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Niedung named a ‘Distinguished Teacher of the Year’

By Staff | Dec 4, 2014

Helen Niedung, a vocal music teacher in Cape Coral, has received the “Distinguished Teacher of the Year” award from the Florida State Music Teachers Association.

Selected from among a state-wide pool of professional music teachers, Niedung was presented with the award at the FSMTA annual conference in Tallahassee in October.

Niedung began her teaching career in 1980 as professor of voice at Edison State College (Southwestern Florida State College). Now retired from that position, Niedung gives private singing lessons in her own Studio of Voice in Cape Coral. Many of her students have won state-wide music competitions, and in 2008, Niedung received the Florida State Music Teachers Association’s highest honor-the “Excellence in Teaching Award.”

Helen Niedung’s lifelong dedication to music began early.

“I started out when I was 5 taking piano lessons and that continued until a teacher said to my parents, ‘You know, Helen is very musical, but maybe you could think of another instrument for her.” Niedung’s laughter is as gentle as her manner. She shook her head with a playful frown. “I didn’t like to practice.

“My high school music teacher, Mrs. Morehead, was my guiding light. She took me under her wing, pushed me onto the stage and said, ‘Sing.'”

And so began Helen Niedung’s journey to the opera houses and concert stages of Germany, Denmark, Switzerland, Italy and the U.S., as lead soprano in the world’s greatest operas and as oratorio soloist with a repertoire ranging from Bach to Verdi.

Niedung was born Helen Bovbjerg in Washington, D.C. With the exception of one Austrian grandmother, her grandparents were Danes, her father’s family emigrating to the U.S. from Denmark when he was 3. “My parents both worked for the government and their idea was for me to get a government job, to sit behind a desk.” Niedung grimaced.

During her junior and senior years of high school, Helen had completed a four-year course at the Peabody Institute of Music in Baltimore, MD, and she was not about to trade the precarious but thrilling world of music for sensible, secure office work.

“Mrs. Morehead spoke to them both and said, ‘You’ve got to let Helen sing. You can’t make her get a government job.'” Helen’s parents agreed to let her audition for acceptance into several music schools. She auditioned for three and won scholarships to all of them.

“That kind of showed my parents that maybe there was some hope for me,” Niedung smiled.

Morehead recommended the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY.

In 1959, young Miss Bovbjerg received from Eastman her Master of Music degree, as well as the prestigious Performer’s Certificate in Voice. Post-graduate studies at the State Music Conservatory in Stuttgart, Germany, followed. From the conservatory, she stepped onto the stage as leading lyric soprano with the Ulm Opera Company. After her two-year engagement with Ulm, she contracted with the opera house in Kiel to sing lead soprano in Johann Strauss’s operetta, A Night in Venice. And it was here that, almost by accident, she would step onto a new stage of her life, and possibly the happiest performance of her career.

When the lead soprano for the opera house in Kassel fell ill, Niedung received an urgent call for help. Could she step in and learn the role? She accepted.

“I was so busy learning the changes in the dialog and the different dances, that I didn’t pay any attention to my partner at all. Then I had to fill in twice more because the soprano was still ill, so I got a little more relaxed in the part and then I noticed him.”

Dieter Niedung.

They were married and performed together for 11 years. Helen was carrying their first child when she sang the part of Konstanze to Dieter’s Belmonte in Mozart’s The Abduction from the Seraglio. When Helen gave birth to a daughter, they named her Konstanze. Another daughter, Kirsten, followed. The girls were 6 and 7 when their father died of a massive heart attack at the age of only 46.

“My parents were living in Cape Coral. They said, ‘We think you should come home, so we can help you with the girls.’ I thought I should, too, so I came in the summer of 1979, and in the fall of ’80, I had my contract with Edison Community College.”

Niedung’s teaching career had begun, but she continued to perform and to date her concert performances include appearances with the Chicago Symphony, the Eastman-Rochester Symphony, the Erie Philharmonic, the Capitol Hill Chamber Orchestra, the New Orleans Philharmonic, the Chattanooga Symphony, the Naples-Marco Philharmonic, the Southwest Florida Symphony, the Philharmonica Hungarica, the Hamburger Sinfoniker and the Tivoli Concert Orchestra in Copenhagen.

In the course of her career, Helen Niedung has sung more than 460 performances in 35 roles in opera houses here and abroad, working with such celebrated conductors as Howard Hanson, Gabor Oetvoes, Walter Hendl, and Philippe Entremont. She has studied with Julius Huehn, former Metropolitan Opera baritone, with the renowned Kammersaengerin Clara Ebers in Hamburg and Kammersaenger Karl Schmitt-Walter in Munich and with Maestro Luigi Ricci in Rome. She has won the International Voice Competition in Toulouse, France, and the New Orleans Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra Oratorio Soloists Competition.

Closer to home, Niedung was the music director at the Edison Congregational Church for over 30 years and has served in leadership positions in the Southwest Florida Music Teachers Association and the Calusa Musicale, the local chapter of the National Federation of Music Clubs.

In her Studio for Voice, Niedung gives voice lessons to students ranging in age from 4 to over 80. Though she is “beginning to wind down a bit,” Niedung is willing to take on a few more students.

“I loved performing and I love teaching. I have been so happy.”

In duet with her daughter, Konstanze, Niedung will be performing John Rutter’s Angel’s Carol, at the Fort Myers Christian Church at 5916 Winkler Road in Fort Myers on Monday, Dec. 8, at 10 a.m. The Calusa Musicale program is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Ruth Berry at 239-489-3472 or email ruthieb339@comcast.net.

If you are interested in learning more about Niedung’s Studio for Voice or in future performances, you may contact her directly at hniedung@aol.com, or call her at 239-574-7655.