ABOUT MARK & HELENA
About Greathouse of Music
Mark Greathouse's Biography
Music composition on the piano has always been a strong interest for me, but only in recent years after I retired did I begin to compose many piano pieces. I began writing my first compositions in 2008 and continue to compose for the piano. We have now published two dance books, Dancing for Fun, Book 1 and Book 2, which consist of group dances for all ages. These dance melodies were some of my first compositions. Later some of my compositions were recorded on several CDs played by well-known Czech pianist Daniel Wiesner. I really enjoy creating new melodies.
In 2001 Helena and I formed a duo, the Greathouse of Music and returned to an active musical career with her. We have performed in many places both in the US and overseas. We now have our own original variety shown incorporating some of my songs, based on our early lives together in Germany and the US. We have been performing this show around Oregon.
Helena Greathouse’s Biography
In my teenage years, I turned to competitive sports, competing in rhythmic gymnastics for 12 years in Europe on the advanced level. That led to pursuing an international judging career later in my life (including three World Championships, Pan Am, Goodwill Games, and two Olympics). During my competitive years in sports I continued to sing as a soloist with a folklore group.
Since 2005 I sang, acted, and danced in performances with various Portland, OR, theaters. We, as a duo, also appeared repeatedly as guest performers on several variety shows (Miz Kitty's Parlour Vaudeville Novelty Show, ScratchPDX, Performance Works NorthWest, and Shadow Vaudeville Variety Show). In 2008 we represented the modern dance company tEEth in the Ten Tiny Dances event.
We have recently developed our own one-hour show, which we are beginning to take on tour around Oregon. First introduced at the 2014 Portland Fertile Ground of New Works, it features humorous stories of our early life history together, beginning in Hamburg, Germany, where they met as foreign students from their respective countries (me from the former Czechoslovakia and Mark from the US.) The show, aptly titled "You Do Speak English, Don't You?" highlights some of Mark's original compositions, which he plays on the accordion while I sing.
Couple creates Great House of Music
Helena's mother was a dancer and competitive athlete in track and field. "She was preparing to compete in the sprint and high jump in the 1940 Olympics, which never happened (because of World War II)," Helena said.
When Helena was in the second grade, she started performing with the Czechoslovak National Radio Children's Ensemble, and in the fourth grade, she became a member of a dance group that performed periodically on the Czechoslovak National Television.
"My dance teacher needed someone who could sing and dance for television musicals, so I did that and stage shows from the fourth through the eighth grade," Helena said. "The shows were all for children, and I got paid for the TV as well as for the radio performances."
In the sixth grade, Helena started artistic gymnastics on bars and balance beams, "but I discovered I was scared to do it and switched to rhythmic gymnastics," she said.
Just as war prevented Helena's mother from participating in the 1940 Olympics, the Cold War had an impact on Helena's life.
In June 1968, when finishing her fourth year of university studies, Helena went to Hamburg in what was then West Germany as an exchange student with a group of 10 economics students and two professors. "We were there for ten days, and I lived with the family of an associate professor," she said. "Since I knew German well, I was the spokesperson for the group."
In August, the Soviet army came with tanks and invaded Czechoslovakia. "The professor from Hamburg remembered me and offered me a scholarship," Helena said. "Because Czechoslovakia did not have diplomatic relations with West Germany, I couldn't get a West German visa quickly enough to start the fall semester."
She got a transit visa for West Germany that allowed her to stay for two days before supposedly going on to Switzerland, and once in Hamburg, the professor, and his wife signed her up immediately at the university, and only then did she go to the West German police to get her long-term visa so she could stay.
While in Hamburg, Helena met Mark, who was a foreign exchange student originally from Portland majoring in German. He had earned a master's degree from Stanford and was enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of California-Berkeley when he took a year off to study in Germany.
"We met on a cheap bus trip for students to go to a museum to see mummies," Helena said. "This was the fall of 1968, and I wanted to know about the election in the U.S., so I went around the bus asking if anyone was from the U.S. Mark was one of four U.S. students on the bus."
