Pasadena is home to four young singers ready to take the music world by storm.
They were honored by The Music Center in its 34th Spotlight competition. It recognizes the top high school students in Southern California with 100 semi-finalists entering the final round.
Students Tiffany Hsu, Lily Keating, Ryan Liddy and Caroline Patterson qualified for the semi-finals in the non-classical voice and classical voice categories. They have all participated in a masterclass with the best artists in their category and are now competing for scholarships in the finalist events.
Hsu was 6 years old when she discovered her future profession.
Her family took a trip to Beijing and saw a Chinese opera.
“I was seeing the face masks that they traditionally use for these shows,” Hsu said. “All the time, I was really amused and amazed by the beauty of the art. Everyone was bored except me.
Two years later, she found a teacher in Los Angeles to introduce her to Chinese opera, and at age 10, she added classical opera to her repertoire.
A 14-year-old student at Mayfield Senior School of the Holy Child Jesus, the ninth-grader studies at the Pasadena Conservatory of Music under Marine Ter-Kazaryan. She sang at Carnegie Hall, won three platinum awards at the 2020 American Protégé competition and won gold at the 2021 World Performing Arts Championships.
Although she has competed nationally, she is full of praise for the Spotlight competition and the opportunities and development it has provided.
“It’s a learning process, not really a competition,” Hsu said. “I’ve been to the Music Center for a lot of shows and thought Spotlight would be very professional. It’s really – especially the masterclass. It really opened my eyes.”
Her master class had 12 semi-finalists, and she said the teacher gave them fun warm-ups and encouraged them to learn from each other, instead of seeing it as a competition.
“We should be kind to everyone and listen to different voices and feel their emotions,” Hsu said. “We should include diversity in what we do and in the pieces we choose. I was much more informed about how I could improve and felt very motivated.
A graduate of Pasadena’s Polytechnic School, Keating performed several times with LA Opera as a member of the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus.
Also a pupil of Ter-Kazaryan, she played in “Mass” by Leonard Bernstein under the direction of Gustavo Dudamel; “Hansel and Gretel” with the LA Opera; and “Happier than Ever: Goldwing” with Billie Eilish, Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic.
She grew up singing classical music and focuses on learning tunes and solo performances.
“I really like to dive into the tracks and imagine situations similar to what the song is trying to convey,” Keating said. “If there’s a sad song, I think of a sad memory or experience I had and try to make the piece as personal as possible. I find joy in being able to connect with the real composer of the piece 100 years after he wrote it.
Keating, 18, is a semi-finalist in the classical voice category. His interest in the Spotlight program was sparked which won for the harp in its first year. She had never competed before, but when COVID-19 hit, she thought Spotlight would allow her to show off her artistic talents.
She auditioned last year and didn’t pass, but said everyone was so kind, comforting and encouraging that she tried again.
“To be able to experience this in this world of musical competition is very exciting,” Keating said. “It’s just an amazing experience to have.”
She’s still deciding what career to pursue, but she knows she wants music to be part of her life.
She knows that many of her peers have competed before, but she decided to enter anyway.
“Don’t be afraid to put yourself forward, even if you don’t have a lot of experience,” Keating said. “It doesn’t hurt to try to start.”
Liddy started playing jazz piano at the age of 4 and has been making music ever since.
He performed in the elementary school choir, as well as in musicals at Loyola High School in Los Angeles and Theater 360 in Pasadena.
A member of the LA Children’s Choir, he spent seven years performing in such works as the LA Opera productions “Carmen” and “Tosca”, and with the LA Philharmonic in “Carmina Burana”, “Missa Solemnis”. and “A Trip to the Moon.”
Also a pupil of Ter-Kazaryan, he competes as a baritone in the classical music category. He credits Ter-Kazaryan with exposing him to classical voice and opera.
He was surprised to learn that he knew six semi-finalists. His best friend since kindergarten went to another high school, and they didn’t see each other much but both were in the same master class. Others he recognized from the LA Children’s Choir or as comrades of Ter-Kazaryan.
