Music in the Mountains scholarship winner to perform July 3
Special to The Union
Nicole Young admits she had no special interest in music growing up. “I sang nursery rhymes like every little kid,” she said — but singing wasn’t a central theme. True, she sang in the Concert Choir at Saint Francis High School in Sacramento, but she saw herself going into a field of science in college.
While St. Francis is known for its strong academic curriculum, it also places a premium on the arts — which led Nicole to turn on a dime. She auditioned for an independent study class entitled Vocal Solos, where she was introduced to a rich blend of classical vocal music. She was intrigued by the words and beauty of English art songs, and she enjoyed delving into the history of music, considering how to best interpret a song.
“It opened up a whole new world to me,” she said — and as a result, science fell by the wayside and she decided to major in music.
Having made this decision, following her high school graduation, she enrolled in the music program at Sacramento State. Although she studied for several years with voice professor Robin Fisher, during the past semester she worked with Julie Miller, who made note in a letter of reference to Nicole’s beautiful high range and her growth as an actress.
“Blessed with an excellent ear,” Miller wrote of Nicole, “she is also a musical performer who is sensitive to the subtle nuance, style and drama, distinctive within each piece of music.”
It turned out that Music in the Mountains obviously agreed with this account — for Nicole was selected in May as the winner of the 2022 Lucy Becker Memorial Scholarship. Returning after a two-year COVID hiatus, this $2,000 talent-based award is normally given annually to an aspiring young singer. The judges of this year’s competition were impressed with the clarity of Nicole’s lovely voice, as well as her stage presence and her ability to inhabit a song and give it to her audience.
Besides performing, Nicole has an academic bent as well. Her junior recital in April of 2021 centered on women composers, and she savored the research it took to look into different eras of history and to uncover brilliant gems of music. Called to sing in different languages, she chose German songs by Clara Schumann and Fanny Mendelssohn; French numbers by Pauline Viardot and Cecile Chaminade; and an eclectic set of Emily Dickinson’s poems set to music by Lori Laitman — closing the program with a comic piece called: I’m Nobody. Who Are You?
Like scores of students across the country, Nicole found the pandemic to be daunting. As a music major, she missed the opportunity to perform with a live audience, noting that it was difficult to “play off” a Zoom screen! Furthermore, she wasn’t sure what would happen to the arts; whether there’d be any future. Overall, she acknowledged, “It took away a lot of confidence.”
And then there were the masks. Try singing while wearing a mask — attempting to project a song. During Sac State’s Opera Theatre presentation in November, all the singers were masked, which was a hindrance when it came to breath control. “Every time I breathed in, the mask would come in too,” Nicole recalled. “My glasses would fog up and the mask would get vacuumed into my face.”
Yet despite the obstacles of COVID, Nicole persevered and really began to shine in 2022. She received a scholarship from the Sacramento Saturday Club, giving her a chance to sing in a recital with other young musicians in February. Then in March, she appeared as a soprano soloist with the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, singing arias by Mozart and Verdi in a program entitled Operatic Rising Stars.
Another opportunity is coming her way in August when she travels to Europe, joining 24 other singers in a CSU Summer Arts Course called Romantic Lied in Germany, where students will immerse themselves in the poetry and music of German arts songs. Nicole is especially looking forward to singing lieder by Schubert and Schumann because she appreciates their masterful “text painting” — their use of musical metaphors. She terms their music as “essential to German lied — cornerstones that set the standards.”
Once Nicole returns from Germany, she’ll spend one more semester at Sac State. Then, with a bachelor’s degree in hand, she plans to continue her studies at the graduate level, earning a master’s in vocal performance as her goal.
Nicole is the tenth recipient of the scholarship that honors the memory of lyric soprano Lucy Becker. It’s fitting to point out that 40 years ago, back on the opening night of Music in the Mountains’ very first summer festival on June 25, 1982, Lucy was the featured soprano soloist, joining the festival orchestra and chorale in a performance of Bach’s Magnificat in D.
Nicole will perform and be officially recognized at Music In the Mountain’s Happy Birthday USA concert this Sunday, July 3, at the Nevada County Fairgrounds. She will be singing a familiar aria from Mozart’s comic opera Cosi fan tutte, adding to the fun and fanfare of Music In the Mountain’s traditional blowout summer concert.
Julie Becker is the sister of Lucy Becker and helps to oversee the annual scholarship
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