Going to the variety of Hawaii Performing Arts Festival (HPAF) events is to see and hear how singers develop on their way to hitting the top.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard those who are already at the top, performers who have sung starring roles at the finest opera houses around the world. We have heard the Vocal Fellows who already have Masters or Doctorates in Music or Vocal Performance, and whose professional careers are just taking off. The main HPAF program features 46 Developing Singers, mostly University students majoring in music and/or voice, poised to pursue careers in opera or music theater.
And then there are the Young Singers! High school aged, they already know they would love to have a life full of singing, dancing and acting. Wouldn’t we all! If only we had their talent, and the benefit of tutoring and encouragement from pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg, their vocal coach and music director, and base vocalist James Harrington, their Associate Director. Both Ronny and James are highly successful professionals, so the experiences they have had on their way up must have been inspiring to the young singers.
While there is not much difference between being 34 and 38 or 54 and 58, there is a lot of difference between 14 and 18. For some, it’s not even clear yet what the musical range of their voices will be. Experience also matters. Many of these students have been in performances before big audiences. Big Island’s own Stacee Firestone, Solomon Shumate, and Jack and Rose Friend are familiar to us from their performances with the Kahilu Youth Troupe’s musical theater productions. 15-year-old Benito Mercia has been in the Young Singers program three times, and I’m sure I’ve seen Caleb Smith before too. Emerson Steady has not only played starring roles in musical theater pieces, he produced a concert with Kenny Loggins! These experiences allowed them to act comfortably and naturally, with no “stage fright.”
We could also witness different stages of vocal development within the group, as they learn to gain greater and greater control of their voices in terms of accuracy of pitch, the ability to fill the room with sound, breath control (you don’t want to run out and gasp on the last note or in the middle of a phrase!), vibrato, and being able to sing both loudly and softly with the same clarity of diction. Furthest along the scale was Leo Espinosa, one of the older singers at 18, who already has a powerful voice brought perfectly under his control; his ability to convey emotion was compelling.
Their selections were taken from “Old American Songs,” classics from US history from a variety of traditions, arranged by Aaron Copland. The full group singing “Ching-a-ring Chaw” was an energetic way to start the show; sopranos Olivia Malouf, Kendall Ray, Noelani Loughery-Kawaihoa, and Rose Friend singing the lullaby “The Little Horses” was endearing. The audience particularly loved “The Boatman’s Dance,” with Leo’s sad and slow melody alternating with Solomon’s lively and humorous song-and-dance.
We cheer on these wonderful young singers and will be watching with pleasure as they rise up to whatever their “high note” will be!
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby