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Published: Monday, 1/6/2014 - Updated: 6 months ago

Notre Dame junior sets sights on Broadway stage

Mezzo soprano began performing at age 6

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Notre Dame Academy junior April Varner sings the National Anthem during the first City Council meeting of the year on Thursday at One Government Center. Notre Dame Academy junior April Varner sings the National Anthem during the first City Council meeting of the year on Thursday at One Government Center.
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April Varner is chasing a dream to Broadway, and she’s making some impressive stops along the way.

From her first big talent show at the Ohio State Fair at age 6, the Notre Dame Academy junior performed at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville last fall and took the stage at New York's famed Carnegie Hall on Dec. 22 to sing “I Dreamed A Dream” from Les Miserables as part of the American Protégé International Music Talent competition.

In between, she’s performed in school musicals at Notre Dame and St. Francis de Sales High School, in her church choir at Christ the King parish in West Toledo, and at the Erie Street Market Idol Competition. Last Thursday, she belted out the National Anthem at One Government Center for the inaugural Toledo City Council meeting.

The 16-year-old mezzo soprano said she tries to make every performance count.

“I always tell myself, you never know who’s in the audience, so give it your all every time,” she said.

Amy Johns, Notre Dame's choir director, said April has the ambition, drive, and talents to go far.

“She is what I would call the whole package in that she has a great voice. She can sing a variety of styles very well. She’s a great piano player,” Mrs. Johns said. “She sings jazz and pop and Broadway, and that breadth and depth is unusual.”

The only child of Brett and Diane Varner, April said she’s loved to sing and dance for as far back as she can remember.

Her mother recalled taking her daughter to church when she was “3 or 4” and watching her focus in on the cantor.

“She hit me on the arm and said, ‘I want to do that,’” her mother said.

April Varner, in the role of  Fantine, sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ during Act I of St. Francis de Sales High School’s performance of  ‘Les Misérables’ in May at Lourdes University in Sylvania. April Varner, in the role of Fantine, sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ during Act I of St. Francis de Sales High School’s performance of ‘Les Misérables’ in May at Lourdes University in Sylvania.
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It wasn’t long before April was singing songs from Disney movies, crooning in the bathtub, learning to play the piano with her grandmother, and basically convincing her parents she was pretty serious about what she wanted to do in life.

When April was 8, Mrs. Varner contacted Stephen Hodge, director of choral activities at the University of Toledo, who initially told them he didn’t take young children on as students. When she persisted, he agreed to listen to April sing and promptly made an exemption to his no-children rule.

“She was really good, and she really came across as very savvy for her age,” Mr. Hodge said. “She had really good musicianship. I asked about her grades and how she was doing in school. That kind of indicated she was a precocious student, which indeed she was.”

For the last 1½ years, April has taken private vocal lessons from Paulita Fernandez, who said April is exceptional in that she “fits very well in the middle of what is really popular right now.”

“Her voice is not strictly classical but not strictly Broadway, and that is exactly what the market is looking for today,” Ms. Hernandez said.

April’s once-a-week vocal lesson is part of a tightly scheduled week: piano lessons once a week, dance lessons twice a week, and dance practice with the school dance team three times a week. At Notre Dame, she’s also a member of the honors choir, the a cappella ensemble, Key of She, and the speech team.

April said it’s all hard work, but she knows that’s required to reach her goals of attending college at the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music and, one day, performing on a Broadway stage.

“I’ve just always loved performing — just the rush associated with it and seeing people’s faces light up when they hear you sing,” April said.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at: jfeehan@theblade.com or 419-213-2134.



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