Pierson Senior Selected out of Thousands to Sing at All-State Festival

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By Tessa Raebeck

When Megan Beedenbender sings, everything in the room aside from her voice disappears. The listener becomes mesmerized, further enthralled with each captivating note.

“It’s my way of expressing myself,” Megan said on Wednesday, December 17, in between classes at Pierson High School. “Through music, I feel like I communicate my emotions well.”

Megan’s singing has become more than a form of self-expression for the high school senior, it is now an official point of pride for the Sag Harbor School District. As a result of a perfect score in last year’s auditions, Megan, an alto who can also sing soprano, was selected to perform in the Women’s Chorus at the New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) All-State Festival, December 4 through 7.

The Sag Harbor student was chosen from among 6,000 students who auditioned across the state. Of those, nearly 900 students were chosen for eight different performing groups; she was one of about 120 in women’s chorus.

With a love for singing that began when she as a toddler singing along to Disney songs, Megan started honing her hobby in the third grade, as part of the small chorus at Sag Harbor Elementary School. Since sixth grade, she has been working with Suzanne Nicoletti in Pierson’s middle and high school choruses.

“Megan’s first year,” recalled Ms. Nicoletti of the then sixth grader, “I handed her a NYSSMA sheet and I said, ‘You’re doing this,’ because I saw potential and I knew she could greatly improve.”

Since that day, Megan has performed at festivals and solo competitions, “and has always been kind of like the rock of whatever section she’s in,” added Ms. Nicoletti. “I always could depend on Megan to know her part, to be there both with a positive attitude and with the right frame of mind to just do her best. And it’s been wonderful having her in chorus all these years.”

Ms. Nicoletti and Megan bonded over their shared love for what some may consider a broad musical taste: Classical greats like Bach and Mozart mixed with Def Leppard, Journey and other 1980s hair bands.

“If you don’t really care about singing, then it’s not going to be your thing,” said Ms. Nicoletti, adding that somewhere in between her sophomore and junior years, Megan seemed to decide, “Yes, I’m really moving forward with this and this is going to be my thing and my focus, and it was very inspiring. When she started taking private lessons, then things really got even better.”

Megan took her music a step further last year by adding private lessons with Amanda Jones in East Hampton in both voice and piano. She also performs with the Choral Society of the Hamptons, which recently awarded her with a scholarship for vocal training.

As a junior last spring, Megan earned a perfect score of 100 at the NYSSMA Solo Festival in Level VI, the highest class. The score enabled her to apply for the all-state festival, but her position was solidified by character recommendations from Pierson faculty and her participation in local music groups.

“NYSSMA requires a lot of outside time, it requires a lot of self-direction, self-motivation, private lessons, practicing at home—it’s really college-level,” Eric Reynolds, a music teacher at Pierson, said of his student’s accomplishments. Mr. Reynolds, who taught her as a junior in IB music last year, now teaches Megan in AP Music Theory.

“In theory we’re going to start composition, but I love being handed a piece and I love being able to interpret it in my way,” Megan said.

While singing in English is a feat in and of itself for many people, Megan can also sing in German, Italian, French and Chinese.

“I love singing in German, which is really weird. It’s really random, but I like taking those kinds of songs and just making it my own,” she said.

Known for its guttural, deep sounds, German is “just a powerful language,” she said, “and being an alto, when you have a powerful, deep voice and a powerful language—it’s just so good together….what I enjoy about singing in a different language is that when someone’s listening, they’re not focusing on the words, they’re focusing on what it sounds like.”

When she sings, be it the ‘sh’ syllables of Chinese or the flowery rhythms of Italian, Megan’s strong voice is showcased first and foremost.

Her teachers, who she said, “know my voice, which is really cool,” have helped her to focus her breath and tone quality, shape her mouth and sing from her diaphragm. “It’s almost singing from the heart,” she said of how her voice has matured.

Although she was just selected as one of the top singers in New York’s high schools, Megan is not dwelling on her accomplishments. Like most high school seniors, she is more concerned with getting into college than giving private concerts in German.

Through “discovering how much I really loved music,” she has figured out which path to pursue after Pierson, and is well on her way to becoming a music education teacher. She has already been accepted to one of the country’s top music programs and will audition for a different program at her dream school in February.

“I’ve been given so much love through music, so I just want to share my love with everyone else through music, that’s a big thing—and I can’t picture myself doing anything else,” she said.

“Music has been my therapy,” Megan continued, as she sat, surrounded by instruments in Mr. Reynolds’s office at Pierson, “like my guiding light, it’s gotten me through everything…basically, it’s like music speaks when I can’t.”

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