Beatriz Abella says she has no regrets about deciding against becoming a nurse in favor of studying musical performance, saying “it’s the best choice I could have made.”
However, if there were any unspoken doubts about her decision, her recent invitation to perform at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall just might have resolved them.
Abella, a 2008 Juneau-Douglas High School graduate, took the stage April 30 as one of 30 grand winners of the National Young Musicians Showcase Competition, a contest sponsored by the National League of Performing Arts. She proved to be the only singer among the winners (all others played an instrument), the only grand winner from Alaska and one of only three performers from the Western United States, she said.
She auditioned by sending in a DVD of her performance of a classical piece of music. Originally, she finished second to someone from the famed Juilliard School, but that winner could not make the event, allowing Abella to make the cut.
Upon arriving at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Abella said she “fell to the ground laughing with happiness.”
“It’s easy to say that a hall is just a hall and a performance is just a performance, but Carnegie Hall has such a history and I’ve been blessed that I’m part of that legacy,” she said.
Now that Abella has taken the stage at Carnegie Hall — a venue artists sometimes spend a lifetime reaching for — the obvious question she asked herself is “now what?”
The immediate answer is finals. Abella is a junior at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, where she also majors in music business. School wraps there June 10.
“They kind of hold each other hand in hand,” she said of her double majors. “Music performance gives you skills and your background knowledge … to help you get into grad school or performance. And the music business, if you’re a performer, but you don’t know how to market yourself as a performer and as product, you won’t get any jobs.”
Abella landed at Southern Oregon in hopes of pursuing a nursing degree while maintaining her passion for music on the side. However, a last-minute decision to save money pushed her away from stethoscopes and toward the stage.
“I purchased about $300 of nursing textbooks — chemistry, human anatomy and physiology, it was a stack about 9 inches high,” she said. “There was packaging, and there was something written on the packaging that said ‘once opened, cannot be returned.’ And I couldn’t bring myself to open it. I only had one choir class in my schedule. But I couldn’t cut open that packaging. So I just returned it straight away, got my money back, bought my music books and enrolled as a music major.”
That decision has led her to lead roles with the Oregon Cabaret Theatre and the university’s concert and chamber choirs. She toured Germany and the Czech Republic with the chamber choir as its only freshman. She also has an eye on graduate school, with plans to apply to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the Manhattan School of Music and Yale, among others.
Abella began performing with the Juneau Children’s Peace Choir when she was just 6 years old. From there, she advanced to the Alaska Youth Choir and the Juneau Student Symphony. Work with JDHS’ orchestra and music departments rounded out her musical experiences while living in the capital city.
Eventually, Abella would like to make a living as a performer, a goal she said she feels she is “on the right track” to reaching.
“Unless I have a paying gig that lasts more than several months, then you don’t consider yourself having one of those coveted spots,” she said. “And even then, 80 percent of the job is getting a job.”
She showed she has the vocal endurance to work night in, night out while with the Oregon Cabaret Theatre, performing 83 shows one summer, seven each week.
“My voice held up really well,” she said. “I know it can take the intensity of something like that if it came up again.”
At her current pace, it seems Abella’s voice should be prepared for jobs of that intensity, or more, in the very near future. Perhaps, even a paying gig at Carnegie Hall.
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