Tag Archives: singer

Student Spotlight: Delaina

Student Spotlight: Delaina N.

Delaina is a singer, guitarist, and songwriter who studies with our teacher Michael. In her early years she was inspired to learn music by her musician grandfather, Kenny. She’s sung everything from classical and musical theatre music to current pop radio hits. Her dedication to practicing her craft is inspiring, and we can’t wait to see perform at some of our upcoming recitals.

MM: What are some of your favorite hobbies, outside of music? Favorite school subjects, books, movies, shows, sports?

DN: Some of my favorite hobbies are working out and spending time with my family and friends. I also enjoy reading and watching Netflix if I have some free time. My favorite show to watch on Netflix in Criminal Minds. I find it really interesting because I’m studying criminology and psychology right now at school.

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing?

DN: I’ve been singing since I can remember. I’ve always been interested in music and I was in choir throughout my high school career, in classical choir and musical theater. I think what really got me to start playing an instrument was my grandfather, Kenny, he is an extremely talented musician. What really helped me with guitar was the fact that I could understand certain music terms and I learned how to sing in proper classical tone.

MM: What have been some of your favorite performances, and why? How do you share your music with others, beyond recitals?

DN: Performing in high school was always really fun for me. I haven’t really performed for anyone since I graduated, but that’s because I’m a perfectionist when it comes to my music.

MM: What makes you keep up your practice, and what are your goals?

DN: I’ve always wanted to better myself as a musician. It was tough to keep practicing when I first started, it takes time to begin playing songs when you don’t know any chords, but after playing guitar for a few months it became kind of therapeutic. I think my goals for this upcoming year would be to perform in a few recitals and write a few more songs.

MM: Who are a few bands/artists that have inspired you, and why?

DN: A few bands and artists that have inspired me would be Ed Sheeran, Panic! At the Disco, and All Time Low. These musicians inspire me because they pour themselves into their music and out on the stage when they perform. That’s what I aspire to be like.

MM: What are some of your favorite songs, and why?

DN: Some of my favorite songs are “Therapy” by All Time Low, “Give Me Love” by Ed Sheeran, and “The End of All Things” by P!ATD. All of these songs have incredible lyrics and music. They also display the artists’ emotions extremely well.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

DN: A song that I really struggled with would be Shawn Mendes’ song “A Little Too Much.” There’s a picking pattern in the song that I had a really hard time doing for a while. I’m still not great at finger picking, but after playing that song it has definitely become easier. It just proves that practice makes perfect.

MM: What advice do you wish you had at the beginning? What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

DN: I think some advice that I wish I had when I first started would be to never skip a day of practice because one day makes all the difference. That’s also the advice I would give to other students. Practice is incredibly important as well as determination. Don’t give up on a song, even if you and your teacher decide to move past it keep going back to it and practicing.

pop star camp

Pop Star Camp

The following blog was guest written by our amazing nonprofit coordinator and Pop Star Camp head teacher, Anne.

On My Own: Why I Wish I Had a Camp Like Ours

I wish I had been able to do a camp like the Pop Star Camp we just ran when I was younger. I’m not telling you that because I run it. I’m telling you that because I wish I was able to attend it.

To be fair, when I was younger it was all about Broadway. I knew every role I wanted to play in every musical. I wanted to be Eponine in Les Miserables, Christine in Phantom of the Opera, Emma Goldman in Ragtime. I never had the opportunity to play any of these parts. By the time I got onto a stage, I was no longer singing musical theater. I have a full docket of performances coming up, and all of these are opera roles. Which doesn’t mean I don’t secretly want to sing “On My Own.” I did plenty of Broadway Camps, but they were always jammed full of of kids, each one vying for the attention of the director. They were songs chosen by the director. They afforded little in the way of solo opportunities, and a lot in the way of the disquiet of rounds of auditions. I still remember the audition round for “Castle On A Cloud,” getting more and more nervous as the group got progressively smaller. I got that solo, but also a mild heart attack.

