Ten Generations of Songbook Success – Are you next? Songbook Academy alums just like YOU share advice to consider this audition season!
We’ve shared advice from industry professionals and university educators on selecting the right audition material and making that material your own, but there are some important members of the performing arts community who you haven’t yet heard from – your peers.Get the inside scoop from the alums who have been in the same situation you find yourself right now – passionate about the Arts and ready to find the right program that can help you pursue your artistic ambitions.From theatre, to film, to the chem lab, to the circus – these alums have “made it” in their own way, and are here to share just how they did so with you.
The Songbook Academy® is the only summer music intensive that is dedicated to the “Golden Age of American Song”- Broadway and movie musicals, jazz, and standards written between approximately 1920 and 1960. High school singers with an interest in the American Songbook may apply for the program by submitting video recordings of two contrasting selections from the Great American Songbook.
Meet Songbook Students just like you!
- “It will change the way you perform” - Laney Wilson, ‘09
- “This music has set me apart” - Annie Yokom, ‘10
- “It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life” - Jillian Slade, ‘12
- “More than an experience, it’s a family” - Melinda Rodriguez, ‘13
- “Confidence in myself and ownership over my future” – Kyrie Courter, ‘13
- “It never felt like a competition” - Molly Hernandez, ‘14
- “You become a truer version of yourself” - Kathleen Muloma, ‘15
- “It took me out of my shell” - Dominic Lipari, ‘16
- “Songbook Academy highlighted the importance of storytelling” - Joie Bianco, ‘17
- “I didn’t think it was possible to learn so much!” - Johnny Rabe, ‘18
Every applicant receives written feedback on their video submissions from a panel of nationally recognized experts. Forty students are invited to Carmel, Indiana, for a week-long intensive with leading theatre professionals, GRAMMY-nominated recording artists, and top university professors from around the country.
In honor of their tenth anniversary, The Songbook Academy introduced Acceptd to ten of the now hundreds of alums from the past ten years of the program.These alums have gone on to attend prestigious performing arts universities like Berklee College of Music, Carnegie Mellon University, The New England Conservatory and the University of Michigan.They have performed at venues like Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and Lincoln Center, in festivals from Miami to Bermuda, and alongside performing artists and groups like Jane Monheit, The Tenors and the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra.They have won DownBeat Music Awards and International Collegiate A Cappella Championships, received scholarships from the Mabel Mercer Foundation, been nominated for leading roles in regional non-equity and equity shows, formed leading student activism groups, and can be seen or heard on platforms from Spotify to Amazon.From their personal experiences at the Songbook Academy to their collegiate and professional careers in the Arts (or not!) today, these students have some valuable and relatable advice if you are a student passionate about music and considering applying to a summer performing arts program like the Songbook Academy. Just think! One of the stories below could be yours someday!
Ten Generations of Songbook Success – Are you next?
“It will change the way you perform” - Laney Wilson, ‘09
About: Laney is one of the ten inaugural alums of the Songbook Academy from the Class of 2009.He graduated from IUPUI with a degree in music technology with a focus on trumpet and jazz performance.Though Laney has a full-time job as a Senior Partner at Apex Energy Solutions, he performs regularly as the lead vocalist with Cool City Band – an 8-piece swing band popular in the Indianapolis area.From the Jazz Kitchen to the Cabaret Theater, to the Indianapolis Opera and Jazz Orchestra, Laney can be seen with the band or free-lancing on his own, playing flugelhorn or belting out one of your favorite Songbook tunes!Laney is the perfect example of having the best of BOTH worlds!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “I would say that some of my favorite moments were definitely my one-on-one times with Michael Feinstein… that I think about often today. He is one of the first people I ever heard really go into depth about the interpretation of the lyric and now I truly never try to sing a song the same way twice… [and] do my best to sing something the exact same way that I would say it to someone.”
Laney’s Advice: “I would highly recommend that other students take part in the Songbook Academy because it will be something that you cherish forever. When you are able to be in the same room, on the same stage with a world famous performer like Michael Feinstein, there are moments that you will never ever forget. The time, advice and experience that he can offer to young performers will stay with you for the rest of your life and change the way that you perform and who you are as a vocalist.”
“This music has set me apart” - Annie Yokom, ‘10
About: Annie Yokom is not only an alumna of the Songbook Academy; she is also one of nine Songbook Youth Ambassadors that have been named annually since the program’s inception who go on to debut with Michael Feinstein and represent the Great American Songbook Foundation nationally.After attending the Songbook Academy, Annie graduated with a BFA in Musical Theatre from Carnegie Mellon University.She has starred as Judy Garland in the musical “Beyond the Rainbow” at various regional theatre companies amongst other engagements, was cast in the movie Weightless now available on Amazon and iTunes, and released her first single.Annie now lives and auditions in Chicago, teaches as a part of Artist Empowered (a college and career coaching program for students that she helped to create), and is currently working on a new Cabaret show.
