Meet: Marie-Christiane Nishimwe

Meeting site with Marie-Christiane is at Rotondes, where we take a seat on the wooden benches in the sun. Rarely have I met a person with more positivity and passion for music, and it is with great pleasure that I chat with Marie-Christiane Nishimwe about her first steps as a professional singer in Vienna.

“I’m very interested in literature, lyric poetry and words in general”, says Marie-Christiane and orders a mint tea. “That’s why I always thought I wanted to do something with languages. I started studying history of literature, and for a while I wanted to become a librarian or teach phonetics. However, my life always directed me towards singing.” Marie-Christiane has always been singing, even though in the beginning it was merely a hobby. “When I was 20 years old, I participated in a singing workshop in Belgium, coached by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The class lasted a week, and I was surrounded by people who either studied singing or had already finished their formation. They were under the impression that I was on of them, too. It wasn’t until we finished the workshop that I said I was going back to university. They were stunned, and that’s when it became clear to me. One week later, I enrolled at the conservatory in Vienna and began auditioning.”

In comparison to many other professional singers, the young artist found her calling relatively late. “After that, it all basically came together”, Marie-Christiane explains. “I found a wonderful apartment, I was enrolled and quickly started to meet new people… Everything made sense from the beginning. The courses were very demanding - I took ballet and jazz dance and tapdance, elocution and acting lessons, and I had to get used to the degree of professionalism.” She first had to understand how much you have to work for it. “Sometimes I thought I could just continue singing as a hobby, but something held me back. There simply wasn’t anything else I wanted to fight for that hard. Whenever I’m singing, I know exactly why I do it, and that’s something I’d never want to miss. There simply is no alternative for me.”

“In order to survive in the business, I’ve been very careful not to lose my curiosity - or my naivety.”

A Cargolux plane flies past, and we’re taking the opportunity to find a shady spot. Marie-Christiane catches sight of a bumper car that is parked in the gravel next to the patio. The young singer can’t help but sit in the red car. “I wanted to sing classical music, especially opera, and not musical, operetta or pop music - which is why I took some lessons with a classical coach. Textual work and general articulation are very important elements for me. Now I’m able to make a living from my work.” I want to know more about the core things she has learned from her journey. “In order to survive in the business, I’ve been very careful not to lose my curiosity - or my naivety”, says Marie-Christiane. “I won’t make any progress by putting a spoke in somebody’s wheel, that’s way too strenuous for me. You have to stay true to yourself, without being mean, as many people unfortunately are. The business is tough, and it demands a lot of discipline and training. Those are things I can do. You yourself are the biggest influence on how things go.”

How does the talented singer prepare for a concert? “I start with the concept, say, a song recital”, Marie-Christiane thinks. “What elements fit into the setting? What make sense for the audience? Then I look into my repertoire, and if necessary, I do some more research. Since I am very text-based, I first write out all the texts, and check whether I like the arches. In the morning, I do my breathing exercises - the Five Tibetans - and I drink a lot of water. This usually takes up to three hours, before I practise my songs. After an intense day of work, I have to take care of my vocal cords. That’s not always easy for me - I’m a rather communicative person.”

We are strolling through the garden next to Rotondes, and are looking for further photo scenes. Marie-Christiane tells me about a very special episode: “Lately, I was at a copy shop and that day I had been singing Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine. It had that song stuck in my head. I enjoy humming, and at some point a man turns around in the shop and says “Vous entendez la voix?”, teary-eyed. Affecting someone with my music is a wonderful feeling.” I have seen a rather unconventional promotional picture on Facebook, showing Marie-Christiane in a barn, and I want to know more from the artist about it. She laughs: “I gave a concert in a cowshed. I was singing a lot of Schubert and Fauré, also Ravel and Alban Berg. When I was doing my warm-up, the cows were there, too, munching munching munching. And each time between C and F all cows all together made some confetti with the hay. Somehow, the low frequencies did something to them.”

© 2021 by Romain Butti

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