And that is why I wish that I had a camp like the Pop Star Camp. A small camp that allowed time to work as a soloist on a song that meant something to them. An opportunity to have someone not just hear them sing, but listen to them sing. That would have meant the world to me back then; someone to not just see me as another mousy haired little girl in a gaggle of little girls, but to be acknowledged as “Anne.” A place to work on the songs that they want to sing with no competition in mind. No “I hope I am better than her so that I can sing that song,” but instead an environment where everyone wants everyone to do well because we are all excited to get to be pop stars for a day.

These girls might not become singers. Not very many people do. And that is okay. They still had the opportunity to get up in front of their friends and family and sing a song that they really loved. And not just sing it, perform it. The way they wanted to, in control of how they wanted that dream to play out. They got the chance to be brave and perform, use microphones, sing with a live band. This might be the only time for them. It may be the first in a long line of performances. That isn’t what is important. What is important is that the other performers in the camp were not their rivals, people to be jealous of because they got the solo instead, but friends who supported them.

Am I talking up the Pop Star Camp? Yes, of course I am. Do I want your child to join us next year? Yes, of course I do. Because I would have loved the chance to do something like this, and I would like others to have that chance too. So, I do hope to see you next year. And, if you ask very nicely, maybe I’ll sing “On My Own.”

Student Spotlight: Carolina H.

Student Spotlight: Carolina H.

Students don’t get much more engaged, thoughtful, and intelligent than our Student Spotlight Carolina, who takes guitar and vocal lessons with Ben. With an impressively diverse range of musical tastes that she developed at a young age–everything from Pink Floyd to Bjork–Carolina is preternaturally mature both about the music she listens to and the way she approaches it in her own study. We loved watching her perform David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” at our last recital, and we’re excited to watch her progress as she enters OCSA‘s guitar program next year.

MM: How did you get started with guitar, and how long have you been playing guitar? What made you interested? Do you play any electric right now? When did singing start coming into the picture, too?

CH: Bands like Pink Floyd and Radiohead sparked my interest in pursuing the guitar. After hearing their songs, I desperately strived to play them myself. I began playing the acoustic guitar about three years ago, when I was eleven years old. I’m almost positive “Wish You Were Here” by Pink Floyd was the first real song I learned to play: I was quite proud of that and probably excessively played it, annoying my parents. I now play classical, electric, and acoustic guitar. Singing publicly is fairly new to me. I’ve always enjoyed humming discreetly, but letting others listen is a new feat. I actually began to sing at concerts just a few months ago. Before that, I didn’t even know I could sing!

MM: Who are a few bands/artists who have inspired you, and why? Who’s your favorite guitarist, singer, and guitarist/singer? In general, what genres/artists do you tend to listen to the most, and who influences you?

CH: My taste in music is always fluctuating. I’m currently on a huge Hamilton kick, but who knows what I’ll like a month from now? Pink Floyd’s album The Wall probably had the biggest musical impact on me. I discovered the album as a curious tween and was absolutely infatuated with it. Since then, I’ve dug up various underground music. I enjoy listening to many different genres of music, so I don’t really have a favorite. I just recently got into Krautrock, and it’s supremely interesting! Some guitarists I revere are Django Reinhardt, Johnny Marr, Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, and Thom Yorke. I also find Björk, David Bowie, Damo Suzuki, Janis Joplin, and Morrissey to be excellent singers. Well…Yorke, Hendrix, and Gilmour are obviously stupendous singers too, but if I listed all my favorite singers and musicians it would be never-ending.

MM: We’ve had the chance to see you at a few recitals, but are there any other ways where you share your music? I know you have a younger sister in music programs too; are there any family music nights? Of the two performances with Radiohead and Bowie, do you have a favorite? Why?

