ZCHS graduates have return engagement at Songbook Academy


Cynthia Kauffman loved learning all the different forms of the Great American Songbook.

“It’s not just jazz, it’s golden age musical theater and some classical music as well,” Kauffman said. “I learned some entirely new music that I hadn’t been exposed to before.”

She also made many meaningful connections with other students and mentors.

“I love the music so much. I had such a great time I decided I wanted to come back,” Kaufmann said.

Kauffman, who will study musical theater at Syracuse University, said the connections she made and the people she met made her first time at the Songbook Academy special.

Kauffman and Grace Tucker, both 2019 Zionsville Community High School graduates, will participate in the Songbook Academy for a second time. They are two of 40 students from the across the U.S. participating in the seven-day summer music intensive that runs July 13 through July 20 at the Great American Songbook Foundation’s headquarters in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. It culminates in a July 20 performance, where the Songbook Ambassador is named. Students who don’t make the top 10 are eligible to return. Kauffman and Tucker participated in the Songbook Academy in the summer of 2017.

“I had done it before and was hoping I knew what they were looking for, so it was exciting (to be accepted),” Kauffman said.

After receiving feedback, Kauffman said she is changing up the songs she will do from her audition.

“I’m most looking forward to working with the pianist,” Kauffman said. “I did the song ‘Good Morning’ and they completely changed it to this salsa/samba that I would never think to change it. They are all brilliant people with incredibly creative minds. They take the time to make sure what you want to get out of your song.”

Kauffman recently finished performing as the lead in “Thoroughly Modern Millie” at Summer Stock Stage. She has participated in a Summer Stock Stage every year since seventh grade.

Tucker plans to study creative writing, literature or humanities at the University of Michigan.

“They have a heavy focus on integrating music with the humanities studies, so I’ll probably minor in music or participate in musical ensembles on campus,” Tucker said.  “Songbook has been slowly introduced into my musical vocabulary through working with my voice teacher and attending the Songbook Academy two summers ago. Through doing lots and lots of musical theater, I’ve been introduced to the more classical musical genre, that is the Songbook.”

Tucker said what made her eager to participate in the Songbook Academy again was the overall experience of meeting talented people.

“It’s such an amazing collaboration between musical directors (and) clinicians they bring in throughout the week,” she said. “Working was one of my priorities this summer. I wanted to participate in something sort of musical activity but I didn’t want it to take up my whole summer like a musical would. Songbook Academy was a great in-between because I would be able to meet new people, sing and study the music that I love.”

Tucker said the most important thing she learned is being a self-starter.

“There’s lot of one-on-one time with voice teachers and musical directors,” Tucker said. “Learning how to take initiative to kick-start your own growth, work on your own two pieces, it can become kind of tedious because you are singing the same two songs from morning to night. You learn how to enjoy the meticulous nature of picking out the motives in your song, how to make them more expressive. Learning how to dive into a piece and dissect it and master two pieces is important. The incentive in the Songbook Academy is to encourage as much growth as possible, so you work really hard for the week you are there.”

Among the Songbook Academy mentors for the week are Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter/actress Melissa Manchester; Broadway actress/singer Laura Osnes; two-time Grammy-winning singer Sylvia McNair; Tony Award-winning actor Michael McElroy; New York-based singer/pianist/composer Nat Zegree; and five-time Grammy nominee and Great American Songbook Foundation founder Michael Feinstein.

For information on Songbook Academy performances, visit thecenterpresents.org.