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.

Image for post
Image for post

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 — but while they’re absolutely EMPTY.” Emily looked at me like I was crazy. “And gas will never be this cheap again.” We immediately inquired. …

#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.

Image for post
Image for post
PHOTO CREDIT LAURA ALPIZAR

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 Twin Cities to pursue his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He was already familiar with VocalEssence’s notable reputation when they reached out to him for what was supposed to be a temporary position. Now, celebrating five years with VocalEssence as a full-time staff member, Shoultz leads the learning and engagement programs and conducts the professional singers, the volunteer chorus of 120 adults and the 50-student four year-old youth choir, Singers of This Age — SOTA, for short. Comprised of students from 20 different Twin Cities high schools, Singers of This Age provides students with everything from transportation to meals to uniforms, and connects them with amazing artists so that they can see that the choral arts are “a little bit more than people think of”, Shoultz explains. “Minnesota has this great choral tradition and we celebrate that. And we like to expand and build on that by showing that there’s so much more music and so many other genres and styles that can be incorporated into groups singing.” …

#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.

Image for post
Image for post

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 higher education and to college, it was kind of a no brainer for me to put the two together.
I really didn’t start loving theater itself until I was about 16 or 17 when I became heavily involved in my high school drama club and I got my first lead role and I realized that it was something that I wanted to do for the rest of my life and that if I could do it for the rest of my life, I would be perfectly happy. It would never feel like a job. It would just feel like I was doing my thing every day, which was such a dream.
It was something that I really went after. I started my higher education journey at Westfield State University for a year as a performance major and realized that I wasn’t getting enough of the theater education side of things, wanting to be a true theatre educator. So I transferred to Bridgewater State University. I took up their theater education program and their secondary education program so I would graduate a licensed teacher in the state of Massachusetts. And it was the most incredible journey of my entire life.
During the day, I was in class as a theater education student, learning to be a theater teacher. And then at night, I was heavily involved in the theater program at Bridgewater State University. During my three years there, I participated in every show, but two. I did all of it. I was a performer. I was a designer. I was on the tech crew. I was a set builder. I did it all and it was all part of my degree program. It was all a requirement for me to graduate. So I really got to see every single side of theater and every single side of this art form that I was going to pursue. And it was just incredible. …

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

Image for post
Image for post
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, galas, charity events, sports games, schools, and other incredibly crowded places. …

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?

Image for post
Image for post

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 from entertaining. …

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

Image for post
Image for post

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 from work was assigned the same contract, which is a life-saver when you’re on the road away from your friends and family for so much of the year. I don’t have any shows tonight, so we’re going to see the Russian ballet; we’ve been planning this night since mid-February. In just a couple weeks, my boyfriend will disembark the ship he is working on and we’ll finally get to reunite after 10 weeks apart. We’re both accustomed to life on the road. My birthday is May 31st. I’ll sign off from work the day before in Rotterdam and a group of friends from back home will join me in Amsterdam where we’ll be dumb American tourists for a week, and rely on my Dutch-speaking friends to get around. I thought about taking the rest of the summer off, but I definitely changed my mind by now. …

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”

Image for post
Image for post
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 dozens of others from my personal and professional past, added me on LinkedIn this week. WTF. …

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

Image for post
Image for post
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 and working aboard luxury cruise ships. I am a pianist and vocalist, and on ships, I perform shows to entertain our guests at sea. It’s not uncommon to see our travel itineraries intersect with regions as they weather major disasters: the worst wildfire season in Alaska to date, historic swells and 191 mph winds in Hawaii, devastating bushfires that scorched New South Wales, or a fatal volcano eruption in New Zealand. Though we could often watch these events unfold just miles away, we were always relatively immune in our floating tin can. …

Image for post
Image for post

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 period of time. Although I was 20 only a few years ago, at times it feels like a lifetime away. As I reflect on my 25 years on this planet and everything I’ve learned in the past year, here are 20 things I wish someone had told me on my 20th birthday. …

Image for post
Image for post

Last Thursday, the 99th Miss America was crowned at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT. Congrats, Miss Virginia! Now, cue the comment section. Cue the social justice warriors of Twitter declaring pageants to be sexist, antiquated, demeaning and the root of all gender inequality in America (ok, maybe the last one is a bit of a stretch). And because everything on the internet leads back to Donald Trump, cue the broken record regurgitating the myth that Miss America is just another item on the President’s list of human rights violations. Maybe I should clarify for the people in the back; Donald Trump has never had ANYTHING to do with Miss America. Miss America has NOTHING to do with Donald Trump. Fake news. …

About

Alissa Musto

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

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store