One of Our Own: Helga Hulse, Still Going Strong At 97

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Contributing Writer
Robert Houston

Helga Hulse is a Jamestown musical icon. 

Born in September, 1921, in Honolulu, she started taking piano lessons from her mother at age 3.

“My mother was a concert pianist in Hawaii,” Helga said. Her father was Assistant Chief Civil Engineer for a nine-island area of the territory.

“Later, I studied with Rudolph Ganz and other world-famous pianists,” she said.

Her first public performance — of Mozart’s D minor Concerto — took place when she was 11 years old. “It took a lot of practice,” she said with a laugh.

Helga has been a life-long performer and teacher. About performing, she said, “What I like most is that I become part of the music. It’s a transfiguration into the music.” As for teaching, she said, “There’s a real thrill in seeing someone, especially children, learn the language of music.”

In addition to playing and teaching, she composes music, mostly study pieces for her students.

Helga has taught many students who have gone on to outstanding careers in music.

“Lori Rainer has gone on to be a top-notch teacher in New York, and she’s associated with the Eastman School of Music,” Helga noted. “And Ron Packard is a fine piano teacher and a brilliant pianist in his own right.”

Helga’s families now live in California and South Carolina. They have been back to Hawaii, she said, but the islands had become too commercial for her taste. 

Hawaii may have been her birthplace, but she has travelled the world.

“I fell in love with Denmark,” she said. “I lived in Copenhagen for two years. I didn’t perform there. I studied.

She has lived in Jamestown since 1973.

“Jamestown connects with people,” she said. “Everybody I meet connects. It’s a marvelous place. When I was away from Jamestown, I missed it terribly. I am very appreciative of the life we have here.”

Nearing the century mark, Helga still teaches at limited number of advanced students at Chautauqua Music.

For three and a half years, Helga offered her music program to inmates at the County Jail in Mayville. She taught them to play the piano.

“I found some very significant musical talent,” she said. “And they told me the music made a difference in their lives.”

Her object in teaching the inmates, she said, “was to establish self-esteem.”

That is a big part of Helga Hulse’s philosophy.

“You can’t reason with someone if they have an empty stomach,” she said. “And you can’t teach someone who has no self-esteem.”

The program at the jail has ended, she said, but “I hope it will happen again under the new regime.”

At 97 years old, Helga can still say, “I’m looking forward to the possibility.”

As for slowing down, “I have no intention of retiring,” she said. “That’s a resounding no!”