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Last-minute mentor helps young vocalist sing — and sail — among the best

by Alisa Fox, ’15

“She connects to the audience from the first musical phrase, exudes natural jazz expression, and has a ‘wow factor’ like no other,” states Bruce Johnstone, director of Curricular Jazz at Fredonia’s School of Music. “She” is Kristine Hsia (pronounced, SEE-yah), a Fredonian whom he met only at the very end of her undergraduate career — but they both are very glad that they did.

Ms. Hsia, ’10, has been singing for as long as she can remember. Whether she was belting out her favorite Disney movies as a child or joining with her community church congregation, her voice was her definite instrument of choice. Many decisions allowed her musical journey to unfold, but the guidance and opportunities at Fredonia opened the biggest doors to her future. Currently, Hsia is a Musician 1st Class and lead vocalist in the premier jazz ensemble of the United States Navy Band, the Commodores.


Kristine Hsia, ‘10, performs with the U.S. Navy Band Commodores at a November 2014
concert in Butler, Pa., with special guest of honor Chief of Naval Operations Adm.
Jonathan Greenert in attendance. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication
Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released).


Growing up in the Long Island hamlet of Holbrook, Kristine first joined chorus in elementary school within the Sachem School District. Throughout her youth, she performed in numerous concerts, musical productions and New York State School Music Association (NYSSMA) solo and ensemble festivals. She first heard about Fredonia’s School of Music from her favorite high school teacher, Michael Boyle, who studied theatre at Fredonia. As soon as she visited the campus, she immediately realized why Mr. Boyle felt so fondly about the school.

“It was a safe, yet challenging environment to hone my craft and really come into my own,” she recalls.

In 2010, Kristine graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. During her undergraduate career, she performed in various on-campus productions such as, The Rocky Horror Show and Kiss Me, Kate. Other starring roles included student-run productions with the Performing Arts Company, Fredonia Dance Ensemble and Orchesis dance productions, and the Department of Theatre and Dance’s annual One-Act Festival.

Despite all of her activities and accomplishments, Kristine’s first
encounter with Mr. Johnstone wasn’t until her Commencement Eve Pops audition in the spring of 2010. Even though the audition took place just weeks before she would walk across the Steele Hall Arena stage to receive her diploma, it would prove to be one of her most crucial meetings.

The last of her many mentors at Fredonia, Johnstone has helped guide her on the musical journey of a lifetime. A one-time band member of legendary jazz trumpeter Maynard Ferguson, Johnstone performed with the U.S. Navy Band as a guest saxophonist in 2007. When Kristine heard about his rewarding experience — and that the band was auditioning for vocalists — she made the decision to audition and enlist.

“Joining the U.S. Navy was a big decision, but I can honestly say it was also the best choice I ever made,” Kristine declares proudly.

Riding elephants in Thailand, eating dim sum in Hong Kong and climbing Mount Fuji on the Japanese island of Honshu are just a few highlights of her international adventures. Before her appointment to the Commodores, she was the lead vocalist of the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet Band. She was stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, and had the opportunity to perform across the globe. As a world traveler and musician, she connected with diverse audiences by learning at least one song per country in its native tongue — embodying Fredonia’s mission of creating “skilled, connected, creative and responsible global citizens and professionals” in the process.

According to Johnstone, Kristine’s “incredible memory for learning songs and establishing a personal connection with the audience” has been the key to establishing her career. To prepare for performances, she turns to the techniques acquired at Fredonia. She still uses many of the same warm-ups she was taught during vocal coaching by voice professors Kyoung Cho and Shinobu Takagi. She also approaches them as if she’s telling a story, approaching it “almost as a musical monologue or soliloquy,” she explains, just as she was taught during her theatrical training on campus.

Today, Kristine is stationed in Washington, D.C. Her responsibilities include developing and performing a vast repertoire of jazz standards and big band classics. Her day-to-day activities include rehearsals, performances, concerts and ceremonies. A few of her favorite numbers include, “A Foggy Day,” by George Gershwin, Toni Fisher’s “The Big Hurt,” and “Day In, Day Out,” by Rube Bloom and Johnny Mercer. In addition, every year The Commodores go on a three-week national tour to share American music with other parts of the country and celebrate jazz — one of the nation’s biggest contributions to music.

Today, as Johnstone collaborates with his current students in his Mason Hall office, he reflects on the musical growth and success he’s witnessed and helped others, like Hsia, achieve at Fredonia.
His ultimate goal?

“I simply want to see students employed and enjoying what they are doing,” he says. Kristine Hsia is surely doing that.

Kristine Hsia, ‘10, performs with the U.S. Navy Band Commodores at a November 2014 concert in Butler, Pa., with special guest of honor Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert in attendance. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Peter D. Lawlor/Released).

Hsia, performing in Kiss Me, Kate, in the spring of 2010 during her senior year at Fredonia. (Photo courtesy of Fredonia Department of Theatre and Dance/Todd Proffitt.)


posted @ Thursday, January 22, 2015 12:47 PM by Pamala Colon

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