‘Oz’ stars singing include, L-R front row: Serena Rhode (Cowardly Lion), Izzi Hughes (Dorothy), Cole Jenkins (Tinman) and Isaac Ray (Scarecrow). Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Hughes, 18, will sing lead on Journey’s optimistic-themed 1981 rock anthem “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It is about an adventurous “small town girl living in a lonely world.” Singer Steve Perry’s high-pitched voice is tough to replicate.That first of those two Thursday night shows starts 6 p.m. with a Hendersonville Middle School “fiddle jam,” then at 7 p.m. with the HHS Orchestra and Chorus playing classical and popular music. Highlights include the full orchestra doing Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold,” and the chorus singing “Hamilton” Broadway songs. Students will take turns in featured solos.
Hughes can carry it off with her vocal range, energy and exuberance. She has won an area acoustic singers’ contest, and played many local gigs. She aspires for music as her career. This fall she will study at Belmont University, majoring in music business with a concentration in production.
She first sang Journey’s hit merely two weeks ago, to herself in the car. “It’ll end up really fun,” she vowed. “I may sing just a verse, and let an instrumentalist take a solo. It’s their show, as much as mine.”
Christopher Tavernier will play piano throughout the program. He will do rapid notes of a complex version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” to accompany Hughes and the chorus. This unites two local teen sensations. He will also play solo, in a Mendelssohn piano concerto.
“He’s an incredible musician, and performer,” bubbly Hughes said. “He is very reserved, but so mature. You can tell he already has the story behind the piece in his head,” to put emotion into performing it. “I love watching him perform.”
Tavernier plays again at Brevard Music Center this summer. The HHS junior retains immense Bearcat pride, for these benefit concerts to fund supplies and travel. “It feels great to a part of such a great developing music department,” he said. “The results we achieved at Disney this year, I think, emphasize that growth.”
Both young stars won individual honors in Festival Disney, at Walt Disney World April 13. HHS took home group trophies, that are displayed in the school front office. Superior ratings went to HHS’ Concert Choir and its newly-formed Symphony Orchestra co-directed by Amanda Tant and James Phillips. Excellent ratings went to the Jazz Band, and String Orchestra.
Tavernier won outstanding instrumental soloist. Hughes was outstanding jazz soloist, for singing the 1941 bluesy love ballad “At Last” which she will sing again in one or both HHS concerts. Blues legend Etta James made it a hit in 1960. More recently, covers are by Christine Aguilera.
The song “fits Izzi to a ‘T,’” HHS Band Director Phillips said. “She has such great vocal range. You gotta have that, to pull off ‘At Last.’ It takes a lot of courage” to try that song.
In the Disney contest, judges typically confer while hearing each contestant sing. But Phillips said judges seemed riveted by Hughes, as “they shut up for 32 measures and (fully) listened to her.”
Izzy sounds like a mezzo-soprano (a la Whitney Houston) which is between highest-pitched soprano and low contralto, also hitting “some alto” higher notes in between, Phillips said. Hughes feels “very flattered he said that. I’m working to expand my range, more to soprano to feel more comfortable in my higher voice. “Soprano has the melody line. Typically in chorus, I sing alto and harmony. You have to have a more in-tuned ear, to hear the harmonies.”
The second HHS show, the spring mega-concert, is 7-9 p.m. and also in the school auditorium off Bearcat Blvd (formerly Eighth Ave.). Hendersonville Middle School’s sixth, seventh then eighth-grade bands will play. Next are the HHS full Symphonic Band, Concert Band, and Jazz Band ensemble. Senior musical awards will be given.
Hughes plans to also sing “Feeling Good,” as among senior solos May 24. That song was recorded by such stars as Nina Simone (with a soulful a capella start), Anthony Newley (who co-wrote it for a musical in ’64) and Michael Bublé, with a jazzier version by John Coltrane. The theme is about feeling good about a “new life.”
Phillips said Hughes when singing is “very pleasant, and outgoing — a showman. She knows how to draw an audience in” with charisma. “She’s very natural on stage, and like that off it. What you see is what you get.”
Hughes said “before I sang the notes” but now at Phillips’ urging, “I put heart and soul behind it, to mean the words. I feel different ways, such as sadder for country stories” of Miranda Lambert sung “in your face.”
She often imagines “home or the beach, to feel safe” while singing. “I envision people I’m singing to. Even if the words don’t relate exactly to the situation you’re thinking of, you can still relate to something that’s happened in the past.”
She appreciates nurturing of Orchestra and Chorus Dir. Tant and Phillips. In acting as in singing, “the feeling is pure happiness,” she said. “It’s a safe, cool way of taking risks, and getting the adrenaline rush from performance. It’s a feeling of accomplishment.”
“Over the Rainbow” is the signature song in the “Oz” musical based on the 1939 classic movie starring Judy Garland. Hughes sings it in gigs, in “tribute to those who lost their lives in the shooting in Florida” three months ago.