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “…The connection you can have with the audience - with each other. These songs are timeless and relatable.They have memories attached to them. It is easy to relate to people through these songs if you are open enough to look out into the audience and connect with someone. Find the meaning in the song that you can personally relate to and be clear with each word you’re saying.Attach your memories - your love, joy or pain – and then reach out to the audience with that vulnerability.[My approach to this genre] has been the biggest lesson that I'll carry with me always.”
Why Annie loves the Songbook Academy: “The Songbook Academy is still one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had! The doors that have opened for me and the connections I've made have been great, but the lessons I've learned and how the Songbook Academy blossomed my love for this music has set me apart and has brought immense joy into my life.”
“It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life” - Jillian Slade, ‘12
About Jillian: After participating in the Songbook Academy, Jillian attended and graduated from the University of Michigan’s Musical Theatre Department as a Top Leaders and Best Scholar, performed in various regional productions, and moved to New York where she writes and performs as a singer-songwriter in a duo (Shawn and Jill), and now works for her dream music company: Spotify. Jillian has had the opportunity to perform as a soloist at Lincoln Center and The Kennedy Center, appeared in various film/commercial works, and recently released her debut EP, “The Beginning.”
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “My experience at the Songbook Academy was nothing short of invaluable and was pivotal in my personal and artistic growth, as well as in preparation for forging a successful career path in this industry.I learned the absolute necessities when interpreting and communicating a song… to always, ALWAYS, pay tribute to the writer... to break down songs of all forms… and that all life comes from the text, the music, and the purest intricacies of the song’s structure.Not to mention, the absolute treasure trove of history, guidance, and mesmerizing inspiration Michael Feinstein was. It was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life.”
Jillian’s Advice: “For a blossoming high school-aged artist, you simply cannot find another program that fosters such a creative and professional preparatory learning environment. The friendships and memories you will create are truly binding. And above all, the Academy is truly priceless and unique in being the only offering of its kind to truly honor and educate our future generations about The Great American Songbook, whose impact can be seen all around us. Frankly, we should always remind ourselves: ‘What would our music, culture—nay, what would our world’s landscape look like today had this music not come to life?’”
“More than an experience, it’s a family” - Melinda Rodriguez, ‘13
About Melinda: Since her Songbook Academy experience, Melinda went university hopping, first ending up at The New England Conservatory, a prestigious music school in Boston. After Boston she returned home to finish her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education at Florida International University. During her time at FIU, she performed in several jazz festivals from Miami and Connecticut to Bermuda. Melinda has entered several competitions, and won DownBeat Music Awards. Today, she is running the Jazz Vocal Department at The University of Illinois, while pursuing her Master’s degree. In her spare time (which is when?), Melinda also runs an ensemble at Millikin University, and gigs regularly around town!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “How many young people are as into the Songbook as I am? Not many, so it was so exciting to have people my age who actually know what the Songbook even is! What was so memorable for me was seeing how music that is decades old has the same effect on my mentors and idols, as it does on myself and my peers. This music truly lives on and will be with me, and generations after me, forever.
I think the biggest takeaway for me was networking with the fellow alumnus as well as the mentors. During my program, the incredible Jane Monheit was one of our mentors… I kept in touch with her for years. So much so that we speak regularly and she has invited me to sing at a show!”
Melinda’s Recommendation: “This program is all encompassing. It is fun, educational and challenging. You come out as a new musician and artist. Overall, it is an experience like no other. They let you dive into the Songbook and just teach more than you'll ever hope to know. The whole process prepares you for real life experiences and auditions. The program is perfect for all different interpretations of the Songbook. Where I perform these tunes in more of a jazz and improvisatory manner, others sing them as show tunes and even pop tunes! They welcome all versions and only help you expand your mind and voice.
This program is so much more than an experience, it's a family that will help you and reach out to you with opportunities in your area and just constantly monitor your success with a never ending pat on the back.”
“Confidence in myself and ownership over my future” – Kyrie Courter, ‘13
About: After her Songbook experience, Kyrie graduated from the Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) at Roosevelt University, and earned a BFA in Musical Theater. Since then, she has been in regional non-equity and equity shows, and earned two nominations for playing the titular role in Marie Christine at BoHo Theatre. Her most recent appearance was in the role of Natalie in The Writer’s Theatre’s production of Next to Normal, directed by The Band’s Visit Tony-winning director David Cromer.Kyrie is currently still in Chicago, and she is venturing out into writing and directing while continuing to pursue her acting career.
