About one year ago, I moved everything out of my Boston apartment and decided that I wanted to live on a cruise ship full-time. As a professional pianist and vocalist with a few cruise contracts under my belt, I was officially fed up with Boston’s dwindling music scene, rat race, traffic and winters and allured by the lifestyle, opportunity and adventures ship life had given me a taste of.

Living at sea is a unique lifestyle, almost impossible to explain to those in the outside world. I’ve heard it described as a continuation of high school, living in a big…

The story of two best friends and unemployed cruise ship workers living in a van during one of the most chaotic times in American history.

A few weeks after being sent home from our jobs working aboard luxury cruise ships, my best friend, Emily, and I were taking our daily government-sanctioned stroll through my neighborhood, contemplating what we wanted to do with our (what was originally supposed to be) two month hiatus from ship life. “That’s pretty cool”, I blurted, admiring the vintage Volkswagen in my neighbor’s yard — the hippie kind you only see in movies and Instagram. “Wait. How awesome would THAT be?!”, I mused when I noticed it’s “For Sale” sign. “To go see the most ICONIC places in this country —…

#MusicWithAPurpose is a series dedicated to continuing the conversation surrounding music education and expression, both pre and post COVID. Today’s interview features Philip Shoultz, Associate Conductor and Director of Learning and Engagement for VocalEssence — a 52 year old performing arts organization based in the Twin Cities. Shoultz discusses the power of community, music and creativity in times of crisis.


Pre-COVID, or the “BC Times”, as Philip Shoultz likes to call them, VocalEssence, like many performing arts organizations, was strongly rooted in live performance. Founded in 1969 by Philip Brunelle, VocalEssence has thrived on major music stages across the Twin Cities and in the international choral music scene, boasting an impressive track record of recordings, commissions, guest composer visits and accolades. Additionally, their community-based initiatives — aimed towards school-aged children, families with children, and even older adults, reach 20,000+ people each year.

Shoultz, VocalEssence’s Associate Conductor and Director of Learning and Engagement, grew up in Georgia, but moved to the…

#MusicWithAPurpose is a series dedicated to continuing the conversation surrounding music education and expression, both pre and post COVID. Today’s interview features Olivia Marques, a 22 year-old graduate of Bridgewater State University, where she studied theatre education, secondary education and musical theatre performance. She is starting her first year within the New Bedford public school district as a building-based substitute at Normandin Middle School.

Alissa: What made you want to get involved in theatre education? I know that you are a performer yourself. What was that process like for you, pursuing that dream?

Olivia: It was kind of a no brainer. My whole life, my parents always told me that I was singing before I could talk. So we all knew that I was going to go into the arts in some form or another. But I also grew up always loving education and being a student and wanting to one day be in the reverse role as the teacher. So going forward in…

Business meetings, classrooms, and concerts have all transitioned to Zoom. Now, beauty pageants are going online, too.

Definitely the only pageant I’ve ever competed in without shoes

Even if you know absolutely nothing about beauty pageants, you’re probably not surprised that this year’s Miss America competition, the 99th anniversary, was cancelled. So was every preceding state contest— except Montana. No pandemic was going to get in the way of crowning a new Miss Montana!

Everything about pageants is incredibly social. An audience huddles in a crowded auditorium to watch a group of women perform and compete on stage; the event concludes with the last two standing, huddled together and holding hands before one is announced the winner and spends the next year schmoozing and smiling at parades…

If I don’t care about your travels from 5 months ago, why am I suddenly going to care about your travels 5 months from now?

I am just as sick of uploading posts about my new song covers, past vacations and #AtHome life as you are looking at them. The secret is out; nobody is living their best life at the moment. We’ve realized we’re not fooling anyone. Well, maybe the Kardashians still are. But in a time where celebrities are pretty much pointless, the contentedness and opulence of the rich and famous amid a devestated world is far from…

In the words of my hero, Sir Elton John, “I think it’s going to be a LONG, long time”.

This is what May 8th, 2020 was supposed to look like: I wake up in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Even though I had a show the night before, I get up early so I can explore as much of this city as possible in the 48 hours we’re there. For breakfast, I have my go-to omelette. I’m two months into this contract now, so the chef knows my order by heart. In a case of complete serendipity, one of my best friends…

While the current pandemic may raise larger, existential questions about life and meaning, mental health professionals recommend holding off on any big moves until things have “cooled down”

Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

Being in isolation for the last several weeks, I’ve had a lot of time with myself to think; you know, to really hone in on all those insecurities, imperfections and shortcomings I’m usually able to sweep under a rug while distracted with the vicissitudes of every day, fast-paced life. In that process, some pretty erratic ideas ranging in extremeness and cringe-worthiness have popped into my brain including, but not limited to: volunteering with the PeaceCorps, enlisting in the military, applying for PhD programs, getting an office job, moving to a different city and DMing my high school boyfriend, who like…

Life in the Time of Coronavirus

The latest in our series about how this pandemic affects our lives, our loved ones, our work, and our way of life

Photo illustration. Image sources: David Sacks/Getty Images, 4x-image/Getty Images.

Life in the Time of Coronavirus is a new GEN series where we are interviewing people across the country who have had their lives upended or are experiencing the stress of the unknown.

Ordinarily, on the day a cruise ship embarks from the port, there’s an energetic buzz among crew members and passengers. But walking onboard this time around immediately felt eerie. It felt like the beginning of the end of an era. The ship was a ghost town; we set sail at less than half capacity.

I have spent almost all of the last year and a half living…

Another birthday is approaching. I’m another year older, arguably another year wiser and have endured a another year’s worth of accomplishments, mistakes and overpriced coffee.

Your early/mid twenties are a weird time. You have friends who still haven’t graduated college with no idea what they want to do, while others have a few advanced degrees hanging on their walls and are already few years deep in their careers. You have friends still living in their parents’ basements while others are planning their weddings and (gasp!) posting their sonograms on Facebook.

Needless to say, a lot changes in a very short…

Alissa Musto

Pianist. Songwriter. Music education advocate. Miss World America Massachusetts. IG: @alissamustomusic

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