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Alumna Spotlight: Abby Schiller
Abby Schiller is a CCGC alumna who recently graduated from Berklee College of Music. She’s moving to Nashville to become a singer and songwriter. She recently performed at the Cypress for Dr. Fran Page and other residents.
“CCGC was a constant reminder of what music creates- community and friendship. Music brought us all together and I still consider people I met in CCGC lifelong friends. I carry that sentiment with me everywhere I go- always trying to make music for my community, especially when writing, I want to make relatable music that connects listeners together based on emotions and past experiences. And when I perform I strive to do the same- make everyone in the room feel important and seen through music.”
Abby’s EP “I Love You Isn’t Enough” is out now. You can find out more on AbbySchillerMusic.com
Alumna Spotlight: JoAna Rusche
Traveling to London has always been an inspiring experience for JoAna Rusche. The first time she visited was as an 11-year-old singer in the Capital City Girls Choir (CCGC). That year, CCGC performed in the famous St. Paul’s Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral during an international music festival.
Fast forward about 10 years. JoAna was a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, returning to London for a study abroad program at the Royal Academy of Music. She was swept away by the memories of her remarkable journey with CCGC.
“During that time, I was just reunited with my love for voice and for singing,” JoAna reminisces. “There were just so many memories. I was a part of choir in college, as well, and that’s what I looked forward to. That’s what I always enjoyed was vocal music, singing with an ensemble, making music with other singers.”
Though piano had been her first love and the focus of her college studies, JoAna returned to Chapel Hill, NC, eager to pursue a vocal music career.
“Piano was a good tool and a good resource. It is something that I’m glad I learned to do. But it wasn’t something I enjoyed to the same capacity as choir. I really do wonder if it’s all those beautiful memories with CCGC that led me after all that time back to singing pretty exclusively.”
After completing a Doctor of Music Arts at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and performing with opera companies across the nation, JoAna turned to music education. She is an Assistant Professor of Music at the University of Arkansas, teaching a wide range of classes in addition to private voice lessons. Her courses include diction, vocal pedagogy, song li
terature and the Alexander Technique, which she describes as “an approach to mindfulness and movement.” She continues to enjoy performance opportunities, including her most recent role as Carmen with opera company Music On Site.
JoAna is also the music director at her Episcopal church. “This is a newer role for me, but again, it kind of feels like home because of my experiences I’ve had with CCGC.”
Although the demands of a career in music have called her at times to question her path, she says “that love of music is so strong, that it’s always led me to the next thing and helped me through difficult times. Even through the pandemic I feel like I was able to remain pretty optimistic because I did have that creative outlet of music.”
Dr. Fran Page, founder and director of CCGC, led a rigorous and rewarding program dedicated to building young singers’ music and life skills. “There was definitely an expectation that we showed up on time, and that we learned our music outside of rehearsals and really were prepared,” JoAna explains.
“CCGC prepared me for the career in music that I have today,” she adds. “I learned a lot of musicianship skills such as sight reading, singing in tune and improving my vocal technique. I had all sorts of performance opportunities.”
Aside from developing her musical craft, JoAna says that choir instilled a deep sense of teamwork. “In an ensemble, you really have to learn how to listen louder than you sing. You have to really be aware of the people around you, to be aware of what the conductor is asking you to do. So, you learn very quickly to work together as a team, like a team sport, only with music.”
JoAna shares that it was important for her to see a woman like Dr. Page in a leadership role. “I learned how to not only demand excellence from an ensemble, but how to help that ensemble achieve that excellence.”
“When I was a high school student in the choir, I was able to lead some sectional rehearsals and even accompany some rehearsals, since back in the day I was going to be a concert pianist. I was so grateful to Dr. Page for giving me an opportunity to use those skills and to be able to lead.”
JoAna now dedicates most of her time to leading voices to a strong, beautiful sound, a lot like Dr. Page, who had a very high standard of excellence. ”She taught me how to help students reach their full potential. I’m so grateful to Dr. Page; it’s not easy to try to literally corral that many young, talkative girls to make beautiful music together and get us all to focus!”
“In order for students to achieve a goal, the teacher has to be very clear as to what that goal is,” JoAna says. “And that’s definitely what I experienced in CCGC. Dr. Page was such a strong musician herself, in that she was able to give us the tools we needed in order to get there. You want to see [your students] go out into the world and do great things. But you also know they’re not going to get there unless you challenge them in some way and provide good solid musicianship tools so they feel they can do it without getting too discouraged.”
It may be difficult for young people to see the tremendous rewards that come from challenging themselves. But JoAna offers wise encouragement: “The experiences you have early on in life make you who you are and have a huge impact on the rest of your life. So even if you choose not to have a career in music, the skills you develop will help you no matter what you decide to do.”
