For many music students, a week full of classes, rehearsals, and time in the practice room is enough for the great college balancing act. Now add traveling to New York City and premiering two brand new musicals in one semester. For some it’d be too much, but for 19-year old sophomore Lyric Theatre major Sophia Byrd, it’s about more than just another chance to perform. “I want to use my artistic platform for a purpose.”
Sophia found her love of music singing in the Chicago Children’s Choir. While college brought her to Urbana-Champaign, her connections with the Children’s Choir have continued to provide opportunity. One of those opportunities was this past October, when Sophia traveled to New York City to perform a brand new musical.
Place, written by USC composition professor Ted Hearne, features a six person cast and tells the story of gentrification and displacement in Chicago. While the role Sophia performed was originally written for Allison Sims (a UIUC alum herself), scheduling conflicts for the New York production found Sophia bumped up from understudy to leading lady.
Fully produced by Beth Morrison Projects and the Los Angeles Philharmonic and performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Place features just about every musical element a singer could ever run into all in one piece. “It has everything. Classical, atonal, post-tonal, contemporary. Each number was a different genre,” Byrd said, sighting her combined jazz and classical training as instrumental in helping her learn the piece.
When asked what experiences as a part of Lyric Theatre were most helpful during her process, Byrd also immediately sighted faculty members. “I could not have done this without Sarah Wigley. She helped me with vocal technique, all the way up to the day of the performance. She’s completely changed the way I think about singing.”
Sophia initially came to UIUC to major in jazz vocal performance for the opportunity to write her own music. However, her involvement with projects like Place has found her passions drifting elsewhere. “I’ve realized that performing someone else’s words gives you so much more freedom to actually focus on bringing a message to life, which is so different from actual composition.”
This month finds Sophia back in New York City premiering The Good Swimmer through the BAM New Wave Festival. While the end of the semester brings more tests, final projects, and deadlines than usual, it’s not stopping Sophia from being involved in projects she’s passionate about. From one show onto another, and we can’t wait to see what she’ll do next.