The blind opera singer who says archery is the perfect harmony
Janelle Colquhoun’s story brings together her two passions – opera singing and archery – despite blindness.
Born in Brisbane, Janelle performed in choirs, stage shows and dance revues, and played trumpet in concert and a jazz band before studying opera at the Queensland Conservatorium of Music.
She performed to acclaim at the 1988 World Expo when it was held in her home city and with the legendary Dame Joan Sutherland on her farewell tour with the Australian Opera.
Wanderlust took her to Europe and she spent seven years with the Frankfurt Opera, which included performances of Wagner’s iconic Ring Cycle.
Then, due to complications from type one diabetes, she went blind aged 29.
“Suddenly all of my opera singing opportunities dried up,” she said. “People thought that if you’re blind, you can’t sing, which of course isn’t true. I can work around anything.”
“A lot of people think I’m headstrong and stubborn because I’m blind but I’ve always been like that. The singing world is incredibly competitive – I always had that streak in me.”
Janelle fought to preserve her career in the arts and has since produced more than 1400 shows as a central figure in the Queensland arts scene.
While on a leadership and mentoring training course in Wales, she discovered archery during a taster session staged in the nave of an 18th-century church. She thought – why not?
“I’d never done any sports whatsoever – I was kind of anti-sports because I was in the arts,” she said. “I thought archery in an 18th-century nave sounded really cool.”
It turned out that the person taking the session had trained visually impaired archers before and knew how to handle a blind beginner, telling Janelle what to do and how she could get started when she returned to Australia.
“Since it’s sports, I thought I wouldn’t follow up on it, but for a change I did,” she said. “My local club welcomed me in.”
Janelle has broken the Australian record for the visually impaired 1 class with a score of 340 points and has already won a number of national titles.
“I’m not actually a very strong person physically, I have trouble building up muscles so I’m reliant on the fact that I’m incredibly determined and stubborn!” she said.
“I just have to work to my strengths and I’ve beaten lots of men in competition.”
The Australian opera singer and visually impaired archer feels her two passions are in perfect harmony.
“I’ve said it to lots of other opera singers, if you’re going to take up a sport, take up archery.”
“Singing is really about breath control and core strength – two things that are really integral to archery as well. I already had those two things. Singing and archery go really well together.”