NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — Though she may be a senior at North Kingstown High School, Elizabeth Baierlein’s vocal talents have already taken her to some incredible places.
From the auditorium at NKHS to such famed venues as Carnegie Hall in New York City and the Sydney Opera House Australia, Baierlein has been able to work alongside and learn from some of the best of the best in her field, and she’ll have another honor to add to her resume this weekend as she heads to Orlando, Florida to be one of 240 handpicked vocalists from across the country making up the Mixed Choir at the National Association for Music Education’s annual All-National Honor Ensemble.
The ensemble is a four day event running Thursday through Sunday at the Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center featuring bands, choirs and ensembles led by some of the country’s top conductors and directors. The Mixed Choir is set to perform Saturday night from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Baierlin is one of four Rhode Islanders taking part in the Mixed Choir, and only the second student from North Kingstown to be chosen.
“I was really happy actually because I had auditioned for All-National in the past since the end of my freshman year and I hadn’t made it in, so I was kind of discouraged and I said ‘Oh, the next year I’ll do it and hopefully I’ll get in’ and I kept saying that and I was very proud of myself when I did,” Baierlein said. “I was actually out to eat with my mom on a college visit and she started to cry because she was so proud of me and I was elated.”
Baierlein’s first experience with singing in front of a live audience came when she was a sixth grader chosen to participate in NKHS’s 2014 production of “The Music Man,” an experience she said was “a lot of fun” and encouraged her to join choir the following school year and that same year participated in her first All-State Choir.
“The first year I was a part of it I was really intimidated because I was this tiny seventh grader,” Baierlein said. “I had only started singing and everyone else when I was there started talking about how they’ve been doing All-State since fifth grade in the elementary school division, like how they were singing in elementary school and all of these different things and I thought ‘I don’t belong here,’ because I haven’t been doing this as long as everyone else so I’m not as good.”
That intimidation, however, quickly wore off as she became comfortable and realized her talents as she kept auditioning and making All-State Choir every year and showed her she had potential for a future in music, a dviscovery she says has been “very helpful” on her journey through life so far.
In eighth grade, she was given the opportunity to head to the Big Apple and perform under the bright lights of Carnegie Hall to perform with fellow students from across the country.
“It was the first experience I really had meeting musically-inclined kids from all over the U.S., which was eye-opening to say the least because in Rhode Island we’re such a small community just as like a state, but when you meet kids from bigger states like New York, California and Texas, it’s interesting to see how they operate and how they incorporate music into their way of life,” Baierlein said.
She returned again her freshman year of high school, and the summer after she was presented with an even bigger opportunity through the Honors Performance Series: going Down Under for 10 days to perform at the famed Sydney Opera House.
“It was their first abroad program, so it was kind of a big deal, and I wanted to go and I said ‘hey mom, do you think we can make this work’ and she said ‘we will find a way to get you there’ and we did and it was amazing,” Baierlein said.
Baierlein never takes experiences like that for granted, saying she takes lessons with her from every conductor she’s worked under and chorus or choir she’s been a part of.
“I’ve taken a lot away from all of those experiences because they just have so much knowledge that they’re trying to share with the younger generation, which I found to be amazing and I just really tried to take everything in that I could and even today I still implement everything that certain conductors have told me to make the best version of me that I can be as a singer,” Baierlein said.
With the national Mixed Choir, she’ll be performing under the direction of acclaimed St. Olaf College conductor Tesfa Wondemagegnehu, who conducts the Viking Chorus and Chapel Choir at the Minnesota school as well as the One Voice Mixed Choir, one of the largest LGBTQ+ choirs in North America.
“I’m really excited to get to work with him because he has such a great energy around music and conducting and wanting to work with kids,” Baierlein said.
She has been provided with her notes and rhythms to study before heading to Florida, and already is familiar with one of the songs she’ll be performing, Shosoloza, a South African spiritual which coneys a message a freedom, expression and happiness she first performed in Sydney and is excited to be able to sing it again.
She also says she’s excited to meet with more musically-inclined students from across the country who share her passion and commitment to the art.
Outside of state and national choirs, she has participated in the school choir and performed at such places as Six Flags New England and Walt Disney World. Baierlein has also participated in all of NKHS’s musicals since her freshman year, including the role of Colette in last year’s production of “Les Miserables,” and is currently audtioning for a part in this spring’s performance of “Mary Poppins.”
“The musical is a great experience to be a part of if you want to be in the cast, if you want to do tech, like doing anything for the musical as a whole is so fun,” Baierlein said. “You get to meet a lot of great people and I look forward to it every year.”
Along with being an accomplished singer, Baierlein will also be the first North Kingstown student to graduate with a state Career and Technical Education seal in music, and will also graduate with a CTE seal for engineering.
“She’s an incredible student,” NKHS choir and orchestra director and teacher Norma Caiazza said. “She’s motivated, hard-working, she’s just a sweet girl. She’s also always willing to help people. She’s just a really all-around good student and great kid.”
Caiazza says she has witnessed first hand the amount of work and dedication Baierlein puts in, and feels incredibly proud to see her named to such an prestigious group as the All-National Mixed Choir.
“We’re proud of her and we know she’s going to represent us well there and we’re excited to see what her future holds,” Caiazza said.
Following graduation, Baierlein is heading to college and hopes to major in either food science, engineering or musical theatre. Whichever path she ends up taking, however, she hopes that music will continue to be part of her daily life.
“(Music has) definitely shaped who I am, like how I think about the world, how I think about myself even, just like how I approach different situations in life,” Baierlein said. “It’s a very influential art form that’s had a great impact on my life and I hope that music will continue to shape my life in new ways I haven’t even thought of yet.”