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CIVIC MUSIC MKE honors two MHSA singers as Young Artist scholarship winners

Jae Carter and Lex V. Crump, students at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, won CIVIC MUSIC MKE's high school competition for vocalists.Some songs demand more of their singers. Consider:  

  • A song in German written by Richard Strauss in 1885 that’s an outpouring of longing. 

  • A Langston Hughes poem set to music that reveals a hidden sadness.  

  • An operatic aria in Italian by Handel that mines the pain of separation. 

  • A 1905 song ultimately about human connection, in a brisk delivery that also tests a singer’s range. 

These four works that make emotional and technical demands of their singers were worth the effort for two students from Milwaukee High School of the Arts.  

Lex V. Crump, a junior and a mezzo soprano, and Jae Carter, a senior and a tenor, were named the Young Artist Scholarship winners for voice at the annual CIVIC MUSIC MKE competition for high school students. The competition is open to vocalists and instrumentalists in grades 10 to 12 who live in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, and Racine counties.  

Lex and Jae were among a dozen vocalists auditioning in late January for CIVIC MUSIC’s high school showcase recital. Both were awarded $250 to participate in the recital, and all vocalists received a mini master class from the judges after auditioning. 

Ten musicians were invited to perform at the recital, which was held before an audience of 120 people on February 10 at the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. There, Lex and Jae were named the scholarship winners for voice. Lex was awarded an additional $500, and Jae was awarded an additional $250. Two instrumentalists also received scholarships. 

“Their performances brought forth their exciting voices and their deep understanding of the art of interpretation and storytelling that true artists consistently display,” Raymond Roberts, choral director at MHSA, said of Jae and Lex. “They represented themselves, their families, MHSA, and MPS remarkably.” 

Lex sang “Dove Sei Amato Bene?” from the opera “Rodelinda,” written in 1725. “I really love that one because the words are so beautiful, and it showcases a lot of my range,” Lex said.  

“I love singing opera because, I think, it’s all relatively new to me,” she added. “I never thought I would sing opera,” never expecting to like it or be good at it. “I enjoy that the sound is different — more unique,” Lex said. 

Her selection in English, “Love’s Philosophy,” is a Percy Bysshe Shelly poem set to music by British composer Roger Quilter. Roberts, who was the pianist for Lex and Jae at the audition and recital, described the song as having “a very bright tempo and large, sweeping intervals into the upper register.”  

Lex said she found “Love’s Philosophy” the more intimidating of her two selections: an outpouring of words, sung quickly, with some of the notes quite high. “I’ve really grown to love the high A’s. That’s my money note at this point,” she said. 

Roberts described Lex's voice as “vibrant and pure with ample range and a beautiful warm tone throughout all registers.” 

  Performing “Zueignung,” by Richard Strauss — known as “Devotion” in English — was familiar territory for Jae, but territory that Jae wanted to know better.  

Jae first sang it for the Wisconsin School Music Association last year. “How am I going to sing this hard song with a high A?” she wondered. Jae said, “I was my own worst critic” on that first pass at “Zueignung.” She didn’t know the translation as well back then and didn’t have time to put herself into it. “This year, I really developed my technique… I really wanted to show my devotion to it.” 

“I just love the message. It’s a very beautiful song,” Jae said. 

Roberts noted that “ ‘Zueignung’ features a dramatic climax on A4, High A, which suits Jae's extraordinary 'ringing' tenor tone.” 

Jae came to see opera’s beauty after being unfamiliar at first with the tone and technique. “I’ve really grown to love opera and the way it sounds, and the technique of it. It really has a special place in my heart,” Jae said.  

Jae felt drawn to “Minstrel Man,” the Langston Hughes poem on the unseen pain felt by an entertainer, which was set to music by Margaret Bonds in 1959 for her “Dream Portraits” song cycle. Jae found the work heartfelt and touching; the performance of it that he heard was sung with great passion. 

“When Mr. Roberts offered it to me, I was like, yes, I’ll do it right now,” Jae said. “I want to sing with that much passion and that much heart.”  

  Both Jae and Lex say their education at MHSA has been valuable to their growth as vocalists. 

“I started studying at a more intense level, and it made me more passionate than I already was” about singing, said Lex, who began voice lessons at age 9. 

  Jae, who had been singing in a gospel choir at church, was intrigued by MHSA after hearing about it from a friend who went to school there. “I heard Mr. Roberts was an amazing teacher, and I had to see it for myself,” said Jae, who is in Advanced Chorus, Vocal Jazz Ensemble, and Opera Workshop, and is a teacher’s assistant for Intermediate Choir. 

Jae, who vocalizes around the house to relax, has added jazz to her R&B favorites to sing, after being exposed to jazz at MHSA and “seeing the beautiful people make beautiful sounds. I’m really gravitating toward it,” Jae said. 

 At MHSA, Lex said, “We get such a cross-training experience” — jazz, pop, musical theater, and more. Lex is in Advanced Chorus, Opera Workshop, and Vocal Jazz Ensemble.  

“In any creative aspect, an ensemble is so important,” Lex said. “Coming into school and getting to sing with people I love is really valuable to me.” 

MHSA, she said, takes into account a singer’s tone — a singer’s distinctive vocal quality — “more so than other schools might.” And, Lex said, “I’m 17 and relearning how to breathe for singing.” 

Jae wants to continue studying music after graduating in the spring, and Lex, too, hopes to major in vocal performance after she graduates. “I just want to sing for the rest of my life,” Lex said.  

CIVIC MUSIC MKE, in its 105th season, was founded in 1918 by the dean of Marquette University’s College of Music. The organization in 1923 secured high school credits for MPS music students and in 1926 presented its first high school awards to graduating MPS seniors. The organization expanded the awards to all public high school students in Milwaukee County in 1941 and later added the rest of the five-county area. 

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