Monday, May 23, 2016

Performer Spotlight: Stephanie Chee

I've spent every year since third grade participating in plays and musicals, singing in talent shows, taking voice lessons, acting lessons, and dance lessons. In my time onstage I've met hundreds of talented performers. One such performer will be featured here today: Stephanie Chee. Stephanie, a sophomore in high school, and I met during a production of Into the Woods. She was Cinderella's mother and during her solos my friends and I would literally die. At such a young age, having a voice as strong as hers is such a gift. When I heard that Stephanie was raising money to be able to go a summer training program at Tanglewood in Boston, I knew I wanted to feature her.

As context for those outside of the performing arts realm, summer programs are amazing opportunities that thousands upon thousands of pre-collegiate performers apply to each year and only a select few are accepted to. For those who want to continue on and pursue their art as a career, they are a great resume builder, and obviously the training goes a long way. I could go on about her dedication and talent, but I think this interview should explain everything!

M: When did you first start singing and when did you realize this is something that you wanted to pursue?
S: I can't remember a time when I wasn't singing. My mom says I've been singing ever since I've been able to talk, which sounds about right. Hilariously enough, I started singing Barney songs and Bingo as all children do. I didn't start taking voice lessons until the end of 6th grade. For a while, I only worked on musical theatre because I love performing in shows, but I started receiving simple art songs midway through seventh grade. Ever since then, I've fallen in love with the art. I don't think I fully realized that this was what I wanted to pursue in life until this year. Before that, I was also extremely involved in ASB at my school, so I had leadership also open as a career path. When I wasn't re-elected this year, I was devastated, but looking back on it, this was a blessing in disguise. This year, I've had so much more time to work on classical and grow as a singer. Shifting my focus to music 100% showed me that I was more passionate about this art than anything else and I could do it forever. I believe that careers should be chosen for happiness; therefore, I'm willing and ready to cope with the struggle that comes along with pursuing fine arts.

M: What has been your favorite performance of yours or a moment when it “clicked?”
S: Ooh, this is a hard one. Honestly, my favorite performance change as I grow. I recently competed in the Schmidt Youth Vocal Competition in San Francisco, my first live competition, and received a lot of helpful feedback. Although I didn't win first, I received an Encouragement award from the judges, which was amazing considering I was the youngest in a sophomore to senior competition. At my studio's voice recital last week, I performed my aria, "Una Donna a Quindici Anni" again and applied the critiques. I've had a recurring problem with psyching myself out, getting scared, and not fully performing or acting the song, which is an essential part, especially in an aria. I felt like I really became the character, Despina, in that performance and had the most fun experimenting with different character traits.

M: What is Tanglewood and why do you want to go? What is their summer program like?
S: Tanglewood is an extremely prestigious, summer classical institute for pre-collegiate students. It is held in accordance with Boston University in Lenox, Massachusetts for 6 weeks. I want to go to enhance my abilities as a performer and classical singer. Their summer program is rigorous. They offer classes in Music Theory, Diction, Acting, and much more. All performers in the vocal program perform in an opera scene and have two solo voice recitals. It is a spectacular learning environment.

M: What’s a fun fact about the classical community that people might not know?
Hm, this is a hard one. I can't think of one right now, but I will get back to you on that when I do! Classical singing is a very taxing. It takes many many years to reach peak voice. Classical singers must be very careful in selecting repertoire as doing too much too fast can ruin your vocal cords as can be seen by the great singer Maria Callas. Most singers do not reach peak voice until the age of 35-45.

M: What is your favorite classical piece? What’s your favorite language to sing in?
S: My favorite classical piece is "Una donna a quindici anni." It's my first Italian aria, which is super exciting. I've had it for 1 and a half years, I think, but I still love it as much as I did the first day I got it, if not more. Arias are super hard because you have to work every little section so that it's perfect. I've been working on it for a couple years and its still far from perfect. "Una donna quindici anni" from Cosi fan tutte by Mozart is about a servant who is trying to convince the two women she works for to go out with these two guys by teaching them how to flirt and such. It sounds crazy, but its actually really fun. My favorite language to sing in is Italian, but I also love singing in German and English.

M: What do you like to do besides classical singing? Any other hobbies, activities, etc.?
S: I love love love musical theatre. I have made so many friends to last a lifetime through theatre. In addition to that, I have also played piano for 11 years and danced for 3 years.

M: How often do you rehearse?
S: I warm up every morning and after school. I sing one or two songs in front of the mirror before school if I have time, but usually the bulk of my singing comes in the afternoon. I've had to set a personal curfew for singing at 10pm so I don't disturb the neighbors because I can be really loud sometimes and I'd hate to disturb children at sleep. I practice every day for at least one hour.

M: What would you consider your biggest strength in singing?
S: This is difficult because there are always way to improve in every field. I think my runs are fairly solid for my age, and I'm told I have good line or musicality. My breath support has improved a lot in the past year.

M: What do you want to work on in singing?
S: Everything! [laughs] I really want to work on the performing aspect because its really hard for me to overcome myself sometimes in terms of acting. For technique, my main targets of improvement for the next couple of months to year are fixing diction, expanding or making better use of my vocal resonators, and developing more control over my voice.

M: Why do you like classical music? Why do you like singing?
I like classical music because it is beautiful and conveys so many emotions without the redundancy of some modern songs. I love how every part in the song, the vocals and the separate instrumental parts, all have a wonderful storyline that flows along with them. The emotions that are communicated through the music are

M: Is there anything else you'd love to close off with?
S: Singing has been my passion ever since I was a young child. To pursue a serious career in voice is my biggest goal. I would like to thank my mom, my family, my friends, Peninsula Youth Theatre, Anna Prenares, Amy Heumann, and all of my other supporters for always being there for me and sacrificing so much to help me succeed.

If you'd like to help Stephanie out and read more about her story and path to Tanglewood, consider donating to her fund on GoFundMe. Thank you so much to Stephanie for doing this!

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