To the Supporters of the Albany High School Music Program,
It is a pleasure to write to you all and tell you what music has done for me and to say a bit about how Albany music programs have helped me become a musician. My musical training started with piano at seven years old. Like many young children, I protested. I thought that playing piano was a wimpy form of music, but my mom’s rule was that all the kids had to start there. Piano was the bait—she would only let us play the “cool” instruments if piano came first. “Cool” was of course something like electric guitar. Little did I realize at the time how wise my mother’s rule was. The chance to learn and play piano was the foundation for all the musical training I would receive in the many years to come. Even now, I use what I learned from piano to help me learn new singing repertoire.
It was the music program in the Albany schools, though, that gave me the chance to explore. At Cornell Elementary School, I played the flute in the band with other 4th and 5th graders. Like countless kids who have grown up in Albany, I will never forget the early morning rehearsals of “Let’s Go Band” and “Mack the Knife” in the elementary school multipurpose room. In middle school I switched from flute to baritone saxophone, and this opened up the world of jazz and concert band. Although I loved playing in the bands, I also loved to sing. Because there was a choir program, I got the chance to explore that in high school. First, I enrolled in Joan Sextro’s American Musical Theater course. I felt extremely uncomfortable at first because I wasn’t used to the blend of music and acting, but the generous guidance of Joan Sextro helped me along. The class offered performance opportunities and an exploration of musical theater in America. Next came the chance to learn another style of singing in Concert Choir, where I could sing in an ensemble and explore my sound.
It was around the beginning of my sophomore year that I saw my first professional opera. It was Georges Bizet’s The Pearl Fishers staged at the San Francisco Opera. I was amazed. I knew after witnessing the famous male duet between Zurga and Nadir, “Au Fond Du Temple Saint,” that classical vocal music was going to be my life’s calling. It wasn’t easy to start. At first my singing felt out of control, so I started taking voice lessons with Donna Petersen, a mezzo soprano who sang with the San Francisco Opera company for many years. She helped me explore and take a charge of my voice.
It was Albany High School, though, that gave me so many chances to perform and gain confidence. One thing is really true of a small high school like AHS—every student gets a chance! I performed in all of the musical theater productions Albany offered, and I loved every moment I had on the stage. I also performed with the Concert Choir and Advanced Chorale whenever they did concerts or went on tour. Performing at Disneyland, in Hawaii, and in Las Vegas showed me the bigger picture of musical performance beyond the school. All of these opportunities acted as a springboard for the career I am pursuing.
I have gone on to become a vocal performance major at UC Irvine. I have received exceptional vocal training there and have had opportunities to sing in art-song concerts, choral performances, a student-run acappella group, an international vocal competition in Wales, fully-staged operas, and master classes with world famous musicians. But I would not have been prepared for this rigorous training without the foundation of excellence that the Albany music program provided. It taught me professionalism by giving me experience in regional competitions. It taught me how to perform with poise in a variety of situations. It showed me how practice and determination could pay off. When I went off to college, I was really ready to take my music to the next level.
Even students that go through the music program and don’t pursue music as a career are able to bring out parts of their personality they thought they might not have. Music is the world’s universal language. It boosts communication skills. Music allows young adults to grow as people, to gain self-confidence, to work together, to solve problems, and to focus on the small details. All of these skills are extremely important in every career field.
The Albany music program is facing a serious dilemma right now. With the current state budget cuts, all the opportunities that were available to me during my high school experience are in jeopardy. I would really like younger students to continue to have the chances I had, so I wanted to do something to help. This is why I have organized an alumni recital featuring myself and Emma Gavenda, another loyal AHS music alumna. The concert will be on September 12th and will feature some of the works we are currently pursuing in our studies. This is why I ask you for your continued support of Albany music, to enable others with the same opportunities as I had. I formally invite you to the Alumni Recital, where I will be performing opera arias of the 18th, 19th, and 20th Centuries, selections from “Dichterliebe” by Robert Schumann, a Russian art song by Rachmaninoff, famous American spirituals and sacred music, and Baroque music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Emma will be performing music by Jean-Henri D’anglebert and William Byrd on the harpsichord, her specialty instrument. It would be a great honor to show you what the Albany music program prepared us to do.