Seymour student Meghan Mayes' singing is getting her noticed

Jan. 25, 2014 @ 08:16 AM

Did Meghan Mayes learn about opera from her family?

“I think I more brought opera into my family,” she said.

Mayes’ family has been getting quite an education. The Seymour High School senior is a startlingly accomplished soprano, and her résumé already includes an impressive list of accomplishments.

Most recently: On Jan. 16, she took top honors for the female voice category at the Bijou Awards, in which talented Knoxville-area high school students compete. The event took place in downtown Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre.

In the competition, Mayes performed “The Girl in 14G,” a comic song written for singer and actress Kristin Chenoweth by Broadway composer Jeanine Tesori. The song let Mayes show off both her operatic skills and her musical-comedy flair.

“She had the audience in the palm of her hand,” reported Meghan’s mother Cathy Mayes, who runs a Gatlinburg business. Bijou Award winners get a $1,000 prize, and their schools receive $500.

Meghan has another high-profile booking next month, when she will sing in two Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra concerts. She got the opportunity after she auditioned for Oak Ridge’s Youth Aliyah Concert, a program sponsored by the local chapter of Hadassah, the Jewish philanthropic organization.

The symphony program, “Baroque Bonanza!”, will be performed at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Oak Ridge First United Methodist Church; and at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 16, at Tellico Village Community Church.

Mayes is in the choir at Seymour High, under the direction of Jean Burkhart. She has been singing in church choirs since she was little. She began singing operatically as a sophomore, when she auditioned for All-East Honor Choirs, an annual event for high schoolers in the region. “I decided I would sing a different way,” she recalled, “and so I did.”

Mayes was a fan of operas before she began singing music from them. Among her favorites, she counts Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” and Verdi’s “La Traviata.”

Her voice teacher is UT’s Marjorie Bennett Stephens. “I’m working to put a lot more power in my voice, rather than just getting the notes out,” Mayes said. “(Stephens) is showing me how to use my diaphragm muscle to amplify my sound, rather than singing from the throat.”

The Bijou Award is not Mayes’ first honor. In 2011, she received the Knoxville Choral Society’s Young Classical Musicians award for concert voice, and last year she was the East Tennessee Vocal Association’s scholarship soprano. She has attended All East and All State Honor Choir events the last three years, and she went to the 2012 Tennessee Governor’s School for the Arts in Murfreesboro. She also participates in the Sevier County Choral Society’s scholarship program.

Mayes prefers opera, but her repertoire includes musical theater. She is a regular in Seymour High musicals, and she will perform in the school’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” scheduled for May.

“There are some musicals that use an operatic style,” she said, “but mostly musical theater is different. You’re more involved in acting and dancing, not just the finesse of the voice.”

At the Oak Ridge symphony concerts, Mayes will sing Mozart’s “Exsultate, Jubilate.”

“It always keeps me on my toes,” she said of the piece. “I doesn’t let me lull myself into a sense of security. It has a fun high note at the end, and it has complicated melismas throughout. It’s fun to perform, but hard, technically.”

Mayes was chosen to perform in the concert by Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra Music Director and Conductor Dan Allcott.

“I thought this was the perfect opportunity to reward her for the good work she and her teacher have been doing,” Allcott said. “She’s well taught, and she sings beautifully. That’s a great combination. You have to have a natural gift, and you have to have a teacher who helps you.”

Mayes has been accepted into the University of Tennessee, and next month she will audition for the university’s music school. She also is pursuing applications at schools in Ohio and Maryland, and at New York City’s famed Juilliard School. When Mayes is listening to music for pleasure, she prefers classical. “Mozart, Beethoven, and also Strauss,” she said.

She doesn’t listen to much pop. “Although,” she said, laughing, “some of it is very good, I’m sure.”