Artist of the Month: Leyla Wade

Elise Guarna

Even in a world where seven billion people proclaim to want such drastically different things, there are a few desires that we all seem to share. We want our families to be safe, we want a good grade on our math test, we want to lose five pounds. And we all want to be a singer. As many of our showerheads can attest to, however, very few of us actually have what it takes. Although it may not take a whole lot of talent or finesse to belt out “Bye Bye Bye” while we shampoo, it certainly does to perform in a musical, or sing an opera aria in Italian. These are the kinds of things that Leyla Wade does every day.

There’s no exact point that marks the beginning of Leyla’s singing career—she has been singing for as long as she can remember. The first time that she really began to focus on it as a serious pastime she was seven, and singing with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus: a prestigious, grammy-award winning youth choir that has performed everywhere from Lincoln Center to the White House. After a few years of that, she moved onto school choirs, which eventually led her to begin more serious voice lessons in her freshman year of high school. It was during these lessons that, with the help of her first teacher, Rosalie Caplan, and her current teacher, Carla Ardito, Leyla began to realize that she had a real talent for singing. When asked about this discovery, Leyla humbly laughed and said, “Well, my teacher said I was good, and that boosted my confidence. She also led me in the right direction, which made me sound better, which made me think I was good.” At around this time, she began to think of singing as something more than a hobby. “I started to see it as a more serious thing,” she acknowledged, “and how hard it is, when you really think about it.”

She began practicing beyond her lessons, and honing her raw talent. She spent hours watching YouTube videos of singers, attempting to emulate their sound. By listening to so many different people, she was able to figure out what she liked and didn’t like, what she wanted to work on.

Upon arriving at Berkeley Carroll as a freshman, she has become very involved in the school’s music and theater programs, singing in the choir and performing in five school productions: she was Pomona in Metamorphoses, Pear in The Prisoner of Second Avenue, a member of the ensemble in The Little Shop of Horrors, Trix in The Drowsy Chaperone, and Jane in Clue. She is currently preparing for her next and final high school role as Cinderella in the spring musical, Into the Woods.

When an untrained audience member, (me, for example), hears a song being performed, it is not difficult to appreciate the beauty of the final product; but it is far harder to appreciate the amount of work that goes into its production. “It’s a lot of practice,” Leyla explains. “[You have to] try different things, figure out when to breathe, what to emphasize, take it bit by bit.” In the end, however, all the work that she puts in is worth it. One of the things that Leyla finds especially gratifying about singing is that you can hear your own progress. “It’s exciting,” she says. “You can hear yourself get better.”

In terms of style, Leyla loves Rodgers & Hammerstein, Anna Netrebko, Renee Fleming, Julie Andrews, Sutton Foster. Of Foster in particular, she says that she loves the strength of her voice. “I mean, I can’t sing like her at all. She’s a belter, I’m a soprano—we sing in completely different registers. Her voice is just so flawless. It’s like a trumpet. There’s something so mesmerizing about it.” Leyla was also personally inspired by her aunt, an opera singer that she has always looked up to. This past summer, she had the opportunity to perform as a member of the chorus in an opera performed by her aunt’s company. She speaks glowingly of their performance at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, where they performed excerpts from three different operas on a huge staircase looking out over the water and the Manhattan skyline at sunset. Through this performance, she had the opportunity to work with wonderful people of all age groups, including leads who had performed at the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway. In her own words, “it was definitely a highlight of everything I’ve ever done with voice.”

Recently, Leyla has become more interested in opera specifically. Although she finds opera to be more difficult than musical theater, she feels that the end product is rewarding enough to compensate for the extra effort that she has to put in, not the least of which being that she has to learn how to relate to a song in a new language.

Now, as the mayhem of first semester senior year draws to a close, Leyla finds herself faced with that enormous and ever-present question of, what’s next? “I don’t know,” she admits. “I think I’ll definitely do a ton of singing in college, and take lessons if I can, and do a lot of productions.”  However, in terms of any kind of professional career, she is still very unsure of what the future will hold. “I have to explore more options first,” she laughs.

However, Leyla continues to hone and display her talents in noteworthy ways: next semester, Leyla will be participating in a workshop that brings together high-school age singers from around the country, where they will spend a week rehearsing together as a 150-person choir before holding a final performance at Carnegie Hall. “I just got my music in the mail last week,” Leyla tells me, smiling widely. “It’s pretty exciting.”

Since she first began to sing, it has become so much more than a hobby for her—it has come to shape her life in larger ways. “I feel like my social life revolves around the theater group, in school and outside of school.” Singing has also helped to shape her as an individual. “I guess [singing] has made me more outgoing,” she says. Her friend and fellow BC choir member, Allie Korbey, says that her voice commands attention: “From a girl who is ordinarily quiet and reserved, you wouldn’t expect such an incredible and powerful voice.”

Although Leyla is a beautiful and talented performer, her love of singing is about so much more than simply being on stage. “I mean, I really like performing, I like the adrenaline rush,” she says. “But I think that I prefer just singing. The act itself—it’s almost a chemical thing. It just instantly relaxes me. It’s pretty.”