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Young Manhattan Beach classical singer heads to Juilliard

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In August the 17-year-old parishioner of American Martyrs Church (Manhattan Beach) will begin earning her bachelor’s degree in classical vocal performance. Her goal is to become an opera singer.The Mira Costa High School graduate and mezzo-soprano classical singer was also accepted in the San Francisco Conservatory, Houston’s Rice University, Boston’s New England Conservatory and USC and UCLA’s Music Schools, among others. But enrolling in Juilliard had been her dream since she was about five years old, when her father told her the best college for singing and music was Juilliard.The dream was nurtured by hours spent with her paternal grandmother of Italian descent, Ann McDermott, who babysat while her parents Ann Marie (a photo editor), and Tom (a real estate attorney) worked.Ann McDermott, a church singer in her native New York, had a passion for classical music and opera and used to play the records of Luciano Pavarotti and Maria Callas while taking care of Hannah, who would sing along with her grandmother.“She sang since she was three years old,” recalls Ann. “We used to go for walks and we both sung together.” “Music was a big part of her life and I think that kind of rubbed off on me,” Hannah says about her grandmother. She was fortunate enough, she said, to be “blessed musically,” and cannot remember a day when she was not singing.She performed in elementary school plays and at age 11 joined the Velasco Theater Company for children. Two years earlier, though, her grandmother had taken her to see “La Boheme” at a theater in downtown L.A. Right then, she knew she wanted to become an opera singer.“While I listened,” she remembers, “I was thinking it was so beautiful: the story, the music. I was overwhelmed with the beauty of it all and I knew that’s what I wanted to do; I wanted to be part of that.“You don’t get the bass or drums or the electric guitar [as in pop music], but it is exciting enough on its own, it’s powerful enough that it speaks for itself. When I listen to classical music it’s so cathartic and beautiful. It’s like a spiritual thing, too, because it touches me at such a deep level.”Her love for music adds a lot to her life, she said. “It not only lets me be productive and keep myself out of dangerous activities, but it helps me be a well-rounded and more perceptive individual,” she notes.She admits she could not have gotten to the point where she is at currently without her “wonderful family” and a strong support system that includes her vocal teacher and vocal coach and the American Martyrs community.“I love this church!” she exclaims while sitting in front of the entrance. “It has a homey feel, a very strong community feel and when you come every week, you see the same people.”The Manhattan Beach resident also has been a lector for the last three years. “I think music has enhanced my spiritual life,” she says, “because for me music is so powerful, it’s almost divine. And on the flip side, being part of this church has enriched my understanding of God.”And music. “When I get a piece and there’s a religious element to it, it’s nice to have that background that I can incorporate into it and it helps enrich my interpretation of music,” she explains. “I think it works both ways.”Being a lector helps her with the interpretation of music as well, admits the girl who has a passion for vintage clothes and antiques. Her bedroom is decorated with antique furniture, she confides.“She is an old soul — she likes old dresses, her bedroom is decorated with antiques and she likes opera,” smiles her mother Ann Marie, who admits all the family has learned about opera through her daughter.“She is an extraordinarily talented young lady,” adds Kathleen Martin, Hannah’s vocal teacher for the last five years. “She has a special musicality, acting ability, a beautiful natural strong voice and an emotional stability, which is very important in the profession.”Martin also praises the young artist’s determination. “She is hard-working and goal- and precision-oriented,” says the retired opera singer who performed on European stages for 20 years. “She is very down to earth and does not let her wonderful talent go to her head.”Hannah — whose sister Julia, 14, is also showing music abilities as a musical singer and dancer — also has a vocal coach with whom she learns language diction, styles and traditions. She has also worked with renowned opera singer Marilyn Horne whenever she is in town, and hopes to likewise share her knowledge someday with others. “I have been very fortunate,” Hannah says, “to have the support system that other children don’t have. That’s why I really believe in promoting, supporting and funding the arts and music for less fortunate children.”On June 12 Hannah McDermott will be performing at 1:30 p.m. at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 1340 11 St., Manhattan Beach. Admission is free.{gallery width=100 height=100}gallery/2011/0611/spsinger/{/gallery}

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