Forty of the nation’s most talented teen vocalists from cities such as Los Angeles, Portland, Houston, Miami, New York City, Detroit, St. Louis and even some from central Indiana, will soon be making their way to Carmel, Indiana, July 15-22. They are coming to participate in the eighth annual Songbook Academy®, presented by the Great American Songbook Foundation. The organization was founded by Grammy nominee, Michael Feinstein who is also artistic director of The Center for the Performing Arts, the headquarters of the Foundation.
The Songbook Academy® is the only high school intensive in the United States focused on the pop, jazz, Broadway and Hollywood standards that have come to be known as the Great American Songbook. It’s a rare opportunity for the students to experience workshops, master classes and mentoring from Feinstein and other music industry professionals, plus respected university educators. Participants are able to network with peers and professionals, perform before live audiences and join the Songbook Academy Alumni Network to stay connected and informed about college programs, auditions and performance opportunities. The week culminates in the July 22 Songbook Academy® Finals, a performance presented at the Palladium. Awards are presented for excellence in several categories, and top performers are invited to represent the Songbook Foundation and sing with Feinstein at prestigious venues and the nation’s top cabaret clubs.
Lebanon, Indiana native Lucas DeBard, the 2015 Songbook Youth Ambassador is representative of how Songbook Academy® alums, especially those who have won the finals, benefit from the experience. Lucas is entering his junior year this fall at the Jacobs School of Music at I.U. where he majoring in vocal performance with an outside field in musical theatre. I last saw Lucas in April in Bloomington, when he performed in “The Music Man,” presented by the I.U. Opera & Ballet Theatre. After greeting Lucas, his mom, Kristin and stepdad Joel Hancock, in the Musical Art Center (MAC) lobby after the performance, I suggested a follow up interview to one I conducted with him shortly after he won the 2015 Songbook Academy® Finals. He gladly agreed to update me on his activities.
Prior to chatting with Lucas, I reached out to his mentor Michael Feinstein for an estimation of his protege. “Lucas has been an outstanding Ambassador for the Great American Songbook Foundation. It has been exciting to see him grow as a performer over the years. Since his time at the Songbook Academy®, Lucas has thrilled audiences from Carnegie Hall to the Kennedy Center. He is a passionate and focused young man, and I know he will do great things.” said Feinstein in an email.
Wishing to talk to one of Lucas’s college peers, I also contacted Alex Berko, a friend and classmate of Lucas’, about whom he said “I met Lucas through the Singing Hoosiers. We played in the Singing Hoosiers band together. He played drums and I played keyboard. We also sang in the vocal jazz ensembles at the same time. Lucas asked me to arrange a few songs for a new show that he’s putting together and it has been great working with him on it. He has a very gifted voice, a wonderful stage presence and he sings music that delivers strong messages and connects with the heart. It’ll be exciting to see this show come together and what happens for him after that. Being mentored by the great Michael Feinstein, I’m sure, has been nothing short of incredible, as well. To have someone like that helping you start your career is a blessing and I know that Lucas is very grateful for that connection.”
Recently I spoke with Lucas by phone about his I.U. experience thus far, Feinstein’s influence on him and the aforementioned show that he is developing.
Tell me about your major.
It’s a new one at Indiana University. It is called vocal performance with an outside field in Musical Theatre, also known as BSOF. This major allows me to study classical music with the goal of using my voice training toward musical theatre, my own performances and projects. Although I am singing a lot of musical theatre repertory in my lessons, I sing an equal amount of classical repertoire. I found that it is perfect for me because I can focus on vocal technique while taking acting and dance classes. I will also have the opportunity to be involved in the productions of the opera theatre and the musical theatre program. Rather than just studying operatic repertoire, I will have the chance to make myself versatile. We will be the first class that will finish this degree. I think in the future it will be Indiana’s more popular music degrees.
What is it like being a member of the chorus after your high-profile experiences in the spotlight? What has it taught you?
I love the choruses I’ve been involved with. I believe that every part of a show is equally important. The chorus, to me, is one role that a whole team of people plays. Each of them must be on point to make the role a success. While I would rather be in a solo role, I like the choruses because of the team. I find it similar to when I played football. I may not have been the center of attention, but there is a reason why offensive tackles are the first-round draft picks. They’re not as well-known as the quarterbacks, but they are the cornerstones of the team.
How do you like college life?
I like that I get to study music with a state college experience. It’s nice to get out of the “music circle” and go to games and just be a college student. I don’t live with anyone who is a musician and it is nice. I think it’s great to have a friend group with diversity. I also am involved with a campus ministry called Chi Alpha, which a lot of my best friends have come from. It’s hard to think I’ve known these people for two years. We all have grown so much together.
What is your opinion regarding the work as opposed to fame?
