WESTBROOK – Rachel Lloyd-Taylor, a senior at Westbrook High School and Gorham resident, won’t be spending her summer vacation lounging on the beach. Instead, Lloyd-Taylor will study vocals at the prestigious Boston University Tanglewood Institute for six weeks to hone her craft.

The institute is part of the School of Music at the College of Fine Arts in Boston University. Led by Director Phyllis Hoffman, the institute is considered one of the most prestigious summer music programs for high school students in the United States. This year’s participants consist of American and international musicians, including students from as far away as Europe, South America and Australia.

Along with chorus programs, the institute will also host concerts from its Young Artists Orchestra and Wind Ensemble throughout the summer.

Before heading off, Lloyd-Taylor, 17, took time to discuss her opera-diva ambitions, love of pop and classic music and future goals for her final year at Westbrook High School.

Q: How long have you been studying vocals?

A: I’ve been studying vocal performance for 10 years, with more of an emphasis in classical music for about three years.

Q: Do you work with a vocal coach and what goes in to your practices?

A: My vocal coach is Gloria Bonnin from Creative Outlet Studios in South Portland. I’ve been working with her for about four years now and I owe a lot of my success as a singer to her extensive vocal training. We always start with vocal warm-ups to stretch my range. Then we move on to my repertoire that varies from Handel to Rogers and Hammerstein.

Q: How does the process of getting to perform at Tanglewood work? Did you apply or did they find you?

A: I had heard of Tanglewood prior to this year and knew what a fantastic program it was. But I hadn’t thought to audition until my choir director, Dr. Michelle Snow, suggested I do. I did a lot of research about the program, how extensive the application process was and had a serious talk with my mom about applying. I started the application in November, and drove down to Boston on Feb. 1 in order to practice ahead of time with my pianist, of whom I had to hire all by myself, and performed live for the Tanglewood admissions staff on Feb. 2. Then it was a very stressful month as I anxiously waited until March 20 to hear the results of my audition. They auditioned many talented and highly qualified musicians and vocalists from around the world along with auditions all over the United States.

Q: What does it mean to you to study and perform at Tanglewood?

A: Tanglewood has had a legacy of musicians who have established very serious roots there. This summer, I will be walking on the same grounds as both Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein, who are still some of the most recognized and appreciated composers in history. My idol, the incredible opera diva Renee Fleming, has performed at Tanglewood, as well, along with Yo Yo Ma and Tony Award winner Audra McDonald. I’m so fortunate and excited. I plan to be a sponge while there and try to soak up as much from this experience as I can, because it’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Q: What has been your most memorable performance?

A: During my sophomore year, I was presented with opportunity to be a soloist in the Southern Maine Choral Masterworks where we were to perform “Carmina Burana.” I ended up being the only student soloist out of over 200 singers. I sang an aria called “In Trutina.” It was the most memorable because it was the turning point in my focus to become a more classically based singer.

Q: Who are your inspirations?

A: My mother, first and foremost, has always been a huge inspiration. She has nurtured me to be a driven, and progressive young woman, and has instilled morals in me that I will carry with me my whole life. There is a quote my grandfather always said in which I strive to live by. “The harder you work, the luckier you’ll be.” I had that quote on my wall throughout the whole audition process to remind me of who I was and of who I wanted to become.

Q: You will be a senior at Westbrook High School in the fall. Do you have any future goals after graduation? Colleges or universities you may apply? Do you want to make a career singing?

A: There is a lot that comes with wanting to be a classical musician. Opera divas need to be well versed in many languages, along with many years of training to stretch the voice to its maximum level of achievement. And I am not there yet. But by furthering my education either at a university or conservatory, I hope to reach that level. I know I want to major in vocal performance but where, I’m not sure fully yet. But I’m excited to see where I end up.

Q: What type of music do you like to sing? Do you have a favorite song?

A: I love performing classical music in general. There is something about it that’s so contextually complex but can move an entire audience to tears, or fill them with utmost joy. There is a special place in my heart for the choral masterwork, “Carmina Burana,” and Gianni Puccini. My absolute favorite opera song would have to be “The Flower Duet,” from Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly.”

Q: What type of music do you like to listen to and, if it’s different than the type of music you like to sing, why?

A: Just like other 17-year-old girls, I do like listening to pop music. I’m a huge Mumford and Sons fan. But my favorite band ever is Queen. Songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody” come off as exuberant and fun. Before every vocal audition I go for, I play “Don’t Stop Me Now,” because it pumps me up to do my best and not be afraid to just go for it, whatever it may be.

Q: Other than studying at Tanglewood, do you have any big plans for the summer?

A: Tanglewood is going to be a six-week program so that doesn’t leave too much room for other “big” plans. But I did find time to be a Dirigo Girls State 2013 delegate this year, where I was elected president of the Senate along with being chosen as the Fourth Outstanding Girl, which was a fantastic honor. After Tanglewood is over, I hope to spend some time with my family, friends and most importantly, my dog.

Rachel Lloyd-Taylor, pictured singing in the 2012 All-State Jazz festival, will head to the Boston University Tanglewood Institute this summer to hone her vocal skills. Courtesy photo 

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