Taconic High School senior sings her way to All-Eastern Honors Ensembles


PITTSFIELD -- For 17-year-old Prudence "Prudy" Whalen, enjoying music is easy but singing music is a much-practiced skill.

The Taconic High School senior's hard work recently paid off when she found out she had qualified to participate as a vocalist in the 2013 National Association for Music Education's (NAfME) All-Eastern Honors Ensembles, which will perform April 7 in Hartford, Conn.

Whalen is the first person from Pittsfield Public Schools to be accepted into the ensembles since 1997 -- Duane Lee was the last musician. She is also the only student from Berkshire County who will be performing in the program.

"I knew I could sing OK, but I never actually thought I would do something like this," said Whalen, who sings a Soprano I voice part.

The young woman said she's been singing along to music since she was little.

"No one in my family really plays music. My brother played piano for a while. I'm adopted, but am told my birth mother could sing really well," said Whalen.

In sixth grade, she said she sang with a school chorus, but it wasn't until her freshman year at Taconic when she began formally training to sing under the direction of her chorus teacher, Jessica A. Passetto.

Passetto said she soon began to recognize Whalen's talent and moved her into the school's honors chorus program.

"She has a really clear, light soprano voice that's classical in style," the teacher said of her student.

Though Passetto urged Whalen to try out for the Massachusetts Music Educators' Association's prestigious Western District festival, the student wasn't so receptive to the idea of auditioning with a judge.

"It's nerve-wracking. I don't like singing in front of people," Whalen said.

But in 2011 and 2012, she mustered the courage and auditioned, earning spots and top scores for both the state's prestigious Western District and All-State festivals. Her performances ultimately helped her earn a spot in the NAfME All-Eastern Honors Ensembles mixed chorus group, consisting of about 350 vocalists.

"She did a lot of work on her sight-reading. She's worked hard for it, and it's really paid off," Passetto said.

Whalen said her best advice for being successful is to "practice a lot." In her case, she is always singing, whether in chorus, in the car or while cooking in the kitchen.

"If you love something, do it as often as you can," she said.

According to a press release, the chorus and band ensembles combined feature "more than 780 of the most musically talented high school students in the Eastern region of the United States."

Whalen will begin studying her music this month. On April 4, she will join the other students in Hartford for three days of rehearsal with a NAfME conductor, culminating in an April 7 performance "for an audience of thousands" at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts.

"I'm so excited to meet so many other kids and sing," said Whalen.

She plans to attend Dickinson College in the fall, which hosts some a cappella and other vocal groups. In the meantime, Whalen is getting ready for lacrosse season and will also appear in Taconic's spring musical production of "City of Angels."


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