Pierce student shares her gift of song

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published February 11, 2021

 Grosse Pointe Park resident Charlotte Van Arragon was named as a semifinalist in the middle school level of the Hammerstein International Youth Vocal Solo Competition. The Pierce Middle School eighth grader performed “Make Believe” from the Hammerstein and Jerome Kern musical “Show Boat.”

Grosse Pointe Park resident Charlotte Van Arragon was named as a semifinalist in the middle school level of the Hammerstein International Youth Vocal Solo Competition. The Pierce Middle School eighth grader performed “Make Believe” from the Hammerstein and Jerome Kern musical “Show Boat.”

Photo provided by Melody Van Arragon

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GROSSE POINTE PARK — The legacy of Oscar Hammerstein — the librettist and lyricist of Broadway favorites “The Sound Of Music,” “Carousel,” “South Pacific” and more — is living on through a new international contest.

​The Hammerstein International Youth Vocal Solo Competition was recently held for vocalists age 23 and younger, and it tapped into the talents of Grosse Pointe Park resident Charlotte Van Arragon.

On Jan. 15, the Pierce Middle School eighth-grade student was named a top 10 semifinalist in the middle school category of the contest in which she performed “Make Believe” from the Hammerstein and Jerome Kern musical “Show Boat.” All the entries were submitted via video, and a panel of judges determined the semifinalists and then, ultimately, the finalists.

“I was really surprised,” Van Arragon said of making the top 10. “I didn’t think I would make it that far, but I was very happy about it.”

The contest was divided up by age level: elementary school, middle school, high school and college. The Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Education Center is located in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Bucks County is located. There also was a fifth category in which all singers that reside in Bucks County were automatically entered into the local category in addition to their age category.

The application fee for the contest was $25. All songs were required to have lyrics by Hammerstein, and the vocalists performed their selections from memory. Participants could sing with a live pianist or an accompaniment track. Unaccompanied entries were not accepted. For her piece, Van Arragon kept it in the family, as mom Melody performed the song on piano while Charlotte sang.

“I had to practice the song a lot and do a lot of research about the song to correctly interpret it,” the singer said. “It’s a love song. That’s why I picked it. I just really like love songs.”

Van Arragon’s video was recorded at the First Church of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Park, where dad Ben is pastor. Musical talent runs deep because Ben also plays bass guitar, Melody is the church’s worship and ministries administrator, and sister Isabelle, a student at Grosse Pointe South High School, plays the viola. Influenced by her older sister, Van Arragon began singing in the choir while a student at Maire Elementary School.

“My sister had done it, and she had a lot of fun doing it,” Van Arragon said, adding she always feels “happy” when singing. Of performing, “It takes a lot of work to learn all the music theory. You need to be able to want to do it,” the teenager said.

Van Arragon is a member of the Pierce eighth grade choir. She also is a member of the One Voice community girls’ choir under Artistic Director Carolyn Gross. In addition, the songbird studies voice privately with Dr. Sloane Artis.

Van Arragon was encouraged to enter the Hammerstein contest by Artis, who learned about it from her association with the National Association of Teachers of Singing, or NATS. Artis, a South graduate, has known Van Arragon for about two years, calling her “a joy to work with.”

“I could talk about her all day. She’s a beautiful person inside and out,” Artis said. “Charlotte has a beautiful voice. It has a beautiful tone to it. It’s so easy to listen to her. She has a lot of musical talent.”

Artis said Van Arragon always shows up prepared for her lessons and works hard on her craft. For the solo contest, the student recorded four practice versions of “Make Believe,” which she shared with Artis for critiques before submitting her final version.

“She would send it to me. I would listen to it, and I would send her video feedback,” Artis said. “I’m so proud of her doing the process.”

For more information on Oscar Hammerstein and to hear the entries, including Van Arragon’s, visit hammersteinmuseum.org.

 

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