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Thursday, 09 January 2014 16:06

Pell Lake teen chasing musical dreams

Written by  Edwin Scherzer
Genevieve Heyward, 14, plays an expanding array of musical instruments in addition to singing and writing her own songs. Genevieve Heyward, 14, plays an expanding array of musical instruments in addition to singing and writing her own songs. Terry Mayer

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY — At first glance, Genevieve Heyward looks like your average teenager; long hair with highlights, a few freckles thrown in, right hand wrapped around her smartphone, and aptly answering questions while texting.

When Genevieve curls that same hand around a microphone and begins to belt out a few lyrics, though, her audience quickly realizes she has no average voice.

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Others around her are taking notice as well, and as the Badger High School freshman begins to perform in more venues, she also is branching out and writing her own music, all at age 14.

First notes

Genevieve was introduced to music the way most kids are — in elementary school. A teacher recommended piano lessons and soon Genevieve would find her first musical mentor in Elaine Rudy. Rudy, a piano teacher of 30-plus years, recalls Genevieve showed early promise.

“I knew she had a gift quite early, I just didn’t know how far she would take it,” Rudy said.

Not only can Genevieve read music, she has the unique talent to play by ear as well. The combination is special, Rudy said.

“I always told Genevieve the ability to play by ear is a gift and I believe strongly when someone who plays by ear can also learn to read music, they become a much more well-rounded musician,” Rudy said.

Learning by reading music was not as exciting, Genevieve admitted.

“You know when you’re in third grade, piano is all scales and notes and I wanted to quit,” she said.

Fortunately, she stuck with piano and Rudy until transitioning to Rock Central (formerly School of Rock) in Williams Bay. The school teaches performance skills to music students of all ages. Genevieve started to play guitar, ukulele, and most recently banjo, further developing her talents.

She describes her musical style casually and graciously, as someone who has yet to realize her full potential, “I would say it’s coffee shop music, laid-back music on the guitar, with a lot of jazz influence, which comes from my dad,” she said.

Perfect harmony

While dad provided the basis for her love of musical giants  such as Etta James and Patsy Cline, Genevieve still prefers the top indie pop tunes of Bon Iver and the Civil Wars.

Her father is a great influence and groupie, she joked, but it’s mom Kim that’s Genevieve’s right-hand woman.

“My mom is super supportive. She books the gigs, helps me buy the equipment and taught me how to be careful with my voice,” Genevieve said.   

An early scare with vocal nodules was all it took for Genevieve’s mother to seek out treatment and put her daughter in contact with voice coaches and proper training.

Of course a mother’s role is to care for her children, but Kim also is the manager, photographer, public relations department and chauffeur for each and every show.

Kim doesn’t mind managing the juggling act dictated by Genevieve’s musical pursuits.

“I support her because this is something she loves to do,” Kim said.

Genevieve’s mom always will be her No. 1 fan, so the next logical step was to win over a few hundred or so more. Genevieve accomplished that hurdle in one of the toughest venues she has played in to date — middle school.

Luckily for Genevieve, she found a mentor in Lake Geneva Middle School guidance counselor Rob Ocker. Ocker had heard Genevieve sing during a sixth-grade field trip.

“I heard her sing at outdoor education when she performed for her cabin and her peers,” Ocker said. “The reaction was as if she was the next American Idol at camp.”

Ocker didn’t just stop as an appreciative listener; he encouraged Genevieve to continue to connect to others through her love of music. He arranged for her to sing the national anthem before boys basketball games, where “the crowd reaction was more than positive,” he said.

Genevieve also wowed the crowd at a Lake Geneva Middle School variety show, Ocker said.

“Staff and students did not know how to react as they were seeing something they haven’t seen before, music and talent with a beautiful heart in motion,” he said. “It was amazing.”

The future’s so bright

The accolades don’t stop with praise from middle school peers. Genevieve has won vocal/talent competitions at Burlington’s Chocolate Fest, Salem’s Pumpkin Days and was the opening act in September for recording artist Ellis Paul from Boston. In 2013 she had performances from Door County to the Park Stage at the Walworth County Fair.

This year appears to be ramping up as Genevieve is making plans to compete in Diva Quest (a high school girls’ vocal scholarship contest), perform multiple dates in Door County and hopes to return to the fair in some capacity. 

If all that sounds like work for Genevieve and her mom, it’s because they realize that’s the kind of drive it takes to be successful.

Genevieve did take a shot with NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” but the process just furthered her already down-to-earth outlook on life.

“The only thing I have with those shows is they own you,” she said. “I did get a front pass, and they (the audition producers) let me sing four or five songs,” Genevieve says, but not before No. 1 fan interjects, “And what did you get out of it?” Genevieve smiles and replies, “experience.”

The youngest of four siblings, Genevieve and her family spend most of their summers at her grandparents’ summer home in Door County. A chance meeting  introduced Genevieve to Wisconsin native and former Timbuk3 band member Mac McDonald. McDonald liked what he heard, and like so many others, wanted to hear more, but encouraged Genevieve to write her own tunes.

That brings Genevieve to the latest chapter in her musical journey — songwriting.

“One of (the songs) is called ‘Words Will Follow,’ which is just me playing the piano and singing; it’s actually a song about the writing process,” she said.

When asked if she could follow her dreams anywhere, and what they would look like, places like Julliard and concert halls are discussed.

However, Genevieve answers with the wisdom of someone years ahead of her.

“I want to be known, I want people to hear the music and say, ‘That’s Genevieve’s song,’ but I also just want to play music because people seem to like it, and that makes me happy.”

People in this conversation

  • Guest - Christine from Lake Geneva

    I've heard Genevieve sing and she is indeed a talented young lady! She belted out the Beatles "Oh Darling" at a venue I was attending and thrilled the crowd! Keep up the great singing! :)

  • Guest - Jolene K

    We have known Genevieve for many years. She has a great talent, but is really a neat kid. We are so proud of her and we are expecting an incredible future for her!

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