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “[This program] changed the way that I look at phrasing and communicating music to this day… [but] my biggest take-away from this weekend was that your mindset controls your life. Your outlook on things has the power to catapult you into despair or make you feel like you're on top of the world, striving to be your best self. After this weekend, I felt so much more confidence in myself and so much more ownership over my future. I know that anything is possible, and I approach each day as a new opportunity to learn, grow, and give myself reasons to be proud of myself.”
Why Kyrie loves Songbook Academy: “It sounds really simple, but this program is just awesome! You meet really fun and interesting people who share similar passions to yours, you meet loads of people who can give you advice on pursuing this art form as a career, and there are so many amazing opportunities for growth along the way. This program is definitely something that you'll feel grateful for!”
“It never felt like a competition” - Molly Hernandez, ‘14
About: Molly is a recent graduate of Loyola University Chicago, where she completed her BA in Spanish in only 3 years! Since participating in the Songbook Academy, Molly has been working as a performer in and around the Chicagoland area from the American Blues Theater to Timber Lake Playhouse and more! She also does work in film and television and can be seen in select episodes of Chicago PD and APB.Molly serves as the auditions coordinator for the Illinois Theatre Association, from which she earned last year’s Award of Excellence in Professional Theatre.She has also been named one of Chris Jones’ fresh faces of Chicago, and was nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Currently, Molly is enrolled in the professional circus training program at the Actors Gymnasium!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “The greatest gift the Songbook Academy gave me was the ability to make strong bold choices that I was confident about. When we had one teacher in the morning who said ‘use the mic - it is a prop there for you to play with’ and another shortly after who said ‘don’t touch the mic it’s not going anywhere’ we were forced to make decisions for ourselves that directly contradicted the advice from one of the two. This made two things very clear to me. 1. Never get stuck somewhere in between - always make a decision. 2. Go big or go home. If you’re making a decision, make it loud and proud!”
Not a Competition: “The thing that struck me most about my Songbook Academy experience was that it never felt like a competition. We became very good friends immediately and supported and cared for each other the entire week. It was a grueling week with long hours that was as rewarding as it was difficult. I am forever grateful for the people I met and the friendships I made. Even as we left the stage after our final performance, I remember a conversation in the elevator that involved a cacophony of congratulations for our winners and cheers for us all as a team. Not one person was sad or disappointed and that is truly remarkable.”
Molly’s Recommendation: “The Songbook Academy offers an unparalleled experience for aspiring young artists.The workshops and coaching sessions are reason enough to attend. The people make it that much more valuable. I still talk to mentors and finalists from my year and have both offered and been offered performance opportunities. In this business it’s all about who you know and these people are worth knowing.”
“You become a truer version of yourself” - Kathleen Muloma, ‘15
About: Kathleen will graduate this semester from Hope College with a BS in Chemistry! A perfect example of a student who pursued a non-Arts degree but continues to celebrate music and her artistic passions, Kathleen just closed a run as the Witch in Hope’s production of Into the Woods.Kathleen is a leader for student activism and created two groups on campus. One, Women in Science and Engineering (WISE), which empowers diverse women towards community and excellence and empathy in the sciences, and two, Vox Populi, which is a student activism and political student engagement group.She recently earned a position as a faith based community organizer and will be moving to Lexington, Kentucky in July!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “What I loved the most was the deep friendships that automatically formed. It was like being with, singing with, and encouraging 40 of my best friends every day. The amount of talent was astonishing, but what was most impactful was the deep desire everyone had for each person to grow and have breakthroughs as a performer. Each time a technique was mastered or a story telling opportunity was found, it was in a room of people who were gushing and so excited to see you flourish! I felt like everyone was rooting for me, and I was rooting for them. It truly was an incredible space to grow.”
Kathleen’s Recommendation: “I would recommend this week because it’s unlike any experience you will ever have. It’s not show choir camp, it’s not a musical theatre summer show, and it’s different than just a competition. It’s a chance to grow… [and] become a truer version of yourself.I especially want to encourage singers of color to perform. That was one of the best parts of my time, being with other black and brown performers who I really connected with and were encouraged by. So much of this music was created by people who look like us and I feel like it was opportunity to be so proud of who I am and to bring that and all of myself to the stage!”
“It took me out of my shell” - Dominic Lipari, ‘16
About: After attending the Songbook Academy, Dominic continued to pursue his musical passions in a variety of different ways.Among other things, he marched with the world-class percussion ensembles Pi Percussion and Cavaliers Indoor Percussion, sang and conducted the Crepesculum Chamber Choir, with whom he also premiered an original arrangement of Silent Night, performed with groups like The Tenors, and had classes with musicians such as Eric Stern, Victor Wooten and Nancy Zeltsman. It’s safe to say that Dominic does it all, and is now (very fittingly) enrolled at Berklee College of Music, pursuing a degree in Film Scoring and Composition, with a minor in Choral and Orchestral Conducting.