Now a junior, he enjoys performing in musicals. He is currently cast as the lion in his high school production “The Wizard of Oz”. He was also the crab in the pre-Broadway production of “Moana Jr.” Years ago he was the younger brother of “Bye Bye Birdie”, and he would love to play Conrad Birdie one day.
He also enjoys the challenge of opera singing.
“Opera is just different from any other kind of music,” Liddy said.
“The amount of stamina, work and thought it takes is unmatched by any other kind of singing or playing an instrument. You are constantly thinking about not just pronouncing lyrics correctly and being artistic with the music, but also to your technique, sustain, and resonance. There’s a lot going on at once. That’s what I love about it. It becomes muscle memory, and you can hone those specific skills .
He said he had a great time in the master class, led by mezzo-soprano Suzzana Guzmán, an opera singer well known for her role as Carmen.
“It was really amazing,” Liddy said. “It helped my technique a lot. It helped to show up for an audition, talk to the judges, have the right time and present yourself properly. It was also nice to meet the other semi-finalists and to have so much talent in this piece, it was pretty amazing.
Patterson’s theatrical role model is her older brother, who alerted her to opportunities.
“I kind of grew up around that,” Patterson said. “My brother did a lot of musical theater and went to college for that too. I can’t remember a time where I didn’t see shows he was on or with my family. When I was 7 or 8 years old, it seemed natural to me to start doing children’s theater in Pasadena.
Now 17 at Pasadena Polytechnic High School, she plans to major in music at the University of Michigan next fall.
This is the fourth time she has participated in the Spotlight program and she is a finalist in non-classical voice. Music has been a priority from the start.
“From the second I started doing it, it was my highest priority,” Patterson said. “I kind of realized that was where I was best and it was the community that I found in the theater that I hadn’t really found anywhere else.”
His audition pieces for Spotlight were Stephen Sondheim’s “Move On” from “Sunday in the Park with George” and “I Found a New Baby” from “Bullets Over Broadway”.
Her brother was also a semi-finalist on the program years ago, and she remembers when she was 8 or 9 observing the masterclass and watching him perform.
“All of the semi-finalists seemed so passionate individually,” Patterson said. “Everyone was so eager to improve and so supportive that when you hear the word competition it’s not necessarily something that comes to mind. It’s just such a healthy environment.
One of Patterson’s favorite parts was the lead role in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” something she said she loves because of the jazzy classic musical theater style. She has also performed roles such as Judy in “Ruthless”, Winnifred in “Once Upon a Mattress”, Dolores in “Working: The Musical”, Chava in “Fiddler on the Roof”, and Pamela in “Head Over Heels”.
She performed the role of chaperone while at Michigan’s Interlochen Music Camp. The camp and his singing teacher were inspiring.
Patterson had reservations about the masterclass because she knew Zoom can be difficult while singing, but the teacher put everyone at ease.
“I had an unexpected emotional reaction to the whole situation,” Patterson said. “He gave me a note to be more specific about who I was talking to. He gave me a script that really resonated with me – I cried a lot.
The Spotlight Program is committed to providing not only money to winners, but also a supportive environment.
“Despite the limitations we’ve all faced during the pandemic, Music Center’s Spotlight has persevered,” said Jeri Gaile, Spotlight Program Director Fredric Roberts.
“We have been fortunate enough to be able to continue the program as a completely free competition and the results are nothing short of spectacular, with so many young people from across Southland applying and inspiring us with their enthusiasm, talent and passion for the arts. . Although Spotlight is primarily a competition, we also focus on developing each student’s artistic skills and encouraging their growth.
“Our goal is to support each contestant in any way we can, whether it’s providing detailed notes from a judge on how to improve their performance or showing them alternative careers in the arts beyond the performing arts. .”
In each master class, leading artists in the field provide students with feedback on their performances. The semi-finalists then audition again before a new jury, which selects the top two finalists in each category for a total of 14 grand prize finalists. There will also be an honorable mention in each category.
The finalists will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, June 15 at the Music Center. Semi-finalists each receive $300 and finalists receive $5,000 scholarships, with honorable mention winners earning $1,000.