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9th Annual Talent Show



Mark Ma

Benjamin Buck


Ace and Damarr

Justin & Franklin

Monica Roche

The eighth annual Monson Arts Council talent show, Western Mass Performs, danced around the snowflakes this past Saturday night. With cleanup from the last storm still not complete, and with Sundayís storm looming, the show went on splendidly in a blessed window of calm. An enthusiastic audience was regaled by 24 impressive acts, waiting patiently through some early sound difficulties, and thoroughly enjoying themselves.

The show is a fundraiser by the Monson Arts Council scholarship committee, with proceeds going to fund an annual scholarship award to a Monson high school senior.

The contingent of performers was truly a sampling of the Connecticut valley, with two acts each from Westfield and Easthampton, an act from Bement school in Deerfield, and another up from Manchester Connecticut. There was a satisfying balance of dancers, instrumentalists and vocalists, with many more acts deserving recognition than there were awards to give.

The first prize of $700 went to Oriana Siphanoum of Springfield, with a contemporary dance presentation entitled "Body Love", choreographed by Jennifer Dubilo of Artistic Dance Conservatory in East Longmeadow where Oriana is a student. The routine was a stunning balance of passion and elegance, as moving as it was polished.

Second prize of $200 went to a duo from Springfield, Horace "Ace" Smikle and Damarr Smith, with Ace on the keyboard and damarr doing the vocals. Their offering was John Legendís "All of Me", and the chemistry between the two was evident throughout. A wonderful touch was added when Damarrís two young children broke free of their mother and ran to the foot of the stage shouting for "Daddy!" Damarr never missed a beat.

The third prize winner of $100 was an incredible young pianist in the classical mould, Mark Ma, a Chinese national studying at Bement School in Deerfield. Used to practicing on the grand pianos at Bement, he had never before played on a keyboard, and lamented that the audience never heard the fullness of his music. No one but the performer could have found anything lacking in his fluid rendition of a Chopin Fantasy.

In addition to the three cash prizes, the judges awarded three "honorable mentions" to other acts fully deserving of recognition; these are in no particular order. One was given to another piano/vocalist duo, Justin Scott and Franklin Nichols. In addition to performing together, Justin was the guide for his blind accompanist throughout the evening. They delighted the audience with "Mr. Cellophane" from "Chicago". Another honorable mention was given to a regular presence in our show, Benjamin Buck of Longmeadow, who accompanied himself on the keyboard for his rendition of "Seven Years". The third went to one of many impressive female vocalists, and also a returning performer, Monica Roche of Palmer. Her rendition of "Stone Cold" by Demi Lovato was a wonderful vehicle for her powerful voice and impressive dynamic range.

2015 Talent Show a Feast of Voices

2015 Winners
In alphabetical order, click to magnify

All Winners

Benjamin Buck

Christina Colon

Callie Damouras

Damouras Berenson Fuhrman

Ugochukwa Iyeh

Jasmine Scott

The eighth annual Monson Arts Council talent show, Western Mass Performs, was held on Saturday night, March 21, before an enthusiastic crowd. For the first time in three years, the show was held on its scheduled date and time, without interference from the weather.

Though there was a strong contingent of dance performers and a range of other acts, in the eyes and ears of the judges it was clearly the year of the voice. The three cash prizes each went to a vocalist, three very impressive and very different voices, each drawing on its own particular strength.

The first prize of $1000 went to Christina Colon of Wilbraham, a 16 year old who is clearly on the cusp of an exciting professional career. Her rich and powerful voice, coupled with her own piano accompaniment, could have filled the large auditorium without amplification, had she chosen to. She gave a wonderful rendition of "It's a Man's World" by James Brown. Peter Barnett, president of the Monson Arts Council and organizer of the talent show, said, "This is one of those 'I knew her when' moments. Keep your eyes on Christina! She is so impressive that we have asked her NOT to compete next year, but rather toreturn as a guest artist and inspiration." Second prize of $500 went to another singer with a voice that was also powerful, but purer and less gritty. Callie Damouras of Belchertown offered up a rendition of "Porgi Amor", an aria from Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro", bringing the audience into a very different world. The aria, a combination of beauty and anguish, was sung with a lovely combination of feeling and restraint.

The third prize winner of $250 was Ugochukwa Iyeh, a native of Nigeria currently residing in Springfield whose profession is medicine but whose passion is singing. This passion is very much on his sleeve as he puts his entire heart into his soaring tenor. His rendition of "I have nothing" gave perfect scope to his intense and heartrending style.

In addition to the three cash awards, the judges awarded three honorable mention prizes to some very deserving performers. Ten year old Benjamin Buck of Longmeadow gave the audience an old-fashioned dance hall or Cabaret performance of "Chattanooga Choochoo", reminiscent of the early 20th century. A second honorable mention went to a dance trio which include another Damouras sister, Abby, who joined McKenzie Berenson and Ashley Fuhrman in a dance based on "My Sister's Keeper", choreographed by their instructor Mandy Goudreau, also of Belchertown. Lastly, yet another vocalist was recognized, Jasmine Scott of Holyoke, who accompanied herself on the guitar in a rendition of "Who Knew?, was an inspiration for all of us who struggle to get in front of a crowd and put ourselves into the limelight.

Peter Barnett, in his final comments to audience, looked ahead to a future filled with change for the talent show, as it completes its last year at Granite Valley middle school and looks forward to a return to a reopened Memorial Hall.

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