Student Spotlight: Janay M.

Janay is a 17-year-old high school senior attacking a final year of AP Music Theory, AP Economy, AP Lit, and IB Math. Our interview was briefly interrupted by her brother yelling at a turtle, which should give you a fair idea of what to expect. Prepare to be delighted! And if there’s one thing you take away about Janay, let it be her own summary: Hey, I’m a nerd, but I still have talent!

MM: How did you get started with music? How long have you been singing and playing piano? I understand you play ukulele, too – do you have a favorite instrument overall, or for particular uses?

JM: Well, I’ve been making music ever since I can remember really. My parents bought a piano before I was born and would just use a player that they had installed to listen to music. After I was born, they figured that since they had me, why not make me play the piano? So when I was maybe 5 years old, I did a mommy and me piano class and went from there. Piano’s still one of my main instruments; I’ve played for 12 years now. I started doing choirs and singing as well. I’d say I’ve been singing “professionally” for seven years. I picked up guitar maybe five years ago in middle school, and have played violin for three years too. I still play the last two a bit, but not as much piano and ukulele. I also started learning ukulele about five years ago, around the same time as guitar. I really like 21 Pilots so I play their songs on ukulele, as well as many others, and even walk around school with my instrument like a troubadour and their lute! Ukulele is fun; I also play songs from shows like Steven Universe and Adventure Time, and of course sing along. Piano and ukulele are my favorite for sure. They’re good at making people happy, and that’s what I like to do.

My grandpa played ukulele as well, but I never got to meet him, so I can’t say music is something I get from my family entirely. In a lot of ways I think I’m a first. I’m the first to do something like honors choir, play an instrument like piano so well, or perform as much as I do. I guess another first for my family is that I’m not straight. Sometimes stuff just pours out with my music, whether it’s about things like that or anything else. That’s a bit of a first for my family, too – that ability to put things to music. But, I’m not a first for everything. My brother and I both intensely love Japanese culture, though my mom has no clue how that happened!

MM: How do you share your musical skills with family, friends, or your community? Molly mentioned something about composing video game music? And what music inspires you?

Janay playing at Out of the Park Pizza

Janay playing at Out of the Park Pizza

JM: I just sang and played on my uke at Out of the Park Pizza for the teen-adult event a few weeks ago, of course. I am also in this special a cappella group at my school, and just got into the regional honor’s choir this year, so I expect I’ll be performing a lot for that. I sing plenty during the school day too; in the halls, when I’m sitting alone at lunch, or sometimes on accident in class where people tell me to stop. All I really say to that is, “That’s fair.” I sing a lot. Someone told me recently at a choir concert actually that I sound like a mix of Celine Dion and Gloria Esteban. I don’t know about that, though. I still don’t even recognize my own voice when I record it a lot of the time! I don’t think I really want to sound like somebody else though; just me.

I have a box of CDs I saved up for when I could drive, so now I sing in my car a lot, too. My favorite album to sing with is this obscure 80s cover band I found online. Another big favorite of mine is Fall Out Boy’s Infinity on High! My music collection is a bit eclectic; there’s this video game parody rap CD I also found online, some punk/alternative rock, some Japanese music, and some other stuff too.

Video games! I don’t actually make any video game music yet, but it’s definitely something I want to do at some point in my life. My #1 favorite video game soundtrack is from an indie game called Undertale. There’s a lot of heart in this game. Even though it was made by a simple, small team, and it was the developer who composed the music for the game, the music is so incredibly immersive! Heh… I’m a bit of a nerd. I also adore the music from the Legend of Zelda series too, my favorite game being either Wind Waker or A Link Between Worlds.

MM: What are your goals with music? What are some challenges you’ve dealt with?

JM: Oh… wow. My ultimate dream, that 99% won’t happen, would be to work at Nintendo. However, they’re very set on keeping their workers purely Japanese, but it would be amazing! A more short-term goal would be that I’d like to go to New York University for composition. As far as difficulties in music go, I’ve always been a blender voice in my choir, so Molly’s been working with me to develop a stronger and more distinct solo voice. Part of it is just being more present and being more of myself then I’m used to in a song, if that makes sense.

MM: What are some of your hobbies outside of music? And any other interests you want to study while at college?

JM: Japanese! I would love to study the Japanese language. Like I said earlier, I love the culture. My mom wonders where my fascination comes from, but that’s a mystery I’m not concerned with discovering right now. I’m going back to Japan actually for a second time this summer and will be visiting Tokyo, Kyoto, Okinawa, and some other places as well. If I know Japanese well enough, that’ll help my chances of getting to work at Nintendo. At the very least, I’ll be able to survive on my own in the country.

I adore the simple pleasures in life. Some things include the sky – I don’t know if you’ve looked recently but it is glorious when there’s clouds – driving at night with a soundtrack, rain, and oh! Comics! If working at Nintendo doesn’t work out, I might like to be a comic book editor. I love to read comics and manga, and I’d love to help people put their stories together!

MM: What advice would you give to other students looking at college music auditions in the near or far future? just starting out? What have you learned about the college audition process so far that might help students just starting middle/high school in how they prepare?

JM: I just went to visit Berklee College of Music and NYU in September actually, and while I was at Berklee, a counselor put me through a mock audition. I felt like I did horribly, though everyone said it was really not that bad. At the very least, it’s a great experience for me to have. I now know that I never have to do as badly as I did at that audition again. For students looking into music schools, you should definitely research what you have to know for their application requirements and auditions, and just as importantly know what you don’t have to know. Stay focused, and take your time. Believe me, I have people tell me all the time to slow down, and when I relax, I can do something in ten minutes that would’ve taken me an hour to do while I was freaking out. Good luck!

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