CH: Although I’m quite shy, sometimes I’ll perform for my family. Some members of my family are musically inclined too, so we occasionally jam together. My sister just began playing the piano, so I enjoy teaching her little things here and there. Family music nights sound like fun…maybe we should try that! As for my two performances, I’m not sure if I favor one over the other. They both remain special to me in their own separate memory cabinets. Sorry if that didn’t make much sense, but it’s the only way to describe it

MM: Congratulations on getting into OCSA! What songs did you do for the audition? What was the audition prep and process like for you, and what do you know about what to expect in your department for the fall? How are you feeling?

CH: Thank you! For the audition, I played “Autumn Leaves” and “Andante in C Major.” Then, I was asked to play various scales and read simple musical notation. The audition preparation was quite strenuous because I needed to know a repertoire of songs and theory and polish my ability to read music. I am not entirely sure what will occur this fall in my department, but we will most likely practice musical theory and have live performances. Hopefully, OCSA will obliterate my stage fright and permit me to play fearlessly at future Molly’s Music recitals! I am looking forward to attending OCSA.

MM: What are your longer-term goals, both musically and other-wise? What are you looking forward to in high school? Do you have any college or career dreams at this point? Outside of music, do you have any favorite hobby, sport, tv show, hike, book, or a special summer activity?

CH: Musically, I strive to master as many instruments possible. Academically, I strive to master as many subjects as possible. Yes, I realize those are broad-sweeping statements, but they’re true. In high school, I’m looking forward to the curriculum and diverse population. I haven’t yet pinned down a specific field of study for college or thereafter. Medicine or History are possible majors. Outside of music, I enjoy reading, watching documentaries, and sketching. But even during those activities there are songs trapped in my mind.

MM: What makes you keep up your practice? Where do you usually practice, and how much? What does Ben have you working on now? Does he coach you on vocals, too, or is that independent?

CH: Plenty of things keep up my practice. Now, as OCSA draws near, I feel extra pressure to hone my guitar skills! Ben also inspires me to practice with homework. Right now we are working on a bossa nova piece, so he assigned me to review it at home. Ben does coach me on vocals as well. In fact, he significantly helped train my voice for the recital and provided great tips to become a better singer in general.

MM: What’s been one of your biggest challenges as a developing musician? Is it something you’re still dealing with, and if so, how’ve you learned to get around it?

CH: Well, I’ve always had a good “musical ear.” Because of that, reading music has been difficult for me. But I strive to read music properly and eventually compose it myself. I’ve just got to keep practicing.

MM: What advice would you give to other students just starting out, or wondering if they should start guitar?

CH: The guitar is a beautiful instrument and rewarding to play. It may be difficult at first, but if you persistently practice the outcome is wonderful. I remember a time when my parents practically begged me to practice the guitar. Eventually, it clicked and I began to love playing the instrument. All you have to do is stay inspired (watch cool guitar videos, read books about the guitar, play your favorite songs) and practice. I think the guitar is a marvelous product of life that everyone should be acquainted with.

Student Spotlight: Zoe L.

“As cheesy as it sounds, I want to be a singer when I’m older. But hey, the world needs some cheesy people to do the crazy stuff others may be afraid to do.” ~Zoe L.

Meet this month’s Student Spotlight, 14-year-old vocal student Zoe. She’s so passionate about singing that if she has one thing she thinks she needs some work at, it’s becoming too excited and overdramatic when she sings. We can assure her that that’s a great problem to have! Zoe is a hard worker, and with a little help from her singing teacher, James, we’re sure she’ll have a star-studded musical future.

MM: How long ago did you get started with music, and how did you get into it?

ZL: I became interested in music around the time I had gotten my first iPod. I was around 8 years old when I participated in my first talent show and have been singing ever since. I enjoy pretty much any music, but it mostly depends on my mood.

MM: How do you share your music with others?

ZL: I sing and ‘perform’ around my house all the time and my friends support me at my choir concerts. Whenever we have people over I’ll pull out my guitar and play a few songs that I’m working on.

MM: What are your goals, and what steps are you taking to reach them?

ZL: What keeps me practicing is just the fact that I love to sing, and it’s so much fun to push myself to try new things. As cheesy as it sounds, I want to be a singer when I’m older. But hey, the world needs some cheesy people to do the crazy stuff others may be afraid to do.

