Music flowed through the rafters of the First United Methodist Church of Blairstown on October 15 as The Bolshoi Studio put on a performance with singers who are well on their way to becoming — or are already performing as — professionals.
The event allowed students from the Blairstown and Glen Ridge studios to showcase their progress under the tutelage of studio director Alison Bolshoi. The program featured pieces from Opera, Oratorio, Pop, Broadway, and Cabaret.
Blairstown’s own Andie Baldwin kicked off the evening on the piano with a gut-wrenching performance of “Turbines/Pig” by Black Country New Road, saying she chose the piece for the challenging piano score. Currently a student at William Patterson University, she will also start performing at Hard Rock Cafe locations in both Atlantic City and New York. Knowing her audience, she returned to the piano later in the program to perform “Vienna” by Billy Joel.
Bolshoi pointed out that simultaneously playing an instrument and singing can be very difficult and takes careful training. “She needs to use the left side of her body equally to the right, instead of favoring the right and straining muscles,” she said. “Andie has worked so hard and it has paid off beautifully. She is a true phenom and with her extraordinary songwriting abilities, if things go well, she could be as big as Lady Gaga.”
Gabriel Lukijaniuk, a member of the Philadelphia Symphonic Chorus led by Joe Miller and who performs alongside the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Yannick Nézet-Séguin, accompanied the other singers on piano.
The caliber and complexity-of-voice of the younger more inexperienced singers was surprising. Mirra E. sang “Hellfire” from the musical The Hunchback of Notre Dame, choosing it because “It was the piece that got me into college.”
She was recently accepted to the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, six months early, with a scholarship. Mirra also gave a haunting rendition of “Joanna” from the musical Sweeney Todd.
Isabelle Kruegel, a freshman in high school, had a very distinct voice, and gave a stirring performance of “Heather” by Conan Grey and a vibrant take on “Lifeboat” from the Heathers musical. Isabelle has been working with Bolshoi since February and plans to study theatre or performing arts in college.
Comedy was in the air when teenager Amy T. gave an energetic and funny performance of “Screw Loose” from Cry Baby and Kate DiFonzo gave an entertaining “cabaret-ed” version of Britney Spears’ “Oops I Did it Again.” DiFonzo, a music teacher, also sings with the Soundscape Singers Cabaret troupe that originated at the Bolshoi Studio.
Seventeen year-old soprano Grace Lewis, directed by Bolshoi, sang “Donde lieta usci” (Mimi’s Farewell) from the opera La Bohème. When she came back to the stage to sing a German leider by Richard Strauss, the audience was so quiet in their anticipation, you could have heard a pin drop.
Instead, the church bells began peeling for their lengthy scheduled toll (typically paused for performances). Bolshoi immediately stopped the performance to wait until the bells finished. The wait was well worth it — as Lewis’ voice, even in the early stages of training, is enchanting.
Her mother Cheryl Lewis said, “I had no idea she could sing like that. When she asked to take lessons, I did not know what to expect and [was surprised by] the power in her voice. She only began studying recently.”
Teenager Skyler G. had a powerfully controlled voice when she sang “As the World Caves In” by Sara Cothran. She made it clear it was not her song pick, teasing her teacher as she said, “I don’t like it [the song] but Alison wants me to sing it, so I will.”
She later returned to the stage to sing a favorite song of hers, “Never Enough” from The Greatest Showman, proving that she herself was a great showman, because both songs were beautifully performed.
The youngest singer of the evening was the precocious six-year old Aadhya D. who belted out “Roar” by Katy Perry. “It’s not often that someone so young can take direction so easily,” said Bolshoi. “I’m very proud of her.”
The adult students were more reflective on their relationship with music.
“I started singing thirty-years ago,” said Diane Hynes, who gave a tender performance of “All the Things You Are” by Jerome Kern. “I sang in college and in clubs in Japan. But then I went in another direction for body work,” referring to her profession as a licensed massage therapist at the Hope Wellness Center. “I always knew I wanted to come back to singing.”
And body work is the heart of The Bolshoi Studio Method. Bolshoi gave brief explanations between each performance, describing the ways the students had been working their muscles, core strength and body positions in order to achieve performance-worthy vocals.
When 11-year old Ariana V. came to the stage to sing “A Million Dreams,” from The Greatest Showman, her big, clear voice showed signs of stress a few times, but she carried on like a true pro. Afterwards, Bolshoi revealed that Ariana was just getting over bronchitis, proving that a good attitude, an AC/DC t-shirt, and the right training can get a singer through almost any performance.
For lessons or to find out when The Bolshoi Studio will be performing again go to: https://www.bolshoistudio.com/
Cybele Tamulonis, Contributing Writer
Cybele is a writer and editor with more than 16 years in the publishing industry. An avid reader, you can usually find her with the latest new book release from the local library. She currently resides on a farm in Hardwick with her husband and four children. In her spare time, she writes historical fiction specific to New Jersey.