by Karim Doumar
After coming in third place in 2014, McLean High School graduate Lily Lord returned in 2015 to take first place in the High School Voices Musical Theatre category of the Hal Leonard Vocal Competition.
The Hal Leonard Vocal Competition is an annual competition which prides itself in being comprised of entirely YouTube entries. Sponsored by the Hal Leonard Corporation, the largest print music publisher in the World, the competition has eight sections: four different age groups in both Musical Theatre and Art Song. This year, the competition had over 1000 entries across all eight sections.
Lord was required to choose her pieces from a selection of 10-15 musical theatre books. She needed an up-tempo, exciting piece and a ballad. “It’s kind of about showing your range,” Lord said. For her entry, Lord sang “Live Out Loud,” the fast-moving song from “A Little Princess,” and “My Brother Lives in San Francisco,” a slower, more emotional song from “Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens.”
Lord is an active member of both the high school’s theatre department, and its singing group, McLean Madrigals. Additionally, she has been taking singing lessons with Muriel Von Villas, a local teacher, for about four years. It was Von Villas who introduced Lord to the Hal Leonard Competition. Before that, Lord has been singing for as long as anybody can remember. “My mom says I was humming before I was talking,” Lord said.
Next year, Lord is attending the Boston Conservatory where she will be majoring in Musical Theatre in order to become an actor. “I like being able to share a story” she said, quickly adding “and to maybe make someone happy.” In addition to acting, Lord will refine and expand her skills in both dancing and singing at the conservatory.
Because she competed in the musical theatre section of the competition, winning first place was not only predicated on the quality of her voice, but the quality of her expression and acting. When she competed in 2014, she was awarded third place. “The judges told me they didn’t enjoy watching me,” Lord said. Like any great artist, rather than wallowing in the criticism, Lord learned from it.
In his email congratulating Lord for her victory, competition director, Richard Walters seemed especially excited about her rendition of “My Brother Lives in San Francisco.”
“I have heard this song done more than once in an over-emotional way that became too much. Your clear-eyed approach, that was full of feeling but not indulgent, made a stronger statement,” Walters wrote.
Lord was able to display that balance of emotion without an exceptional amount of work. She technically prepared for the competition for two months before submitting her final video.
However, since she chose pieces which she already knew, she did not have to spend time learning, just refining. The hard work came when they recorded. “It took us a couple of hours,” Lord said about the six-minute video.
The Hal Leonard Competition allows for video entries to have one cut. Lord, however, noticed that most of the first place videos from previous years were filmed in one take. “It was important for us to do it with no cuts,” Lord said. By making the video with no cuts, Lord was able to create something that more resembled a live performance because it forced her to sing both pieces well at the same time rather than singing both many times and choosing which two were the best. “That’s why they do appreciate having no cuts,” Lord said of the judges.
Lord and her accompanist, Ed Roberts, spent most of the two filming hours practicing minimally in order to make sure they were in time with each other. They only filmed the entire performance twice and then Lord chose the one she thought was better. Neither was completely perfect. “We ignored some mistakes to avoid having a cut,” said Lord. The judges obviously appreciated the extra pressure she placed on herself.