MM: Who are a few bands/artists who have inspired you, and why? What genre do you like the most, or hear your own vocal style in when you listen to it?

ZL: Taylor Swift and Kina Grannis have both inspired me to try to pursue  music because they are both extremely dedicated to writing and performing music for others, and they put in more effort than needed.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

ZL: I am struggling with being to overdramatic and not saving my voice for a whole song. I get too excited, and I’ve been working on breath support for higher parts of songs.

MM: What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

ZL: Some advice I have for anyone just starting out would be to know that if you really are motivated to achieve something, you need to practice. Pushing yourself to try new things and gain more skills is extremely important too.

MM: I heard you just sung a solo in your school choir’s winter concert. What was that like? Any advice for our students who perform solos? 

ZL: Well, I was singing a song I barely knew the previous week when I had auditioned (really bad idea). I went in every day at lunch for a week to work with my choir teacher so I could get advice on how to sing it better. The solo went really well, and I wasn’t scared on stage. I think if you are going to perform something, make sure you know it well, and no matter how nervous you are, don’t show fear.

Student Spotlight: Valerie W.

For this month’s Student Spotlight, we chose James’s multi-talented student Valerie W–singer, dancer, actress, guitarist, and pianist! Some students burn out on their craft after the hard work sets in, but Valerie’s passion for music continues to sparkle even through her chest-voice/head-voice drills, self-accompaniment work, Chorale rehearsals, and drama and dance classes. She was singing when she typed out the answers to these questions, a special kind of dedication that you can’t fail to be inspired by. With so many abilities, we know Valerie could go in any number of different musical directions, and we can’t wait to see where her career takes her.

MM: How long ago did you get started with music, and how did you get into it? I understand you’re a bit of a quadruple threat as a singer who can dance, act, play guitar and even some piano. Do you prefer one instrument to another?

VW: I started with singing when I was thirteen, but I was singing for as long as I can remember. I also have been playing piano since I was eight, and have recently taught myself to play guitar with a little help from people around me. I don’t have a specific preference between guitar and piano. When I learn a song, or just sing for fun, I use whichever instrument I feel sounds the best with the song.

MM: I hear you’re auditioning for your high school’s musical! Are there any other ways you share music with others?

VW: I share my music every opportunity I have. I am in Chorale, which is a singing group at my high school. I also sometimes sing with the youth band in my church. I will just randomly sing every time I’m outside or around friends. In fact, as I am typing this, I am also singing.

MM: What are your goals, and what steps are you taking to reach them?

VW: My goals are to become an actress, singer, and dancer. To get there, currently I am in dance at school. I also am in Chorale and intermediate drama. And of course, I am taking singing lessons.

MM: Who are a few bands/artists who have inspired you, and why? What genre do you like the most, or hear your own vocal style in when you listen to it?

VW: A band that has really inspired me has to be Panic at the Disco because their music can be cool and edgy. But their music can also be really deep and just sound amazing altogether. I also get very inspired by Jessie J because she taught me that it’s okay to be different. I mostly listen to pop, rock, and heavy metal, but I love to sing songs that really test my range, such as “Chandelier,” by Sia or “Listen,” by Beyonce.

MM: Can you share about a technique, skill, or song you struggled with, and how you are overcoming or have overcome it?

VW: I really struggled with sliding from my chest voice into my head voice while making it sound like it’s all part of one voice. I’m getting better at it though just by practicing it. If I don’t get it while singing a song, then I take a break, and I sing that one part until I can figure out how I can make my voice fit the song.

MM: What advice would you give to other students just starting out?

VW: If you’re just starting out, then you should really stick to your range. If you like a song but it’s not in your level, then don’t try to master it right away. Also know that there are people who are willing to help. If you accept help, and keep trying, then you will improve so much in whatever you’re trying to accomplish. You should always be open to learning from the people around you.

Teacher Feature: Andrew P.

