18-year old Lucas DeBard is feeling like the world is his oyster these days. That’s because the Lebanon, Ind. native became the 2015 winner of the Great American Songbook Youth Ambassador award at the Great American Songbook Competition Finals on Sat., July 25 at the Palladium in Carmel.
DeBard, a 2015 Lebanon High School graduate, will soon enter I.U. as a freshman in the Jacobs School of Music where he will major in music education with a minor in jazz studies. While in high school he was active in the music department as a member of Madrigals, Charisma Show Choir, musical casts, musical pit orchestras, Jazz Ensemble, Jazz Combo and marching band.
The other nine finalists against whom DeBard competed included Cate Hayman, junior at Tamalpais High School (Mill Valley, Calif.); Hannah Vogelsang, junior at Haslett High School (Haslett, Mich.); DeMar Jackson, senior at Eisenhower High School (Decatur, Ill.); Adam Kruschwitz, senior at Brighton High School (Rochester, N.Y.); Drew Mabusth, freshman at Dubuque Stephen Hempstead (Dubuque, Iowa); Deirdre Pedersen, sophomore at Westborough High School (Westborough, Mass.); Joshua Reinier, sophomore at the Nueva Upper School (San Francisco, Calif.); Madelyn Steurer, junior at Assumption High School (Jeffersonville, Ind.) and Katie Swaney, junior at Center Grove High School (Greenwood, Ind.)
The finals concert capped off a week of workshops and masterclasses in which 40 students from across the country participated in the 2015 Great American Songbook Academy. Representing 16 states, the high school students worked with mentors that included Michael Feinstein, Tony nominee and Broadway star Laura Osnes and Grammy winner Sylvia McNair. The mentors chose DeBard at the conclusion of the final performance.
As winner of the Youth Ambassador title, DeBard will have multiple performances with Feinstein around the country, sing the national anthem at an upcoming Indianapolis Colts game and perform in the 2016 Songbook Celebration at the Palladium next fall.
Runner up Cate Hayman was named Songbook Inspiration Award winner, and third place winner Hannah Vogelsang was named Songbook Celebration Award winner. Each will also receive an opportunity to perform with Michael Feinstein.
Feinstein is the founder of the Great American Songbook Foundation which sponsors the Songbook Academy. The mission of the Foundation is to inspire and educate by celebrating the Great American Songbook.
Recently, atombash.com spoke by phone with DeBard from his Lebanon home and inquired as to whether the dust had settled. DeBard, who teaches voice to kids at the Black Box Theatre and also works as a waiter at the Sugar Bowl restaurant in Lebanon, said, “I’m still in lessons and still going to work. It’s still hard to believe. Two years ago I made it to the Songbook Academy regional in Ann Arbor but didn’t go beyond. Last year I didn’t make it at all. Now this year I am the Songbook Ambassador. To work with Michael and perform on the Palladium stage had been my main goal but being named the winner this year is something I never dreamed of. It was just an amazing experience.”
During the finals concert DeBard sang “I’m Going to Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and a mash-up of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “I Have Dreamed.” No doubt charming the judges and certainly the delighted finals audience, DeBard sang lyrics in the “Letter” song which were updated to give the song a contemporary twist. They were “I’m gonna sit right down and tweet myself a twitter/and make believe it came from you/I’m gonna write words oh so small/you’ll hardly know they’re words at all/a lot of hashtags on the bottom/I’ll be glad I got em /I’m gonna tag your mom, your dad, your friends, and your brother/maybe add a few emojis too/I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter/and make believe it came from you.”
“I’ll See You in My Dreams,” which DeBard sang in Act 2, is very special to his family, according to DeBard, who said he dedicated it to his grandmother, Marilyn Lucas, whose parents, Audrey and Harold Law, were musicians (she played piano and he played trombone). They were members of a band called the “Swingsters” that performed in the Indianapolis area during the ‘40s and ‘50s. DeBard said that his grandmother told him that she would often accompany her parents on gigs and that the band always played the tune, which was their signature song, at the end of their shows. “During the entire week of the Academy the mentors suggested we relate our songs to something real. The whole time I was singing I was thinking about my family and my grandma. I think that’s why I could feel so emotional while singing that song.”
Regarding the Songbook Academy mentors—when Feinstein was contacted and asked about his impressions of DeBard, he said in an email that “Lucas showed a confidence in his performance that is unusual in a singer his age. He took command of the Palladium stage and had the sold out audience laughing one minute and crying the next. He has a beautiful voice and a real understanding of the Great American Songbook. Lucas will represent us well as the new Songbook Youth Ambassador.”
About Feinstein, DeBard said, “Not only is Michael Feinstein a great musician and singer, he was a pleasure to be around. Whoever he worked with or talked to got his undivided attention. He always had a smile on his face and was easy to talk with. During our time with him, he was encouraging to everybody. Clearly he is a man who loves music and he loved educating and listening to all of the students in the Academy.”
Mentor McNair, a senior lecturer in music at the Jacobs School of Music at I.U., said in an email that “Lucas was a clear stand-out this year. He sings with immaculate pitch, excellent diction, an ability to connect well with his audience and an obvious joy in what he’s doing. It’s a magic combination! I’m so pleased he’ll be coming to the Jacobs School of Music at IU this fall. He’s going to make some teacher look really good.”
When asked about his fellow Academy All Stars, DeBard said, “The day after finals we were all communicating on Facebook. I know I am going to run into almost all of them later on in life. It is going to really cool to see where they are and be connected again. When you spend that much time with people for a week you really get to know them. It didn’t feel like we had only known each other for a short time. It felt like we had been friends for a very long time. One of the greatest aspects of the Songbook Academy is that I got to spend a week with 39 of the most talented singers I’ve ever been with. So many friendships started that week and it couldn’t have been better.”
Looking back on the entire experience, DeBard said that, “The most important thing to me wasn’t the competition aspect of the Songbook Academy. It was the educational part. I took back something special that I will use my entire life. I got to work with Michael Feinstein, Laura Osnes and Sylvia McNair. That in itself to me is the priceless part of it. The thing that sets this competition from ‘American Idol’ or ‘America’s Got Talent’ or other shows like them, is that educational aspect. The Academy is more focused on teaching people about the Songbook and how to interpret these songs and how we can preserve this music. That is what really drew me to this competition. It wasn’t the cool things I will be doing this coming year. I am really appreciative of those opportunities but the most important part to me are all these educational experiences I have had.”
Summing up what he hopes the Songbook Academy experience will lead to, DeBard said, “My goal is to be a performer and a teacher. I love both equally. My ideal career would be performing and teaching music from my favorite era. The Songbook is something that means so much to me that I want to make a career out of it. The majority of the most influential people in my life have been either teachers or performers. I would like to share experiences that I have had and will have in the future with people who love Songbook music as much as I do. The Songbook Foundation has changed my life and I am honored and proud to be a part of it.”
For information about the Great American Songbook Foundation visit http://www.thecenterfortheperformingarts.org/Great-American-Songbook-Ini…