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BWW Blog: Jessica Vanek - Michael Feinstein's Great American SONGBOOK ACADEMY 2017 is in Full Swing

BWW Blog: Jessica Vanek - Michael Feinstein's Great American SONGBOOK ACADEMY 2017 is in Full Swing

Jess here. Last summer I had the opportunity to spend a week in Carmel, Indiana with 39 of the most talented teens I've ever met. What happens in Carmel, you ask...? THE SONGBOOK ACADEMY! Now in its eighth season, the Songbook Academy is an annual week long summer music intensive designed for teens who are passionate about the music of the Great American Songbook. Michael Feinstein, the multi-platinum-selling, two-time Emmy and five-time Grammy Award-nominated entertainer founded the Great American Songbook Foundation in 2007. Each year he helms the program, and brings Broadway actors, Grammy and Emmy winners, and faculty from collegiate arts music programs to work alongside him in educating students about the rich history, songs and composers associated with the Great American Songbook.

High school vocalists can apply for the program by sending an audition video, and are invited to attend Songbook Academy week based on the results of their video submission. In July, the forty students chosen come together in Carmel, Indiana to not only perform the music of the Great American Songbook, but to also participate in incredible workshops, performance opportunities, and coaching sessions, all while learning about key concepts including vocal health, lyric interpretation and stage presence, just to name a few. I found this experience to be invaluable. It provided me with the ability to not only hone my craft, but to forge friendships and connections with people that I am still in contact with today.

We began the week with a choral rehearsal in preparation for our showcase finale at the end of the week. We only had a few days to learn the three group numbers that were going to be presented. We also began workshopping our two solo pieces for the primary showcase, which was only a few short days away. In the primary showcase, all forty competitors were to perform their two solo pieces. We were split into groups with a designated vocal coach and accompanist, and had an allotted period of time each day to perfect our pieces for the presentation. Needless to say, the stakes were high, and the pressure was on as only ten performers would be chosen out of the forty to sing in the showcase finale. The day of the primary showcase arrived and all forty artists were absolutely fabulous. That night, they announced the Top 10: Helena Beltrão, Julia Cooper, Austin Gladstone, Matt Hoffman, Lana Kanen, Samual Mulligan, Gigi Sierra, Brighton Thomas, Nina White, and myself. In the end, Matt Hoffman won the Celebration Award, Samual Mulligan won the Inspiration Award, and Brighton Thomas was awarded the title of 2016 Songbook Youth Ambassador. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to perform alongside all of these talented people, and is definitely one of the fondest memories I'll ever have of performing.

Many other activities were also happening throughout the week, including workshops with Michael Feinstein, Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer, Jarrod Spector from Beautiful the Musical, and an also a surprise visit from Maddie Baillio, the 2014 Songbook Youth Ambassador and star of NBC's Hairspray LIVE. The performers chosen to be in the Top 10 were treated to a spa day, and were the lucky recipients of a makeover for the final evening's concert. Other highlights included seeing the Songbook Gallery, and touring the incredible Great American Songbook Archives & Library which is filled with music and memorabilia from many 20th Century artists, ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Meredith Willson.

Finally, the big night arrived, and singing onstage at the Palladium (a beautiful venue, I might add) was made even better by having the great honor of performing with Michael Feinstein during the finale!

Having had the opportunity to personally experience such a fantastic program, I would highly recommend any interested vocalists to apply. This year's Songbook Academy will be held July 15-22, 2017 in Carmel, IN. The application due date is March 25, 2017. More information and application requirements can be found on their website:

"Some people can be content playing bingo and paying rent. That's peachy for some people, for some hum-drum people to be, but some people ain't me!"

-Stephen Sondheim

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