American Idol contestant shares audition preparation tips

Erika VanPeltBy Erika Van Pelt
Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Erika Van Pelt, and I am thrilled to have joined the South Shore Conservatory (SSC) family this year! I have been a full-time working musician for over 15 years, and after hearing from several colleagues about SSC’s amazing programs and sense of community, I knew this was where I wanted to be. I also knew that my eclectic teaching style would be nurtured and encouraged. With a diverse musical background, ranging from classical to contemporary training, I incorporate all styles in my methodology.

When I was two, I started singing along to Disney movies and old musicals from the 1950’s, and performed in an adult choir at seven years old. In high school, I was a member of the chorus and the select jazz choir. Multiple years I participate in both Rhode Island All-State Chorus and New England Chorus. Senior year, I was selected as one of two representatives from RI to sing in the NAfME (All National Honor Ensemble).  At Berklee College of Music, I broadened my musical horizons, diving deeper into the world of blues, soul, funk, and jazz. Upon leaving Berklee, I joined my first professional working band. During that time I also performed with a cabaret troupe focused on musical theatre.

Life changed in 2011, when I auditioned for the 11th season of American Idol. This was a once-in-lifetime opportunity for me to reach a larger audience. I approached the audition as a learning moment, allowing me to take some pressure off the final result. Preparation included careful song selection, in which I chose pieces that would simultaneously showcase my ability and my style. I coached myself the same way I coach my students – warm up, work on technique, and then do practical song application, taking my vocal exercises and directly applying them to the song I’m working on. I believe that practice should be comprehensive, effective, and fun.

Although I felt nervous about auditioning, I used my nerves to keep a laser focus on my breathing. Like a form of meditation, it’s important to be aware of your entire body when you sing or play an instrument.  I remember when I finally auditioned for the celebrity judges on American Idol, I had already been through several rounds of lower level producers. The tension was mounting, and I knew I needed a really strong performance to get my ticket to Hollywood.

Waiting alone in a long hallway, I heard this husky voice behind me say, “Excuse me, Miss.”

I turned around, and there was Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, with a big grin on his face. Genuinely he inquired, “Are you getting ready to sing for us?”  Smiling back, I could only mutter “Yes.” In the presence of rock royalty, I quickly understood the importance of the moment.  He humanized the entire experience for me. Once into the audition, instincts took over, and I just sang. It was one of the best moments of my life.

It can be difficult to combat worried feelings in an audition setting, but preparation is your biggest weapon against them. Nervousness can attempt to hi-jack our brains when we are about to perform. If it does, the muscle memory built during practice can temporarily take over, ensuring a great performance.

South Shore Conservatory offers Festival Audition Workshop, from 12 noon to 3 pm on Sunday, October 27, at One Conservatory Drive in Hingham, is an invaluable opportunity, open to all students preparing to audition for All-State, District or SEMSBA, to perform, receive feedback, share stories, and learn important tips and preparation ideas. Best of all, it’s FREE to both SSC and non-SSC students!  Reserve your spot by calling 781-749-7565, x10 before October 25, and take advantage of this great opportunity, or to sign up for voice lessons with Erika.

Learn more about voice instructor Erika Van Pelt at

Sing Together, Unite the World

Sing together. Unite the World.By Emily Browder Melville
Do you ever wish for world peace?  For people of all nations to just get along? Ever wonder how we can cultivate joy and connection through a common interest across the globe, or does that feel like an impossible dream?  Well, guess what: global connection is entirely possible, and it is just around the corner.

On Saturday, October 19, the world will come together, feel a little more connected and a lot happier because it is World Singing Day.  World Singing Day (WSD) is a non-religious, non-political movement that promotes global connection through the simple act of singing with others. Their motto is “Sing Together, Unite the World.”

World Singing Day hosts organized free sing-alongs in living rooms, community centers, and city spaces.  Individuals and organizations, taking the lead from WSD organizers, gather groups to sing familiar songs. I saw a video from last year’s World Singing Day, where a man steps onto a train, hands out lyric sheets to his fellow passengers, and together they lift their voices in song.  There are smiling faces all around!

WSD 2019 sing-alongs in the United States will span from east (Manhattan, Philadelphia, Brattleboro and more) to west (Tucson, Salt Lake City).  Internationally, they are happening in Toronto, Rio de Janeiro, Zurich, Perth, and Yeppoon (you can look up Yeppoon!) and many other places.  Here on the South Shore, you don’t need to hop on a plane to participate: South Shore Conservatory is hosting a free World Singing Day sing-along in your own backyard.  And we want you to be there!