My goal isn’t really centered on fame. My goal is to make music my profession. If I can sing music that I love for people, I will be content. I think the feeling of locking in with a band and having a really good night beats fame any day. In a nutshell, to me, it’s all about the music and my growth as a performer and a person in the beautiful process that I hope to call my career.
What do you and all the other Songbook Ambassadors have in common?
We all support each other. I think they’re some of the nicest people I’ve worked with. We keep in touch through social media and now we get to perform in the alumni concert annually at the Palladium. They’re all incredibly talented in their own ways. Each of us have a style that is unique, but that also works for the Songbook. They are all just wonderful people that I got to sing with at the Alumni Concert— Nick (Ziobro), Maddie (Baillio), Julia (Goodwin), the other Julia (Bonnet) and Annie (Annie Yokaum). They are just great people and we are friends. A lot of people try to make the whole thing a competition, like music in general but it is just art, you know. You do it because you love it and you want other people to feel because of it and once people get out of the mindset of music being a sport or a competition, it is easier to be in a chorus role or something like that. Also, we all have been a part of an organization that has generously given their time and effort to let us perform in some of the greatest places in the country. All of us are grateful to the Songbook Foundation and Michael Feinstein for letting us be part of the organization through performance.
Are you competitive with yourself?
Yes, I think that is most of it. I think I am my own worst critic. I always have to step back after I think that I just did a terrible performance Even on a bad day, my goal is to make someone in the audience still feel something. I still communicated the lyrics right and made someone think about something. It is not about someone thinking my voice is impressive. The number one thing I’ve learned from Michael is that the lyric is the most important thing. That our goal is to tell a story. I have to get out of student mode a lot. That is something that Beckie Menzie (Chicago cabaret performer and Lucas’ collaborator on his own show.) tells me all the time when I work with her. She says “Get out of student mode and start telling the story.”
Tell me about the show you are developing.
The first thing that Beckie and I had to do was to figure out what the show is going to be about. What is the theme? We were joking about an Indy Star article about me with a headline that read “The Most Romantic Teen In Indiana.” Now, when I walk into a room my friends say “There’s the most romantic teen.” It’s a joke at my expense but I think it’s funny. So, the theme of the show is romance. All the songs have to do with love but I want to add things that still had the theme of romance but with a level headed attitude toward it. There are more phases of love than just the honeymoon phase so I am doing “How do you keep the Music Playing.” It’s the second song I am singing and I think that is a really mature way to look at love and things like that. Some have a mature way of looking at love, while others have a playful or innocent take on it. Many just describe a place or event I felt love when I was there. I hope for an audience member to be entertained and to be in their own nostalgia as they listen. I am also doing a couple of songs in tribute to Indiana where I am, like Michael Jackson’s “The Man in the Mirror” It’s a really cool arrangement which I am excited to do. I may play the drums a bit during the show. I am trying to figure out how to make that work with “Fascinating Rhythm.”
Do you have the entire set formulated?
Yes, I do. 14 to 16 songs.
Is the show pretty much in the can or are you still working on it?
I have been working with Alex Berko on some arrangements and recordings I did with Beckie in Chicago are being transcribed into charts. After I get all the charts I am going to grab a piano player and try to do my first run through of the whole thing.
Do you have a working title?
I am leaning towards “You, the night, and the music.”
Where will you debut the show?
Indianapolis would be great. I am from Lebanon which is 30 minutes away so that is no problem. Even an hour away from Bloomington is not a problem for me. So, Indianapolis, Bloomington, Carmel—any of those would work. Really, anywhere in Indiana. I just want to do a good first place to do it and of course I have got to put a combo together. I’ve got a drummer and I think and I a couple of perspective piano players I would like to work with.
Do you a time-frame in mind?
Perhaps this fall.
What is your overall career plan?
This is something that haunts me. Everyone wants everything planned out but it is hard to do that in this kind of profession. I have a rough idea, because you never know what’s going to come at you. My major is vocal performance and musical theatre. I love musical theatre and to be quite honest I am pretty new at it. My first show was in my senior year of high school. I had the lead in “Catch Me If You Can,” and that is why I fell in love with theatre. I really loved it. That is the thing I really want to do. Just taking auditions and things like that. If I could have the career of my choice, I would like to do something like what Michael does. I love the way his shows work. I love working with a trio, with a band. It feels really, really, right. I’ve learned so much from Michael. Watching his process. I would really like to put something like his together. It’s really personalized.. When he is making a show, you can see the motive he has. I love that. I would also love to record and do something like that and take some musical theater roles if I can. Those are both things I really want to do. I sing at church a lot. I love Christian music and that is something I think I might do as well.
What impact do you want your music to have on those listening?
I want to give my audience a sense of relaxation and peace, and give them an escape from work, politics and anything else troubling them. The music I perform focuses on optimist and romance. Though I am level headed, I am also a romantic person in many respects. I tell my own story through my music and love sharing it with the audience.
For information about the Great American Songbook Academy visit thecenterfortheperformingarts.org.