Hughes’ favorite Oz scene is Dorothy dousing the Wicked Witch with water, surprisingly causing the villainess to melt away. She said that a few lines earlier, mostly “sweet innocent” Dorothy “gives it to the witch. She tells her ‘No, don’t set the scarecrow on fire. I feel the protectiveness of her friends. They (actors) are my friends, in real life.” She has been “best friends” with Cole Jenkins, the TinMan, since sixth grade.
“We can read each other’s body language, and what’s happening,” Hughes said of several actors. “We feed off of each other’s energy. We’re taking care of each other.”
Hughes shared and rotated roles of Dorothy in Kansas and in Oz, with Noelle Muñoz. Director Todd Weakley said he encouraged actors to develop characters, without reference to famous portrayals. Hughes said he urged them to “figure it out yourself. Do what feels natural to you. It’s you on stage.” Muñoz did a sassier take on Dorothy, while Hughes was the classic innocent.
She was “empathetic” toward the character, Weakley said. “Izzy is good at making choices” in a portrayal’s details. “She is creative, thoughtful, and engaging.”
The two Dorothy actresses clicked heels on stage to get back to Kansas, and they clicked off stage as supportive colleagues. Longtime youth actress Muñoz “gave me actor points,” Hughes said. And she gave Hughes a water bottle, just after Hughes came off stage.
Muñoz’s parents Bill and Neela Muñoz have been with the Flat Rock Playhouse — Neela as a comical actress, and Bill as stage manager.
Christi and Richard Hughes’ daughter Isabel Corinne Hughes has done musicals with FRP’s YouTheatre. When in fifth grade, she played guitar in a six-person band in the FRP pit for “Tom Sawyer.”
She is most accomplished as a singer-songwriter, via many gigs and her Izzi Hughes Music. She won the Acoustic Throw Down yearly contest three years ago, in Wild Wing Café. She was 15, a HHS freshman already studying all honors courses, and competed against veteran pro musicians. She won $500 cash, and a $500 gift certificate.
She first performed music at age 11. She developed in Jim Beaver’s School Music. She fronted teen rock band Calculated Error. They played in the Apple Festival.
Oz to Poe; Originals
Hughes will jam with musical friends for the public at her graduation party, in The Poe House at 105 First Ave. W. in Downtown Hendersonville. She has played in Poe more than anywhere — nearly monthly, since two years ago. That event is June 10, starting at 7 p.m.
She will sing and play guitar on Sunday, May 20 at 3 p.m. in the Bold Rock Mills River hard cider house. She and Eric Congdon played recently in two “cideries” — of Bold Rock, also April 22 in Saint Paul Vineyards’ Appalachian Ridge Artisan Hard Cider in Dana.
A major gig is June 21 at 5 p.m., in the popular Rhythm & Brews monthly summer outdoor series in Hendersonville. “Fabulous guitarist” Cole Jenkins joins her, she said. They are the first of three acts. The headliner is rising rock band The Broadcast. Hughes and Congdon played in the series last summer.
Hughes mostly covers hits “with an acoustical vibe,” spanning a half century from the Sixties onward. Genres include rock and country. “My favorite is Top 40 pop” with Whitney Houston and Adele’s majestic voices. She sings Ed Sheeran’s debut single “The A Team” in 2011, about drug abuse.
Hughes recorded in Nashville her two original songs in 2015, a year after writing them. They have a soothing, eclectic “indie singer-songwriter feel,” she said. Her vocal style has a country-pop flavor on her “Straight Through,” and more pop on “The Jones Mix” also with soaring resonance. She said in composing that she develops the melody line on guitar, then fits a lyrical theme.
“‘Straight Through’ is based off of the Robert Frost quote, ‘The best way out is always through,’” she said. “‘The Jones Mix’ is based off of the cliché ‘keeping up with the Joneses’.” She meant it as in teens trying to outdo each other on social media.
She wrote both songs while in eighth grade, when it was “tough” socially for her. “I found myself losing confidence in myself. I knew this was a national epidemic, especially for people of my age group at the time. I wanted to write a song (“Jones”) that teenagers could relate to.” Her goal is to “motivate teens to ignore society’s idiotic standards (about them), and show them that nothing is really that unrealistic.”
She both bucks the notion that most teens are too “engrossed in their mobile phones,” yet is “sick” of those who prove the stereotype right. “Life is more than Instagram.”
“Straight Through” is about personal perseverance, amidst confusion. One line is “Running, jumping, flying, drowning.” She notes that at 14, “I was bullied a lot, and let the sadness from it almost consume me. My music and family were the two things that really helped pull me through. Confidence is something I still work on. I grew up very shy.” Her sister Carmen is now 14.
Izzi plays piano. “Vocals are my main instrument, then guitar.” In gigs she sips tea with honey to coat her throat.
Tant noted that that all revenue from HHS student concerts goes into the music accounts such as to buy new strings, sheet music and also “instrument maintenance, gas for travel to regional events, festival fees, and scholarships” for contest travel.
Tickets for the two HHS concerts are sold at the door. Their suggested donations are $5 for May 17, then $3 for May 24.
Izzi Hughes’ songs are sold on iTunes and Amazon Music. For more on her music and upcoming shows, check www.izzihughes.com.