Helena and Mark learned they had music in common - Mark started playing the accordion at age 5, about the same age Helena started signing.
"I got a singing engagement in Hamburg at an international café where only foreigners could perform, and I needed an accompanist," she said. "Mark rented an accordion, and we performed twice a week. I was singing Czech and Slovak folk songs. Mark was a fast learner - at our rehearsals, I would just hum the melody, and he got it.
"During our programs, I would explain in German about the songs, and no one knew he was American. He never said a word, and when we finished performing there in July 1969, the MC said, 'We want to thank our Czech friends.'"
There were cheap flights to the U.S. for students, and Helena went with Mark for the rest of the summer. She got sponsors and was able to obtain a U.S. visa. Helena and Mark bought Greyhound tickets available for purchase only in Europe that allowed them to travel all over the U.S.
Mark came to Prague in June 1970, and they were married that month. They went on a honeymoon around Czechoslovakia, and in September, Mark returned to Berkeley to continue as a teaching assistant at the university. Helena finished school in Prague, receiving her master's degree in economics and statistics, and then joined Mark in the U.S. When Helena couldn't get a job using her economics degrees, she found work teaching gymnastics in Oakland and other places in the Bay Area. They moved to the Portland area in 1974, where Helena taught rhythmic gymnastics, "which was totally new in the U.S."
She added, "I was one of the founding mothers of rhythmic gymnastics in the U.S." Helena ultimately worked for Bonneville Power Administration for 20 years as a mathematician, "but I always did gymnastics judging on the side," she said. Helena served as an international rhythmic gymnastics judge between 1974 and 2003, including three World Championships, Pan Am, Good Will Games, and two Olympics. Meanwhile, Mark also got a job at Bonneville Power Administration, where he initially worked with the computer information center (help desk) and later with computer operations, where he served as liaison and overseer between the computer contractors and BPA.
During that time, Mark started composing music and took an early retirement in 1999, so he could spend more time composing and taking piano lessons. His original instrument was the accordion, and he wanted to compose music for the piano. Helena took an early retirement in 2001 and started taking singing lessons again.
In 2003, the couple started performing together and formed the Great House of Music to provide various forms of entertainment, including vocal and instrumental ethnic music with dance; accordion solos; oldies, familiar melodies and music from musicals; classical and modern vocals with choreography; and vaudeville.
Helena has performed in numerous local productions at such venues at Imago Theatre, Beaverton Civic Theatre, Clackamas County Theatre, Opera Theatre Oregon, and MCO (Music, Comedy, Opera) Productions. "And we do private parties," Helena said.
Mark has now composed more than 40 pieces, according to Helena. "He has a composition teacher, who thought Mark's compositions would be suitable for group dances," Helena said. A Portland modern dance choreographer choreographed 12 dances to go with Mark's melodic piano compositions for their first book, and Helena's niece, a former soloist with the State Opera House who now teaches dance in Prague, choreographed the dances for the second book to go with more of Mark's compositions.
In 2010 Mark and Helena published the first book of "Dancing for Fun," which has a dual purpose: For piano students, there is sheet music and a CD; for dance students, there is written choreography and a DVD.
The second book, which will be published in February 2011, includes ten additional original compositions, written choreography, a CD, and a DVD.
The couple also has produced five CDs. The latest two CDs are "Across the Board," which includes a wide range of vocal selections and Mark's own piano compositions, and "Czech & Slovak Folk Music," which is a collection of folk songs, including four Christmas carols.
In 2010 Mark and Helena were in the West Coast judges' round of "America's Got Talent," which was held in Portland. They were one of 400 acts that advanced from the 70,000 initial entries nationwide.
Mark's mother, Kathryn Greathouse, who used to live in Summerfield, died in 2001, and Mark and Helena moved into the house in 2002.
For more information on Mark and Helena, their performances, and their books and CDs, visit www.greathouseofmusic.com.
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