Sing-alongs are truly for everyone: those who sing in the shower and those who sing off-key. We provide lyric sheets (and project lyrics for better visibility) to familiar favorites such as “American Pie,” “ Can’t Help Falling in Love,” “Barbara Ann,” “Daydream Believer,” “Edelweiss,” “Fire and Rain,” “All About the Bass,” “I Love Rock n Roll,” “Amazing Grace,” I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Got You Babe,” “Charlie on the MTA,” “La Bamba,” “Lean on Me,” “Shout,” and more.  These are songs that get your toes tapping and your head bobbing.  They feature lots of repetition, so you can stop thinking and just start singing.

Because this is so near and dear to our SSC hearts, we have used October 19 as our annual Voice Day event.  World Singing Day is for all ages and abilities.  Our SSC voice community includes young singers, school-aged singers, adults, seniors, and adults with developmental disabilities, all brought together by the love of singing.  World Singing Day is a global example of what we do on our campuses every day.  We are “Making Music, Changing Lives.”

South Shore Conservatory is very excited to participate in our first World Singing Day, because we want to connect with you!  We invite you to come, bring your friends and family, and be part of something bigger than regular daily life: something joyful, fun, easy and, yes, maybe even something that helps promote world peace.

South Shore Conservatory’s World Singing Day event, October 19, runs from 3 – 4:30 pm, kicking off with refreshments and fun vocal warm-up.  It is at the Ellison Center for the Arts at 64 St. George Street, Duxbury.  There is no cost to participate, and the reward is great.

Emily Browder Melville is South Shore Conservatory’s Voice Department Chair.

Mad about Mad Love Music Festival!

The Aldous Collins Band

By Eileen Puzo
It takes a village.

This proverb could easily be the unofficial tagline for Mad Love Music Festival.  In just five years, this festival has grown from an idea around a kitchen table, to a community around the country. As we celebrate another year on October 13, we invite you to join us and be a part of the Mad Love community!

Many of you know how Mad Love got its start: Dave Jodka loved to rock. When he married Kathleen Kiernan and started a family, music was at the center of their home. Dave was an avid musician and fan, and passed that love onto his family. They loved listening to live music and rocking out in the kitchen.

Maybe that’s part of what gives Mad Love its intimate feel despite its size…when Dave passed away, Kathleen and their four children invited the community to be a part of the music – their family’s language of love, and one of their strongest connections to their amazing father and husband.

With that foundation, Mad Love has grown into a celebration of all things good in life: incredible music, delicious food and drinks, friends, and fun for all ages. It is the supportive, loving Mad Love community that makes it all possible.   I am proud to say I am part of it!

From day one, we’ve had amazing support. Local restaurants such as Hank’s Clam Shack, Wahlburgers, Sadie Mae’s, and Nona’s roll in to keep everyone fed and happy. Musicians such as the Aldous Collins Band, Dalton & the Sheriffs, and many more local bands give electrifying performances, including every member of the audience in their music. An army of volunteers jump in quite literally from dawn to dusk to make sure everything goes smoothly, from setting up tables, to checking guests in, to spraying every color of the rainbow onto little rockstars’ heads at Kid Zone. And of course there’s our generous sponsors and fabulous attendees, who bring a palpable sense of love to the day. Every year, these groups grow, spreading the Mad Love magic. We’re excited to welcome both that original crew of volunteers, and those who have joined us since!

From the beginning, one of the goals of Mad Love was the creation of a very specific community: a rock band. Inspired by Dave’s lifelong passion for music, proceeds from Mad Love fully fund the Dave Jodka Scholarship for Future Rockers at South Shore Conservatory. Formed in the spring following the first Mad Love Music Festival, this auditioned high school rock band grew from strangers with a shared passion for music, to a tight-knit, cohesive group known as Toast. With the support of the Mad Love community, they’ve released original EPs, recorded music videos, played countless gigs, and given plenty of interviews. They are learning not just the art, but the business of rock and roll. While Toast band members age out of the band as they graduate from high school, others audition to take their place.  Some Toast alumni have gone on to do great things, such as attend Berklee College of Music and NYU’s Tisch School for the Arts.

Mad Love Music Festival is Sunday, October 13, from 11 am to 5 pm in South Shore Conservatory’s Jane Carr Amphitheater, One Conservatory Drive, Hingham.  For tickets, visit
On behalf of Mad Love, thank you for your support, for helping celebrate Dave and support Toast.

Hingham resident Eileen Puzo has been a Mad Love Music Festival lover and volunteer since its inception in 2015.