November 2009: Portrait of an Artist | Tirzah Hasse

Tirzah Hasse is a singer and actress from Hamburg, Germany. Tirzah has starred in classical plays such as Schiller’s Mary Stuart and operettas, including Nico Dostal’s Clivia. She has appeared in the TV series Traumschiff and Der gross Bellheim. Tirzah specializes in jazz and songs in the style of Marlene Dietrich, the performance of which requires strong acting technique. She trained in the Musical-Schule Hamburg and with professor Ida Ehre at the Hamburger Kammerspiele.

Eva Horstick-Schmitt is a photographer whose art has been featured in installations and exhibitions all over the world. She specializes in multi-disciplinary work reflecting her discussion with life in a society which is driven by politics, fashion, war, entertainment, consumerism, generations and human trafficking. Eva’s images depict scenarios that are both narrative and starkly visual, revealing a poetic world full of hidden meaning.

Tirzah and Eva are longtime friends. When Tirzah was diagnosed with breast cancer, she asked Eva to photograph her treatment, documenting her journey towards recovery.The project holds special meaning for Eva, who is herself a cancer survivor.

On October 27, 2008, Tirzah had a routine doctor’s appointment. She was given a biopsy, which revealed that she had developed breast cancer. Tirzah was initially defiant of the diagnosis, because she had hormonal cancer that can be fought with good medical care. She soon discovered, however, that the cancer was 4.8 centimeters in diameter and that she would have to undergo severe chemotherapy.

Tirzah remembers crying when she arrived for her first round of treatment. She was comforted after having a candid discussion with her doctor, who explained that she had a strong chance of surviving the disease. Tirzah describes her outlook: “from there, I looked into the future with confidence. I announced the fight against my cancer.”

Throughout her illness, Tirzah never stopped singing, maintaining that “I need music for my health.” While undergoing treatment, Tirzah was premiering a play. Creating a work of art inspired her to look into the future rather than dwelling the immediacy of the pain caused by cancer. Tirzah believes that making music has played a vital role in her recovery, functioning as a form of treatment against the disease. She explains that continuing to pursue her passion for music helps her remain connected to “her life,” providing the strength of will required to fight the disease, even during the most difficult moments.

The strength and stability provided by music enabled Tirzah to take the effects of cancer treatments—which are quite brutal in themselves—in stride. Tirzah, a tall, graceful woman with fair skin and chiseled features, identifies herself by her ability to create music, not by her appearance. “I have never defined myself by my breasts, and it is all the same to me whether I have them or not. The main and most important thing is that I am healthy. I have always had short hair, and so it was ‘peanuts’ for me to have it shaven. I have never defined myself by my hair.”

Just as music provided Tirzah with strength in her battle against cancer, perspective provided by the illness helped Tirzah reach “new artistic heights.” “In my art, I have become clearer…. I am able to center my art so that I do not compromise myself for anyone or anything.” Knowing that her time could be limited, Tirzah explains that she wants to use it wisely. She is now “more choosy” about the kinds of projects she takes on, and consequently receives more offers for performance opportunities than ever before.

Tirzah describes the impact that her “sudden proximity to death” has had on her work as a singer and actress: “My activities became more intense than they already had been, over the edge that had existed before…. I approach my work with a clearer sight.” Now, Tirzah has “larger ideas and more fantastic thoughts” which she channels into her projects. When asked how she is doing, her optimistic reply is “Better than ever!”

July 21, 2009 Dortmund, Germany