Three up and coming singers reached new heights Saturday when they opened the show for a musical act at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
The trio of Maya Gottshall, Megan Higgins and Devika Pharasi began performing as a group for Fairfield Middle School’s talent show. Word of their beautiful harmonies reached Rustin Lippincott, the executive director of the convention center.
Lippincott asked the group last fall if they’d like to open the show for country artist Collin Raye, who was coming to the Stephen Sondheim Center for the Performing Arts March 4. It would mean the girls would perform in front of hundreds of people … or in other words, exactly the crowds they were accustomed to.
To hear the girls sing and speak so eloquently about their craft, one would never imagine they are freshmen in high school. Their calm demeanor at the microphone reflects their years of stage experience. All three have been singing and acting publically for nearly a decade.
The trio began singing together not in the choir but in seventh-grade English class of all places.
“We started messing around singing about adverbs in Erin Cracker’s class,” Higgins recalled.
“We were just having fun, and we realized our voices go really well together,” Pharasi said.
Gottshall said people who heard the girls perform individually in talent shows told them they should form a group, and that’s exactly what they did. The girls performed as a trio for the first time at the FMS talent show in 2014.
The girls have dubbed their group “Coloratura,” an Italian word meaning “coloring,” which is what they do to the music they sing.
After receiving such tremendous response from the crowds at talent shows, the girls took their act to the big stage in July 2016 when they performed at the “Coming Home, Coming Together” concert at the convention center. They wowed the audience by putting their own spin on Colbie Caillat’s “Try.”
When the group members learned they would open for Collin Raye, they were tasked with singing not one for four songs. Gottshall said they put their heads together to find a balance between three factors: what they can sing, what they like to sing, and what the crowd wants to hear.
Their high school choir teacher Zach Reiter heard they would perform at the Sondheim and offered his services, working with the girls on dynamics and technique.
“He was adamant about having us hold the mic at a 45 degree angle and 1 inch away from our mouth because it absorbs our voice better,” Higgins said.
The songs the girls chose for their performance were “Neon Lights,” “I Hope You Dance,” “Let Her Go” and “Water Under the Bridge.” Careful listeners will note that sometimes the girls sing in unison and other times they split into distinct parts. Gottshall is the group’s soprano voice, while Higgins and Pharasi prefer lower registers such as alto or mezzo-soprano. According to the group’s consensus, Higgins has the best ear for chords, Gottshall is the best stage performer and Pharasi has the largest range.
“Our weaknesses are each other’s strengths,” Pharasi said. “We balance each other so well.”
“We’re like peanut butter, chocolate and Nutella,” Higgins joked.
Saturday’s performance was the culmination of years of singing. Gottshall began her performance career not as a singer, though, but as a dancer for Fairfield Art of Dance when in kindergarten.
“I was a terrible singer when I was young!” Gottshall laughed. “I was just a dancer.”
Gottshall’s family was good friends with Way Off Broadway artistic director Randy West. Through that friendship, Gottshall took an interest in performing in the summer plays Way Off Broadway put on. She recalled that her first WOB performance was playing one of Mother Hubbard’s children in “Time Out of Rhyme,” which was also Pharasi’s WOB debut.
Higgins started acting in church plays at age 5 and was performing in WOB musicals by age 9. Her first was “The Wizard of Oz,” in which she played the leader of the Lollipop Guild. By the time she finished fifth grade, she had performed in seven WOB musicals.
Pharasi’s love of singing goes back to her infancy.
“I said my first word while trying to sing along with my mother,” she said.
Pharasi began performing in skits at her temple by age 4, sometimes in front as many as 100 people. By fifth grade, she was performing in the middle school talent show with her older sister, Anuja, a senior at FHS.
“I’ve always been nervous singing for a group, but I’m able to forget about how nervous I am,” she said. “I think about the pleasure I’m giving people and how happy it’s making them.”
The three girls agreed that having the other two on stage to support them does wonders to calm their nerves before and during a performance. So far, most of their public performances have been to familiar faces.
“The good thing about performing for a Fairfield crowd is that the audience wants to you succeed,” Higgins said.
Though the girls choose their own songs and create their own harmonies, they receive help from several adults, particularly Gottshall’s mother Zana, the group’s manager.
“My mom does a lot of coordinating, and it would be hard to do this without her,” Gottshall said.
The group members said they aren’t necessarily seeking public performances at the moment because they have more pressing concerns.
“We’re focusing on our studies, because it’s important to get through school first,” Pharasi said.
They aren’t sure if they’ll major in music after high school, but what they do know is that they will have fun performing between now and then.
“It’s great to know that we can only get better,” Higgins said.