A Precious Gift
04/07/2015 10:24AM ● Published by Annette Winter
Gallery: Kaitlyn Lusk [6 Images] Click any image to expand.
Fayetteville resident and army wife, Kaitlyn Lusk got her start singing a solo on the stage of the Baltimore Symphony at an age where most of us were worried about the math homework we would receive during fourth period…14. Since that career-defining moment, she has been traveling around the world and working with the most talented film scorers, composers and musicians. Lusk shares her unique story of the journey of a promising gift: her voice.
“It all started when I was taking singing lessons in sixth grade,” explained Lusk. “We always hear about young, musical prodigies. Well at that age I was beyond my years and it was apparent.” At that point, getting a good teacher was Lusk’s number one priority. Taking years of singing lessons and participating in choir and school musicals, Lusk practiced and trained as hard as the professionals throughout her elementary years. “By high school I was looking to go to elite singing summer camps at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan.” Sending in an audition tape showcasing her range of talent, Lusk included genres such as Jazz, Broadway and the classic song made famous by Judy Garland, Over the Rainbow.
After acclaimed composer Kim Scharnberg heard Lusk’s impeccable voice on her demo tape, he was in disbelief. “That’s when it went from zero to 60,” said Lusk. “I flew to New York City, met with Scharnberg and within two months I was making an originally composed album with freelance artists at the age of 14.
“I went from high school musicals to being in the studio. Immediately after that I was singing at the 9/11 Memorial concert for the firefighters who came from Maryland to help New York City in my first truly professional gig at the Baltimore Symphony.”
The genuine and enthusiastic Lusk has had a whirlwind of a career. Needless to say her levelheadedness and the balance of being a normal – to a certain extent – teenager and her stride of professionalism at such a young age helped shape the authentic and passionate person she is today. “It was important to have the balance of both worlds. Coming back from recording in New York, I still had to do dishes and be a functioning part of a big family.”
Family is an important aspect of Lusk’s life and also her career, seeing as one of her biggest influencers is her father. He is a trombone professor at Penn State and has helped guide her major life decisions, from creating demo tapes to choosing a focus of study in college. Giving her a piece of advice that has stuck with her since she was a teenager, her father always told her to “put music first and the rest will fall into place.” Lusk explained, “My dad was not Mr. Stage Dad, he was supportive and helped me develop a thick skin, which I definitely needed since I was constantly working with adults.”
Shortly after her performance in Baltimore, producers in Boston invited Lusk to sing at the New Years Eve Gala with the Boston Pops in 2003, making her the youngest artist ever to perform. “These two or three dominos falling led to everything exploding afterwards,” said Lusk. “It’s not just about connection or talent, it’s a little of both. You need someone to show you the door that opens up to the room of opportunity. But you, as an artist, need to prove that you deserve to be in that room. Then you need to discover a way to find someone to open up the next door.” The development of Lusk’s career is truly remarkable.
Going on Tour
“I don’t only do opera and I don’t specifically do jazz - I do it all. You need all the background and the classical training to get experimental with yourself,” explained the multi-talented Lusk. With an over three octave voice, in the industry Lusk is known as a soprano, but be careful before you title her as a contemporary vocalist because she can do just about anything - including pop and classical. This diverse range helped seal her spot as the leading vocalists in the Lord of the Rings Symphony. The professionals behind the Lord of the Rings Symphony couldn’t find someone who could sing it all due to the musical variety of opera and range. Golden Globe, Grammy and Academy Award winning composer and film scorer Howard Shore discovered Lusk when she was 15. Her first performance was in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It was a huge deal to me at the time. I was already a fan of The Lord of the Rings!” exclaimed Lusk.
Painting the picture of what it’s like to attend a Lord of the Rings Symphony concert, Lusk explained, “The way the live projection works is that they take out all of the film’s music, orchestra and battle noises and we do them all live. The conductor has a program in sync with the film to make sure everyone is on queue. As a soloist I come in and I come out. My lyrics are actually in Elvish – I’ve met hundreds of fans that speak Elvish and Orc as depicted from the J.R.R. Tolkien books. The final song is always in English, that’s where I get my big spotlight. I’ve learned translations from Elvish, because I want to know what I’m singing about so I can translate that through my voice. It’s a lot of love stories. The experience is supposed to be very fluid so when the booming orchestra stops on one beat, I have to be hitting that note at the perfect time and perfect pitch.”
Ten years later the show is still selling out across the world. Lusk explains her tenure as the front woman of the Lord of the Rings Symphony, “It’s been very rewarding. I’ve been able to travel all over the world on tour. I feel blessed to say I’ve done all these things, to know all the people I’ve met and experience cultures I’ve seen. I was in Bulgaria listening to Bulgarian folk chanting, then I was in Australia on Bondi Beach, I was eating meat pies in Eastern Europe and singing on the same stage as some of the greatest artists that music has ever seen.” One of her “pinch me” moments was when she was sitting in the same dressing room as Beyoncé who was there the week before. Lusk has even performed at the Grammy Honors ceremony in New York, which to her was an “eye-opening experience.” Singing "Into the West" and sharing the stage with the likes of Jay-Z and Mariah Carey, she was a guest artist honoring her mentor and friend Howard Shore.
Finding her spot in Fayetteville
Although Lusk has been performing around the world in the most prestigious venues and alongside the most intuitive creators, she has found bliss in the All-America City of Fayetteville. “My career is good to me because I’m able to work doing what I love and also be a military spouse. Being in a military family, you constantly have to pick up your life and re-plan. When I’m traveling for work my family helps care for my children and as we like to call it, getting a lot of ‘grandma time.’ My husband and I have always made it work. He does what he loves and I do what I love - we don’t detract from each other’s careers. Although I travel a lot for work, I truly thrive on the idea of having the best of both worlds, my music and my personal life.”
Throughout her years, Lusk has learned to take on each new challenge and each new journey. “As any other military wife, I believe God gave me what I’m meant to handle,” she said with a smile.
During her time at home, Lusk keeps busy by working and spreading her talent to the youth of Fayetteville. Lusk explained, “I know how much having good teachers helped my situation grow into what it is now.” She teaches ongoing voice lessons through the SKIES Program on Fort Bragg. She also teaches lessons from her home. Lusk has plans to teach a master class during the day at Methodist University in November. She also will be featured as part of their guest series.
Her performance will be a more stripped down version of the Lusk story we just heard. “It’s just going to be me, a guitar and a piano – all acoustic, which I’m excited for because that’s how I started.”
Lusk talked about finding her way and meeting the rest of Fayetteville’s talented pool of people through monthly meetings of the Fayetteville Young Professional group. “Locally I find there’s a lot of female entrepreneurship that I love to support. It’s important to empower other women. When I was 14, I was still a female in the workplace and I decided I wanted to be a mom, a wife and a dedicated person – having five sisters is definitely a part of it.” Being a world-renowned vocalist, military spouse and mother is quite the impressive résumé for the now 25-year-old Kaitlyn Lusk.
Currently Lusk is looking forward to one of the biggest gigs she’s ever been handed; performing the Lord of the Rings Symphony at the David Theatre in Lincoln Center. After some quick trips to Seattle, Washington and Switzerland, Lusk plans to start working on her newest album with producers in Nashville and New York. “That’s my next chapter,” explains Lusk, “I love Lord of the Rings and I love Judy Garland, but I definitely have grown a lot and I have these new experiences as a performer, in life and being a mom. Singing about these things is important to me, it’s storytelling.”