For a high school student that has sung at Carnegie Hall, Olivia Brewer doesn’t make much hay of her musical career.
The Kenai Central High School sophomore has already performed in several high-profile venues, including before the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District’s Board of Education and on the floor of the Alaska State Senate. Of her experience in New York City when she performed in the High School Honors Choir, she remembers the grueling long practice days and precise coaches.
“(You practice with) the entire choir,” she said. “(The conductor) is that good, that he can pinpoint everything. It’s really awesome. I like it, actually.”
This year, she returned to Carnegie Hall for a second year and she will venture to the far side of the Pacific Ocean for a performance at the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, in July, which is part of the same program. This time around, because she has already performed at Carnegie Hall, she did not have to have a recommendation from a music teacher, but she did have to learn and record another audition piece.
She left Wednesday for New York to join the program, which runs for five days. The students practiced with conductor Edith A. Copley, the director of Choral Studies at Northern Arizona University, and performed a full concert at Carnegie Hall on Sunday. The performance pieces ranged in style from the traditional “Bogoroditse Devo” by Sergei Rachmaninoff to the more modern “True Light” by Keith Hampton.
The students included in the choir come from all over the world. Brewer said she met students from countries as far away as Thailand, yet there were only two students from Alaska. The program draws more than 19,000 applications from students of all backgrounds and all instruments — that total both choral and orchestral students — and 240 choir students are selected for the final group.
She said she learned from other performers about their lives and where they were from during the five days of practices, touring New York City and performing. Though there were many different languages spoken, she said she didn’t remember a language barrier being a problem.
“It’s cool because you have a group of eight kids and each of them has a chaperone, so we get to know those eight kids really well and they’re from all over the world,” she said. “… there were some groups that when you’d take breaks would speak different languages. We had one kid that had a really cool accent … Actually, we did have different languages, I just didn’t even think about it.”
Brewer and her older brother Duncan have both been high-caliber performers since they were young, said their mother Kelli Brewer. Olivia’s musical training began when her mother took her to a vocal teacher because she had such trouble hitting a note when singing along to music in the car, Kelli Brewer said.
“As she started working her way up the scales, all of a sudden, Olivia came into (her range),” she said. “ … Olivia was always trying to sing (alto), it was always cracking, but when she got into the soprano I range and all of a sudden, this beautiful voice came out, and she’s been singing ever since.”
Since then, she’s trained with prominent local musicians, including Renee Henderson, Elena Bird and Audra Faris. However, Olivia Brewer doesn’t plan to continue her musical career professionally past high school — she said she’s considering studying veterinary medicine at Washington State, and then returning and getting a helicopter pilot’s license.
“My dad’s a pilot, so I just wanted to get into that too, and I’ve always liked animals,” she said. “I’ve skinned animals since I was a baby, so I’m good with everything, so why not?”
Kelli Brewer said she wanted other students to know about the Honors Performance Series to give them an opportunity to apply, too. Though the program doesn’t automatically cover the costs of participating, there are scholarships available. To apply, students have to learn a piece from Schirmer’s Library of Musical Classics, “Twenty-Four Italian Songs and Arias of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,” record it and send in an audition recording to the judges. If more students get to experience it, they’ll return and enrich the arts community in their own towns, she said.
“We’d like for other kids to see this and be inspired to try it themselves, and to let other music educators know that they can recommend kids for this and they try out,” she said. “…if kids knew the process, I think more kids would try it and get that experience, because you get to go to New York, you go to these famous houses, you go to the towers, you get to go to the State of Liberty. There are different things that you get to experience, and then you go to a Broadway show as well.”
Olivia Brewer said she’s seen a number of additional arts opportunities arise in the Kenai and Soldotna area in the past few years. She has worked with the KCHS school choir for several years, and though it’s a different level than the elite choirs she has worked it, it is still fun, she said.
“(The arts community) has gotten better,” she said. “There’s more plays going around, in the past three years there’s been so many more opportunities that kids can do and have fun.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at email@example.com.