Irene Bartlett has had a long, illustrious career as a vocal coach, teacher, and mentor to generations of singers across the globe.
Since beginning her academic career at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University in 1996, Irene has been an ever present, if humble and largely hidden figure, behind the careers of generations of talented singers.
Throughout her nearly three decades of service, she has worked with hundreds of singers including national and international recording artists and performers such as Dami Im, Katie Noonan, Kristin Berardi and Elly Hoyt to name a few.
Most recently she was engaged to work with Austin Butler the star of Baz Lurhmann’s latest biopic “Elvis”.
After word of Irene’s expertise reached the ears of Musical Director, Elliot Wheeler, who has worked with Lurhmann on previous films, she was singled out as a singing voice coach who could help Austin to prepare for one of the most demanding roles a singer could ever undertake – the embodiment of the iconic voice of Elvis Presley.
As Irene explains, she travelled to Village Roadshow Studios on either Friday afternoon or Saturdays, as needed “so that I could maintain my everyday lecture/teaching workload at the Con”.
Irene’s role was as the singing voice coach within the creative team who helped Austin craft the speaking voice, diction, and mannerisms of Elvis to bring the larger-than-life character of ‘The King’ to the screen.
“I was one of a number of specialists working with Austin, under the direction of a fantastic Musical Director, Elliott Wheeler” she said.
“My brief was focused on developing Austin’s singing voice technique – to build his vocal stamina to meet the demands of replicating the changing sound, tone and timbre of Elvis’ voice across the years. From the beginning, vocal health was a priority.”
“It was such a pleasure to work with Elliott who was always present to shape the focus of the singing voice training sessions to meet the needs of the production.”
In a recent interview with Headliner Magazine Elliott Wheeler described it this way. “A lot of what I did with Austin was working with a wonderful vocal coach called Irene Bartlett to give him a lot of vocal and breathing exercises, ways of looking after his voice, as well as learning how to access those different types of voices within his body in a way that was sustainable and wouldn’t injure him if he was having to sing for six to eight hours.”
Irene’s work with Austin began in late 2019. Then COVID came and threw a spanner in the works for everyone!
“The entire production was shut down for around 10 months, but throughout that time, Austin stayed in Australia and continued to work with the exercises and practice regime that I had given him. This time allowed him to focus on the processes of building his singing voice. The training sessions began again in late 2020 as production was beginning.” she said.
But how does one prepare an actor to sing in the style of one of the most recognisable voices that has ever been recorded?
Irene said the goal was never to create a carbon copy of Elvis’ voice, but to help Austin to sing the songs that generations of people knew and loved using his own unique voice whilst applying all of Elvis’ idiosyncratic vocal elements.
“Austin is a true professional. He was committed, diligent to the work needed, never shieing away from doing everything and anything that was required to get his voice to where he needed it to be. He was honestly so committed to every aspect of the character he was portraying that it was a joy to help him on his journey.”
While her work in the context of the Elvis movie might be seen as the pinnacle of her teaching career, Irene maintains that it is a love of teaching and fostering young artists that is the legacy she is most proud of.
She reflects on her remarkable career at ‘The Con’ as one “filled with memories”. She insists that she is proud of fostering wonderful local artists who may not appear in a block buster Hollywood film but continue to work as professional musicians in venues around the world.
“I am so blessed to be able to do something that I love for a living, to listen to the amazing young voices coming out of The Con – it is a privilege.
“I am voice teacher and style coach first and foremost, and I always want to get the best out of the singers I work with to help them reach their goals. In the time I have with them, I want to help my students to build their voices so that they can make an impact in the music industry and beyond. I hope throughout my career that is what I have been able to do.” she said.
“I am proud to be part of the excellent performance training that students get at the Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University.
What a wonderful job I have to be able to come to work everyday and help the next generation of contemporary music singers to achieve their goals – that is what I am truly passionate about.
If you are interested in studying at the Queensland Conservatorium, one of Australia’s leading performing arts and music schools, you can find further details here.