Inside a MegaBus en route to Boston, Rujing "Stacy" Huang '11 works diligently on her laptop to complete an assignment. Before she competes in the biggest singing competition of her life, a 20-page paper must take center stage. She also finds time to stay connected, saying hello to her voice teacher on Facebook and her parents via Skype.
Such is the life of a rising music star completing a liberal arts education.
Huang is among 16 finalists in the 2009 Kei Wang Zheng Ba, the largest Asian singing contest held annually in North America. She will sing at the United States championship Nov. 8 in Boston, where she will perform a folk song she wrote last month.
The top contestants will receive recording contracts from Linfair Records, an affiliate of Universal Music.
Huang's road to the competition began with a five-week summer performance workshop at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she worked closely with Mark Simos, assistant professor of songwriting. Her trip to the workshop was made possible by the Nolt Music Award, a grant given by the Franklin & Marshall Department of Music to enable students to undertake musically enriching projects. The award is funded by a grant from Joseph '59 and Marianne Nolt.
Huang arrived at F&M with a passion for music and the liberal arts, a combination that would have been difficult to access in China.
"A lot of people in China think you apply to college in the U.S. for economics, to make money," says Huang, who notes that F&M is well known in China. "But I wanted to experience the liberal arts and also do what I enjoyed, which is music."
A singer since kindergarten—when she represented her city and province in children's competitions—Huang was eager to tap the College's resources when she arrived in Lancaster. She stopped by the office of Gwynne Geyer, artist in residence in music, during her first year.
"I asked her why she wanted to take voice lessons, and she said she wanted to change the pop scene in China," Geyer says. "At first, I didn't accept her. Then she wrote me a passionate email at 2 a.m., asking me to take her on, that she came here for a liberal arts education. She insisted and persisted. She is the only pop singer I have agreed to teach."
Huang began to study under Geyer, who is amazed by her student's ability to thrive under any circumstance. "She can spin 10 plates at one time," Geyer says. "She gets in 20 minutes what takes others several lessons to understand."
Matthew Butterfield, assistant professor of music, has also seen Huang develop as a student and performer. "It's been exciting to watch her grow," he says. "She's not just a performer, but an extraordinary student. Initially she was fairly timid, but you could see her gain confidence at Berklee."
Huang gained experience in the music industry last spring during an internship with The Sugar Tank, an independent music studio in Lancaster. "It gave me a chance to see how the music business actually works," she says. "It's good to work in a small studio. At Universal or Warner, I would have done photocopying. Here I actually got to work with every single detail."
The internship steered Huang toward a joint major in music and business, organizations & society. "My parents loved the idea, which made me feel great," she says, noting that her parents initially encouraged her to study business.
As she prepares for her latest trip to Boston, Huang looks forward to working with John Yuan, one of the judges in the competition. A famous music producer and songwriter in China, Yuan will provide direct critiques and work with contestants in a workshop following the competition.
"I don't see myself as a star," Huang says. "I prefer singing in coffee shops. On the big stage, you create distance between the artist and the audience. But I don't care—I love to sing."