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “I loved my experience at Songbook Academy, as, more than anything, it was an experience that took me out of my shell and taught me things about myself musically and emotionally. I had only been singing for about a year at the time, so singing in front of such talented people and educators in such an incredible space was exactly the experience I needed to throw me into the musical world and into my musical self!”
Why Dominic thinks you should audition: “While of course you will come out of the academy a better singer and vocal performer, the impact that it leaves is far greater. Solo singing is a scary and exposing experience, learning to stand under a spotlight and perform is as huge lesson in confidence and vulnerability. Taking apart a song musically and lyrically and analyzing its deeper meaning is emotionally and artistically enriching experience, which not only makes you a smarter and more thoughtful artist and musician, it connects you more deeply to humanity and increases your ability to connect. Meeting other young musicians and sharing ideas and commonalities will make you more confident in your path, and will help to silence the naysayers of a life and career in music. Now, at Berklee, I'm building my career and beginning my lifestyle in music, and although I'm playing percussion and composing a little more than I'm singing nowadays, I'll always value the things that Songbook Academy taught me.
If you're thinking about auditioning, do so and without holding back! Whether you're a finalist or not, whether you get into the Top Ten or not, you will learn a lot from putting yourself out there and auditioning! ‘You'll miss 100% of the shots you don't take’ -Wayne Gretsky”
“Songbook Academy highlighted the importance of storytelling” - Joie Bianco, ‘17
About: After her two summers spent at the Songbook Academy, Joie has gone on to appear at the New York Cabaret Convention at Lincoln Center for the past three years, in which time she received the Julie Wilson award and scholarship granted by the Mabel Mercer Foundation and was highlighted in a 5-page feature story in Cabaret Scenes Magazine.Joie won first place and the judge’s distinguished award in the American Protégé Competition at Carnegie Hall, was a 2019 YoungArts Winner with scholarship in Vocal Jazz, and recently made appearances with Jane Monheit at the Iridium, and Lauren Kinhan (NY Voices) and Janis Seigal (Manhattan Transfer) in their Vocal Mania show in NYC.And a brief reminder: Joie is still in high school!!!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “My biggest takeaway from Songbook Academy was the importance of the lyric. I think that especially in this generation’s music, lyrics are often overlooked. Songbook Academy highlighted the importance of storytelling and making a piece my own. This has transformed my performances and allowed me to see that the real “star of the show” is the audience itself. Songbook Academy has made me realize that a true artist will not only tell the story of the composer or the lyricist, but will also allow the lyric to conform to their own life experiences.
Why Joie loves Songbook Academy: “What I love most about Songbook Academy is the sense of community that is present. It’s much more than a competition. It became an outlet for me to make connections with new people who have a similar passion. I know that the relationships I have built within my two years at Songbook Academy are going to be lifelong connections.”
“I didn’t think it was possible to learn so much!” - Johnny Rabe, ‘18
About: After applying to Songbook Academy for three years, Johnny became one of the program’s most recent Top 10 finalists this past summer.After his Songbook experience, he started his collegiate journey at Stanford University studying Theater, International Relations, and Music. In his first semester, Johnny became a member of Stanford’s oldest A cappella group, The Stanford Mendicants. Along with the group, Johnny recently placed first in the Northern California section of the International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella (ICCA) and will be competing in the semi-finals in March. He will also be performing in the theater department’s production of Cabaret this spring!
Biggest Songbook Academy Take-away: “My favorite aspect of the Songbook Academy was the sense of community that was built. It was incredible to be surrounded by a group of people who loved this music as much as I do. I had always loved the music of the Songbook, but being able to fully immerse myself in it with teachers who have such a rich understanding of it resulted in the Songbook becoming a completely integrated part of my life. I have loved continuing to study the music and history of the Songbook and hope to do so for the rest of my life.”
Johnny’s Recommendation: “I would recommend the Songbook Academy because I did not think that it was possible to learn so much and get to really feel connected to so many people in such a short amount of time. When I think back to my time at the Songbook Academy, I’m still amazed that so many wonderful experiences and rare opportunities were packed into one week!”
Will YOU take their advice?
These are only ten stories of the hundreds that have come out of the Songbook Academy summer music intensive – ten stories of personal growth, artistic fulfillment, community building, and success in craft and as human beings.So what are you waiting for?You could be the Songbook Academy’s next “story”, and more importantly, a new addition to a family of artists spanning ten generations and a century of music.Who could ask for anything more?
Apply now: GetAccetpd.com/SongbookAcademy