Name: Colette Young
Current City: New York, NY
Year Won: 2013
1. What led you to apply to the VSA International Young Soloists Competition?
I applied to the VSA International Young Soloists Competition because I was looking for more opportunities to perform, as well as opportunities to promote and advocate for individuals with learning disabilities. I had been inspired to do this type of work through my affiliation with the Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic Association (now Learning Ally). As a late-diagnosed dyslexic learner, I began using their listening textbooks in high school. I was then asked to be a spokesperson for the organization, where I advocated the power of listening to textbooks for students with different learning styles. Through this vehicle, I shared my experience as a student with learning disabilities who could succeed in academics and other areas by using different techniques.
Since I also had a great interest in music and the arts, I looked for similar associations focused on helping artists and musicians like me, and through my research discovered VSA. I had also heard of VSA through a previous VSA International Young Soloists Winner, with whom I took a few voice lessons: Laurie Rubin. Laurie is a vocalist who has built a career as a very successful opera singer, teacher, and enabler. She credits VSA with inspiring her musical and professional success.
2. What is one of your proudest accomplishments (personal or professional) since winning the competition?I earned my first Masters’ Degree in Biology from Columbia University, while continuing to work towards my second Masters’ Degree in Music. I am currently teaching chemistry in New York City at a school for students with learning disabilities, and I also teach voice at Columbia University’s Teachers’ College. I find it rewarding to see the enthusiasm and results of my teaching in my students, in addition to sharing with them my experiences as a person with learning differences.
This past year I was also thrilled to appear as a guest vocalist in a special concert with the Girls Choir of Harlem; the performance honored Metropolitan Opera soprano Dame Jesse Norman for her philanthropic work in New York.
3. What was your biggest takeaway from being a VSA International Young Soloists Winner?
My biggest “prize” as a winner was the combination of experience, confidence, and wonderful contacts I made through this marvelous organization. As a result of my debut at the Kennedy Center, I have been asked to perform at other events and to share my experiences as a performer and educator. I have loved meeting other performing artists and educators who have the same interests and goals in helping students and artists with disabilities cultivate and share their talents. I have kept in close contact with the other 2013 International Young Soloists Winners and VSA, and I love spreading the word about the organization.
4. Tell us something exciting you’ve been doing lately (performance, project, travels, job, etc.).
In addition to teaching chemistry at a high school for students with learning disabilities and teaching voice at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in New York, I am finishing my studies toward my second Masters’ degree (which I will receive in just a few months!). I have also had the opportunity to conduct a children’s choir, perform as a singer, cheerlead for Columbia, and start a cheerleading team at the high school where I teach. I am thrilled to work with children who have learning disabilities and to help provide them with unique opportunities in the arts!
Furthermore, I have been working as an academic life coach to a student who recently started his first year of community college. I enjoy helping him and watching him successfully transition into his new educational challenges, which he pursues with confidence and gusto! In addition, I continue to do concerts with my family in nursing homes and underprivileged communities. I look forward to the New Year and hope to do more with the amazing VSA organization!