For this month’s Teacher Feature, I had the pleasure of interviewing singer, pianist, and songwriter, Andrew, who’s one of the newer teachers on our team. A recent Musician’s Institute (MI) graduate, Andrew is now sharing his musical gifts with some lucky students!

MM: How did you get started with music, and how long have you been singing and playing the piano?

AP: When my sister and I were younger, my grandma taught us Vietnamese children’s folk songs and we sang them all the time. We used to put on mini concerts for our family from out of town, and we even did some local competitions. I’ve been singing since I was about 5: I sang at numerous charity events and for different cultural organizations. And although I sang for many years, I really started to take it seriously, and into my own hands, when I was about 15. I’ve been playing piano since I was younger, but I took a break from it until I started to really start singing. I didn’t know how to accompany myself, which I really needed, so I started to learn the piano again. Ever since then, playing piano has been a huge part of my life, and I’ve grown to love it more and more.

MM: Who has inspired you musically? 

AP: My grandfather was one of my inspirations. I didn’t know it until he passed, but I realized how happy working on his music made him. It’s inspiring to see people do what they love, and it inspired me to do so. As far as artists go, I knew performing was my dream when I watched Kelly Clarkson sing her coronation song at the American Idol finale. You could see the passion within her, and it felt so majestic, and I wanted that.

MM: What are some of your favorite instruments and musical genres, and why?

AP: My favorite musical genre is probably pop, but not bubblegum pop. I like, what I call: “smart” pop. The tracks I like have pinches of classical motifs, darker and more mature sounds, and a well-thought out composition. My favorite instrument would definitely have to be the cello. I played it in elementary, and I wish I continued, but I just love the rich tone of the instrument.

MM: What are your current musical projects?

AP: I currently work with Lac Hong Performing Arts Group (Vietnamese Traditional Arts Development Organization) as a teacher and a student. We do performances throughout the year for community events, charity events, etc. As for my personal musical projects, I’m getting together musicians to play with me for gigs in Orange County since I’ve just moved from Los Angeles. I write songs constantly, but I’m currently composing and producing a few tracks for my EP, hopefully finished by this year.

MM: How do you help yourself practice, and how do you balance music with some of your other life goals? How do you help your students practice?

AP: My life goal is to have a musical career, so I make time to do it as much as I can. If I have downtime, then I write. For singing, I always go through vocal warm-ups in the morning, and I practice my own songs daily. One of my favorite things to do to stir my creativity is to learn covers, but give them a twist.

To help my students practice, I ask them to work on their warm-ups (whether it be piano or voice) before any practice. For my vocal students, I give them breathing exercises to do throughout the day or right when their day starts because it’s silent and you can really practice it anywhere, although it might look a bit weird sometimes. To me, technique is the first thing that needs to be done to excel at creativity, so I emphasize having my students really tune into their skills rather than what pleases their ear.

MM: What has your experience at MI been like? Do you have a favorite/most influential class you’ve taken there? What has been the most meaningful experience or thing you’ve learned there?

AP: My experience at MI was unlike any other. I’ve met some of the most amazing artists and musicians there. I not only got to learn from peers and instructors, but guest speakers were constantly there… and sometimes random auditions would come up, and I would be able to audition privately, at the last minute, for producers of different programs such as The Voice.  My favorite class was a one-on-one songwriting lesson. I took the same teacher for my stay every quarter, and it eventually evolved into having an Artist Development mentor. There’s so much I have gotten from him, both opportunities and knowledge, and I definitely don’t think I’d be the artist I am today without his guidance.  There was a moment in one of my songwriting classes where my teacher, who works music licensing for TAXI, stopped me in the middle of my song and said, “You have this natural ability to find a great melody. All your songs have a strong sense of it, and you could really get your music out to the masses if you just put some laser-focus into your lyrics. If you want to be a songwriter, you already are, your material is wonderful, but if you want this is as a career, keep going because you’re on the right path.” And in that moment, all my insecurities went away and I knew I was doing what I’ve always thought I was meant to do.