloria d’adorarvi” from “Griselda.”

Helms said she and her family moved to Laie four years ago when her father got a job working with the Math Department. Helms chose to study music because it is the only thing she’s really been interested in doing.

Helms’ friend Hannah Miller, a sophomore from Laie studying TESOL, said, “Brianne loves her major. She loves the people.” Miller said performing on stage is something she considers brave. She added, “I’ve never thought that there’s anything that Brianne can’t do.”

For Helms, the path to performance has not come without its challenges. In December 2014, Helms said she had surgery to put hardware in her foot, which took a long time to heal. When Helms’ teacher, Dr. Charlene Chi, met Helms in March 2016, the screws had just been removed.

Helms said after the screws were out, “it felt a lot better to stand and do things. After that, it was a lot easier to stand and even to sing.”

Chi added, “I encourage her in her lessons to stand up when she feels comfortable to do so, and it helps her singing exponentially. And it also makes her so happy because she’s getting more sound out of her body. We’re also working on seeing if we can get that same sound while she’s sitting down in her chair.”

Fellow performer Michael Potter also sang in “Island Magic: Opera Scenes” and compared Helms’ voice to that of artists Charlotte Church or Hayley Westenra. Potter added Helms has a great passion for music. He said, “She loves it. You can tell. I don’t get to see her perform too much, and so it was awesome to see her standing up and belting it out there. It was a really big growth for her.”

Chi said she was very moved by Helms’ performance and was proud of her student. “I feel like it’s my job this semester to not let her be shy and to just shine. She knows deep down what she’s capable of doing, and it’s just a matter of time before she’ll feel comfortable in her own skin to just be her radiant self.”

When asked if people ever give her funny looks for being in a wheelchair, Helms replied, “Not in Hawaii or Laie. It used to be a lot harder on the mainland, just because I feel like here people are so much more used to differences and being okay with people’s differences.” She added having a wheelchair is not as much of a hassle as it could be, and she likes being able to get places on her own.

Helms said she is planning on graduating in February 2017 and possibly following a career in music therapy. She said as she improves her solo singing, she’d be open to continuing to perform. “It’s nice to have something that you’ve worked on for such a long time, and people can come see you perform it.”

Chi said Helms would excel at both music therapy and performing. “She’s empathetic and she’s so sensitive, and it’s very easy to talk to her. She’s very cheerful in a gentle way.”

Uploaded May 6, 2016