It's not everyday someone sets their sights on becoming an opera star, but with her love of singing it's a natural choice for Missouri Valley-native Rebecca McLaughlin.
She is a senior performance major at Buena Vista University.
Her love of music performance started in the bathtub . "I would give pretend concerts to my pretend audience when I was a kid," she said.
She remembers once, when she was three, having to have surgery. In her hospital room she had a stuffed lion and a 10-key toy piano.
"I was extremely upset that the stupid lion wouldn't play the piano with me," McLaughlin said. "Don't ask me how I remember that one, I think music has always been in my blood."
Her first solo was for her first grade Christmas concert, filling in for a girl who got sick. She sang the intro to Rudolf the Rednose Reindeer.
Tomorrow, the public will be able to hear her perform as a featured soloist in the Cherokee Symphony Young Artist Concert. Others performing include Miriam Freeman, Emily Bodiford and Nathaniel Inglis-Steinfeld, all area natives. The concert begins at 4 p.m.
Following McLaughlin's graduation this spring, she will continue study at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. She is pursuing a masters in vocal performance and opera.
McLaughlin has constantly been involved in music both in and out of school. As she got older, she would sing for her church, and became the cantor or song leader her freshman year in high school. In high school, she made the Opus Honor Choir and was a two-year All Stater.
She has continued making music at BVU, with solos in numerous concerts and a recital every spring. She is planning another one for May. The biggest works she has performed are the Haydn Mass Soprano Soloist, Mabel in the musical "Pirates in Penzance," and as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls. She has soloed in several Messiah pieces as well.
Her late grandmother, Clara Hausman, was an influence for McLaughlin. Her grandmother, who grew up and lived for many years in Storm Lake, attended BVU after the death of her husband, Maurice McLaughlin. After finishing her degree, she taught in Missouri Valley and remarried. While McLaughlin's grandmother loved music, she never had thoughts of making it a profession.
"Somehow God blessed me with the talent and the determination she had," McLaughlin said.
She feels her grandmother will be proud of her decision to pursue music, "even though she always said to do the practical thing and find something dependable," McLaughlin said.
"I think she'll be proud if I do make it in music, which can be a very unsteady career at times," she said.
Music is a passion, she said. "As Dr. (Ed) Lanning would say, 'It's the fire in your belly that makes you do what you love.'" McLaughlin said. Lanning recently retired from BVU as a music professor.
She has been rehearsing with the Cherokee Symphony regularly to prepare for Sunday's concert. This is her first time performing with the area symphony, as well as McLaughlin's first time singing all alone with such a group.
"Usually I have a couple of lines here and there and then the choir comes in or vice versa," she said. "Everything depends on me for this. It's kind of nerve racking, being with a totally new director and symphony."
It's something she feels she can handle though with the experience she has gathered from college.
"Because BVU is rather small I've had so many opportunities for performing solos, much more than if I were at a larger school," she said. "Now going to UMKC I will probably have more performances under my belt, but I will lack in some things like technique."
There were a few indecisive years as McLaughlin started at BVU. She first started at BVU as a management major, then she decided to go for arts management. But after talking with a former professor, she finally decided to go all the way as a performance major.
Her joy of music and her love of performance is something McLaughlin wants to share.
"Opera is probably the most challenging area of vocal performance for me personally," she said. "Opera is also the most appreciated by its fans."
In a world of overly-glamorized pop stars and multi-million dollar singing contracts, McLaughlin feels her chosen medium is more about the execution then the appearance.
"The audience comes because of the talent, not to hear you lip sync," she said. "I'd like to conquer every type of music from opera to pop, but I don't think my voice could take it."
While she has her eyes on being a touring performer, McLaughlin said she will settle on teaching at the college level if the performance life does not pan out.
She is a conducting assistant for the BVU choir and has taught voice lessons. "I know I would enjoy my life if I weren't able to perform," she said.
Currently she's the choir director at the Odebolt United Methodist Church, for both the adult and children's choirs.
And McLaughlin has plenty of influences that have inspired her to go this far, including Kathleen Battle - one of McLaughlin's favorite classical sopranos.
"Through her mistakes, I have learned that you can't let your ego affect your job," she said.
Also, retried BVU music professor Dr. Ed Lanning has helped her out. "He has been very influential and supportive," she said. "He taught me that to make it in the business, I need to have thick skin and sharp elbows."
There's another influence, a bit more embarrassing for an opera star to be, but that doesn't stop McLaughlin from listing Mariah Carey on her list. "She had a big impact on me during my high school years," she said. "As corny as her songs are, she always had this incredible range which has inspired me to work to have a larger range than normal."
The Young Artist Concert
The Cherokee Symphony hosts its Young Artist Concert tomorrow at 4 p.m., featuring four student soloists chosen by audition. They are Miriam Freeman, Rebecca McLaughlin, Nathaniel Inglis-Steinfeld and Emily Bodiford.
Freeman, formerly of Storm Lake, is a freshman at Westside High School in Omaha. She will perform the Concerto in g minor by Felix Mendelssohn on piano.
McLaughlin will sing selections by Mozart and Handel.
Bodiford, a sophomore at Briar Cliff University, will perform selections by Puccini and J. Strauss. She attended Kingsley-Pierson High School.
Inglis-Steinfeld, a senior at Storm Lake High School, will play Kol Nidrei, a cello piece by Max Bruch. He has been playing the cello for nine years. Lee Thorson is his current teacher. Inglis-Steinfeld performed with the Cherokee Symphony as a Young Artist two years ago and is currently the principle cellist for symphony.