And he’ll give the vocal performance of his life — thus far.
“It seems very surreal, and actually, I’m still in shock,” Muse said.
On May 23, Muse, a Somerset native, was selected the winner of the first McNeil Voice Studio auditions for the Master Musicians Festival. He auditioned alongside eight fellow students for the opportunity to perform two songs before the Friday night headliner’s set.
Somerset resident Chase Cimala, 15, (pictured top right) and Russell Springs resident Brooklyn Carter, 14, (pictured bottom right) tied for second place in the competition. They will each perform a song July 8 between performances from Greener Time and Tiny Tiny, around 6:30 p.m.
McNeil Voice Studio, housed at the Carnegie Community Arts Center in downtown Somerset, specializes in voice lessons and vocal technique for singers of all genres, levels and ages, and also provides a wide variety of music instruction. The studio’s 75 students take classes in anything from voice, piano, violin or guitar, to acting, bowed psaltery, hammered dulcimer or percussion.
The idea for an MMF audition developed during Pulaski County’s first Artist Collaborative meeting in March. Artist Collaborative is a group of artists and art supporters who connect to find opportunities that benefit all. Following a conversation between MMF president Tiffany Bourne, McNeil Voice Studios founder Maria McNeil, and McNeil studio manager Christy Adams, plans for the audition began to take shape.
Auditions were open to any McNeil Voice student. Judges included Bourne, MMF board member and local musician Tommy Cate, and Jo Jo Stephens and Leah Hatmaker Stephens, members of MMF alumni band The Kites.
Muse began formal music training at age 5 with guitar instruction, and added piano lessons at age 6. He started singing at age 11, joining the studio in December 2014 with McNeil as his instructor. He enjoys singing classic rock, pop and spiritual music, with the Beatles, Guns ‘N Roses, Prince, Bruno Mars, Sam Smith and Chris Tomlin topping his list of favorite artists.
Muse dazzled the judges with his performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” He said he chose the song because he was inspired by Prince’s diverse talent, and wanted to honor the late artist's musical genius.
“The singers who auditioned with me are all super talented,” Muse said. “I didn’t expect to be the singer selected to perform, but hoped to gain audition experience by going through the audition process. That evening, I went in the audition and gave it my all.”
Bourne said Muse’s selection was perfect.
“Will wasn’t just up there singing a song,” she said. “He’s a complete artist. He made it his own. He has a wonderful stage presence and I know he will fit right in with our performers and our audience.”
Though it won’t be Muse’s first performance, MMF will be the largest crowd he has entertained. Muse has performed in numerous guitar and piano recitals, at church, and talent shows at Meece Middle School, where he recently completed the seventh grade. He performed at the Lake Cumberland Performing Arts Fall Fundraiser last year, and in March, was the featured entertainer at the Miss Somerset Community College Scholarship Pageant.
Performing at MMF is something he always hoped to achieve, he said.
“I hope my performance at MMF will inspire others, especially other young people, to allow music to enhance their lives as much as it has mine,” he said. “Every performance, regardless of crowd size, helps me grow as a vocalist and musician. I hope this performance provides me with additional opportunities for growth.”
Ultimately, that’s the goal for McNeil Voice Studio through this opportunity, voice instructor Amanda Balltrip said.
“Our collaboration with MMF offers us the chance to provide a professional-level audition experience, and potentially a professional performance experience, to those who are serious about exploring a performance career,” she said. “… I believe when our students see their peers up on the big stage, it will encourage them to audition next year. I also think it will inspire some in the MMF audience to pursue their passion for music, especially when they learn they can pursue it at this level here at home. “
MMF’s all-volunteer board endeavors each year to bring a wide variety of multi-cultural, multi-generational and multi-racial music to the stage – from the blues to bluegrass, from celtic to Haitian roots, from rock 'n' roll to jazz to progressive newgrass to country to Americana and everything in between. In addition to performances from local, regional and national musicians, the festival also offers workshops, a venue for juried artists to sell their work, and a family-friendly atmosphere. Children 12 and younger are admitted free.
Fostering growth for local artists is at the heart of MMF’s mission, Bourne said.
“I am thrilled with how this first audition turned out and look forward to building the program each year,” Bourne said. “Our crowd is going to love these talented young people.”
This year’s Master Musicians Festival, presented by Don Marshall Ram, is July 8-9, 2016, at Somerset Community College’s Festival Field. Tickets are on sale now.