This weekend, Kenai Central High School freshman Olivia Brewer sang on stage at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
She was selected out of 18,000 applicants, along with 284 other students worldwide, to join the 2016 High School Honors Performance Series in one of five ensembles that rehearsed, fine-turned and performed pieces in only three days.
“It is quite an honor, singing in a venue like that at this young age,” said Kelli Brewer, Olivia’s mother. “People work all their lives to sing at Carnegie.”
The concert venue is internationally renowned for hosting superior classical and popular musical acts for the past century. Olivia and her fellow finalists arrived Thursday for five days of touring the city, attending high-caliber shows and rehearsing for their own.
The ninth-grader has studied singing for seven years, under the tutelage of various local musical educators including Kenai Middle School music teacher Rosemary Bird and Nikiski North Star Elementary music teacher Audra Faris.
Her interest in the art has much deeper roots.
“My family is very musical,” Olivia said.
Her brother, Duncan Brewer, built his own local reputation years before Olivia started refining her own chops. She began substituting for Duncan at public events when wasn’t available, Kelli Brewer said. Olivia said she has developed a particular stamina for the national anthem, which she has performed on the floor at the State Senate. Throughout the years she has had been a member of the All State Honor Choir, the All Borough Choir, and the American Choral Directors Association, which she was first nominated for at 12 years old.
Her talents didn’t manifest in immediate success, both Olivia and her mother recall.
On the drive to elementary school everyday Kelli recalls her daughter singing so poorly, they took her to a voice coach, who requested the family take Olivia to get her hearing checked because she sang so out of tune.
Once the coach tweaked keys a little and found out she was in fact a soprano, not a tenor as previously believed, everyone discovered Olivia had perfect pitch.
Bird said Olivia has other notable abilities that contributed to the heights she’s reached.
“Number one — her unbelievable range for someone her age,” Bird said. “Two — she worked hard at it to get her audition materials ready, three — she is extremely athletic which gives her an advantage.”
Olivia also swims to keep fit and improve her lung capacity, which affects her ability to hold notes.
“You have to have a keen interest in (singing) and have to love to perform and have to have a certain maturity,” Bird said. “And the music speaks to them, and they are motivated by the depths of the music, and they respond to a wide variety of genres of music, and they have to be confident.”
Bird and Olivia said confidence is one area the young performer struggles with. Olivia said she will “still cry before each performance,” but gets on stage and gratification afterward is always worthwhile.
Preparation does help.
It took Olivia 15 hours of practice to perfect the audition piece that won her the spot in the honor series, but that doesn’t include the years of improving stamina that put her in a place where she could even try out, Kelli said.
Then, it was nearly six weeks of preparing the pieces she would play in New York, Bird said. When the finalists and nationally renowned conductors finally meet, the music is mostly memorized, she said. In fact, if someone shows up not knowing the assignments, they may be politely asked to leave.
Selected students have the chance to learn from peers who have similar talents and abilities and from some of the best instructors in the world, Bird said. And hopefully it inspires a lot of motivation for the participants to improve their skills when they return home, she said.
Olivia said she does see that her future is dependent on music, but indirectly. She plans to be a veterinarian, and securing music scholarships is a good way to get there, she said.
Kelli said she is fine with her daughter taking a different route. She said she knows singing will be something that Olivia can take enjoyment from the rest of her life.
Plus, both mother and daughter agree singing provides access to a good community locally and worldwide.
“It is good to have that part of the brain stimulated,” Kelli said. “And it’s good to challenge yourself no matter what it is.”
Reach Kelly Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org.