Your next ITunes purchase could be created by one of your classmates. From singer-songwriters to jazz pianists, Stuyvesant has plenty of musical talent to offer. These musicians and performers are sometimes overlooked due to Stuyvesant’s emphasis
tress on academics. Still, they manage to cope with the heavy workload and, at the same time, develop their creative interests.
Keeping it Jazzy
At Stuyvesant, singers can be found in great abundance. One needs to look no further than sophomore Eugénie Thompson. A self-taught singer and songwriter, she displayed her vocal dexterity in this year’s Stuyvesant Theater Community production of “The Who’s Tommy,” playing the role of Sally Simpson.
Thompson has a jazzy singing style, claiming influence from jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. Fitzgerald was also a source of inspiration for Thompson, who began listening to her and developing her jazz-influenced style in middle school. She started singing at age six, and wrote her first song around that time.
Besides attending a music school for piano since the age of four, Thompson hasn’t been involved in formal singing lessons and she doesn’t practice in the conventional sense. “For me, it’s not really practicing,” she said. “It’s more like if I have a song stuck in my head, I learn it and mess around with it and have fun.”
Though encouraged by her parents to pursue music, Thompson doesn’t feel pressured to follow that path. “It’s not my priority to become a famous singer, [but] I would love to be able to continue to make music on a regular basis,” she said. “Whether it’s with a band, for a living, or just a hobby, I feel like it’s an important and significant thing to be able to contribute.”
For the time being, Thompson is glad to attend Stuyvesant, even with all its academic pressure. She said, “[Though] it’s a math and science school, it’s surprising how many people you meet with talent, whether it’s musically or artistically.”
From YouTube to Belgium: A Star in the Making
Freshman Savannah Jeffreys has been involved with music her entire life. Growing up taking private piano lessons, she was playing the usual jazz and classical pieces before she lost interest, beginning instead to write her own pop and soul influenced songs. Compared by friends to Taylor Swift, Jeffreys says she’s not aiming for that country-pop sound, but is instead influenced by classics like The Beatles and Elton John, or current artists like John Mayer and Kanye West.
As for other aspiring musicians, Jeffreys has one piece of advice: practice. “The more you write,” she said, “the more motivated you are to play at shows and get noticed.”
With the help of her father, Garland Jeffreys (an established musician himself), she’s been able to play shows at local clubs, including Village Underground and The Bitter End, and even in festivals as far away as Belgium.
Along with live performances, she’s already started to self-promote on YouTube. In middle school, she started posting her original pieces as “savannahrae13.” Nearly all of her videos have over a thousand views, and she’s even gained a fan in Germany, who calls her “truly gifted.” Bolstered by these comments, Jeffreys hopes to develop a solo career in the future. Currently, she’s writing original songs in the hopes that she’ll be able to one day record them.
In spite of her musical aspirations, she chose not to attend an arts school. “I can’t give up the education at Stuy for LaGuardia,” said Jeffreys, after being accepted into both schools. And although she chose not to join chorus, and her songwriting class interfered with A Capella club meetings this semester, she’s optimistic about pursuing her musical interest at school next semester. “I’m definitely going to do SING!,” Jeffreys said. “I’m really excited.”
Piano and Producing with Homework on the Side
The musical talent at Stuyvesant is not confined to singers. It also includes skillful instrumentalists, like sophomore Adam Lieber. A multi-talented musician, he plays guitar and bass, although his specialty is piano.
While able to play many styles from classical to pop, he focuses on jazz, citing jazz piano master and Stuy Alumnus Thelonious Monk (who dropped out of high school to pursue his passion for music) as a main influence.
In addition to his piano playing, Lieber composes original music. Two of his songs, “Million Dollars” and “What It Takes” are available on ITunes. He has performed his original material on occasion, although he admits not playing gigs as much as he would like.
For Lieber, music is a way to unwind from stress and express himself. “When I’m improvising in jazz I can get my thoughts and my emotions at that given moment across,” Lieber said.
Although he enjoys playing music in this sense, it was not what he initially wanted to do. His mother forced him into taking lessons at the age of five, but it wasn’t until he attended music camp and joined the jazz ensemble there at age eight that he really picked up interest for music. He now plays for the Stuyvesant Jazz Band and tries to get as much playing time at home as possible.
For now, Lieber is putting composing on hold as he is currently working on a project where he records and produces the sounds of other musically talented students. Only a few weeks old, the project is still in development and will feature the music of Jeffreys and other undecided artists.
Lieber advises other musicians to do music-related things every day, be it for an hour or only 15 minutes. “Stuy’s workload doesn’t coincide with a good practice regiment, and I often find myself lacking needed practice time,” he said. “But if you really love music and want to play, there is always a little time to pursue your music.”