This is her philosophy, JoAna says. “Even if someone isn’t going to have a career in music like I did, there are still so many wonderful experiences to be had and memories to be made that will shape the rest of your life, whether you’re aware of it or not.”
Alumna Spotlight: Amanda Watson Bailey
When Amanda Watson Bailey joined the Capital City Girls Choir (CCGC) during her middle school years, she couldn’t have imagined the possibilities – musically and otherwise – that the experience would provide.
“My time in the Chorale and Cantabile with Capital City Girls Choir is really where my love of singing ignited,” says Amanda.
It was a foundational experience. “I just loved the way that it made me feel and I hoped that the audience would feel the same. That’s still with me today.”
From Disney World to the Governor’s Mansion, Amanda had many memorable performance opportunities with her fellow CCGC singers. The performances were surely memorable for the audiences too.
“I am confident in saying, if you put us at that time against another college or professional choir, I don’t think you could have heard the difference,” she states.
The quality of the music was a product of deep commitment and indelible mentorship from CCGC founder, Dr. Fran Page.
“Dr. Page was a great mentor as far as being very serious about music and prioritizing it in our lives. She loved us and made it magical. She was strict, in a good way.
“It was very clear in her direction when we auditioned that if you are in cheerleading, if you are in dance, if you are doing something outside of this group, this is probably not the group for you.”
The intensity was initially off-putting to a 14-year-old who wanted to explore other activities. (As her private vocal coach Liz LaBelle can attest, Amanda was not always a serious musical student.)
“But now as an adult, I see the value of this focus. As a musician you cannot be on the cheerleading squad ruining your voice Friday through Monday and then come to rehearsal with your voice completely gone. I really respected Dr. Page for that and appreciated her for making me set boundaries.”
After a brief stint studying biology nursing, Amanda went on to receive undergraduate and master’s degrees in music from UNC-Chapel Hill under the direction of Dr. Daniel Huff. It was a real challenge, even though “people sometimes have the misconception that it is not a difficult degree,” she explains.
CCGC provided many of the fundamental skills she needed to make music her life’s work.
“Sight reading was probably one of the top three things that we learned that really helped us, whether we were going to go into music or not. If we auditioned for the Honors Chorus or a college music program, we had to be able to sight read.”
The prospect of spending five minutes with an unfamiliar piece of music, then singing 10 bars can be intimidating. “I feel like we got a great foundation for being able to sight read both Solfège and rhythmically. And Dr. Page did a wonderful job of helping us know that yes, it’s scary, but we can do it and it sets us apart.
“There are a lot of women that can sing beautifully, but it’s really difficult to find someone who can sing beautifully, sight read well and be a great choral member, not just a soloist.”
Looking back, “singing with other professionals on the collegiate level solidified what I thought in high school: That CCGC really did sound and work together as well as any professional group, which is so crucial,” Amanda says.
Beyond the musical education she received, Amanda learned many life lessons that she has taken into leadership roles. The experience instilled discipline and an emphasis on collaboration toward a greater purpose. Rather than seeking solos or personal accolades, choir music is about teamwork.
“We knew that if Dr. Page assigned us to sing harmony for a song, there was a reason for it. Or if she wanted us to switch to melody, we didn’t question that. We always just went with it, and I think that’s why we sounded so intertwined with our harmonies. Because we respected her choices and then we worked together to try to make it sound really, really tight.”
Amanda’s choral music experience set her up for many successes. She sang her way to become Miss North Carolina 2008, dedicating a year to traveling the state to perform and advocate for ALS, a cause near to her heart. She became the music specialist at Barwell Elementary, transforming the program with the support of Elizabeth Grimes Droessler, then Art Director for Wake County Public Schools. The school was selected to perform in the Pieces of Gold talent showcase, a shining moment for Amanda’s students and an example of why she was awarded with the Diane Kent Parker Teacher of the Year Award.
After the birth of her first child, she opened Amanda Bailey Studios, where she carries on the legacy of her mentors. “It has been so gratifying to see one-on-one instruction with my voice and piano students come full circle to what Dr. Page taught me and then Dr. Huff and Elizabeth Grimes Droessler.
“I’m taking all of my favorite pieces of their amazing leadership and compiling it to create my own teaching style,” which she calls “meaningful and enjoyable, filled with passion and purpose.”
Amanda extends a heartfelt thank you to Meredith College and CCGC “for believing in me and providing a family to us in pivotal years of our lives. Of all the activities we could have been involved in, none of them would have been quite so edifying. Middle and high school are difficult years and being part of something so wonderful, stable, and beautiful helped us formulate who we wanted to be.”