Taos Charter School student, musician, and songwriter Emma Atkinson turns 10 years old in June.
Her father, Shane Atkinson, said this about his daughter, "She's got music in her blood … Her grandfather, Chris Ethridge played bass with Willie Nelson and was a founding member of The Flying Burrito Brothers … She's been singing since she was born, virtually non-stop."
Emma will be playing and singing a piece she composed for the piano titled "I Remember," a heartfelt song about her grandfather, in "Night of 1,000 Stars," the 13th annual showcase of talented Taos youth. Opening night is today (March 22), 7:30 p.m., at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. Additional performances are planned Friday and Saturday (March 23-24) at the same venue.
Atkinson said he and his wife Necia Ethridge support the event but are not the pushy stage parent types when it comes to their daughter's pursuit of music. They prefer to provide gentle encouragement for her to follow her dream. "Emma is following her heart," he said. "If she decides to play coffeehouses at 18 or be on the stage as long as she does what she loves … we do right now what we can to enhance this. We have a piano in the center of our family room, and Emma loves to practice."
About the song she will perform, Emma said she wanted to compose something "that is not really old-fashioned, and to sound more modern." Emma's lyrics and powerful chord choices to accompany them belie her young age.
The song has an anthemic quality to it, and her passionate delivery is about hope. Emma said she hopes the audience will "enjoy it, not hate it and that they will like the song."
Director and founder of the event, Cynthia Freeman-Valerio, said the night came about at a Taos-Parent-Teacher-Student Association meeting where she was asked to "brainstorm with parents and teens what we could do for our local youth to help them express themselves and have fun."
She said, "One of the boys suggested we sponsor a dance, but I told him, 'Honey, we are not cool enough to have a dance, but we are cool enough to have a talent show,' and 'Night of 1,000 Stars' was born! It all evolved in that moment."
She added that other enthusiastic parents and youth then got involved: "Hui Bau (sons, Ben and Nathan), Irene Córdova (daughters, Jacqueline and Jannelle) and Ann Hiller (daughter, Taylor)." She then tapped the talent of Andrea Usherwood, who was teaching the Taos High School drama program, to help get the show on its feet.
Valerio, who grew up in New York City, said she thought of the name for the event because she remembered the "Night of 100 Stars," a titularly similar variety show from the 1980s.
She said, "I wasn't consciously thinking about that NYC event. It just came as an inspiring set of words. I knew it had to have the word stars in it and the number 1,000 seemed big and worth striving towards, plus we didn't know how many artists we would have! In retrospect, it was an ambitious name that caught on and by now, in our 13th year, we are closer to having showcased 1,000 stars."
The audition process for the event starts months before the show. Valerio said a mixture of children who have performed before a live audience and those who are doing it for the first time show up.
She added, "There are many special moments when someone comes in to audition who has never performed before a live audience ... mixed with performers who have performed practically since they were born."
The selection criteria is based on a combination of material, talent and risk. "We are looking for performing artists who have chosen excellent material that showcases their true talents, risk-takers who are showing original work, singers, dancers, actors, poets who may be showing us famous and original works but do it in their own inimitable and improvisational style," she said. "We want authentic, energetic, enthusiastic, gifted performers with different levels of skills who touch our hearts and minds and elicit oh-my-gosh-that's-incredible feelings in our talent, judges and ultimately our audiences."
The judges at the audition are Taos teens who listen, watch and give feedback. Valerio said this selection process works because "having teen judges watch, listen and give positive feedback at auditions is extraordinary. The performers know they will not be judged again. They don't compete for prize money or getting a trophy. They win the joy of performing and sharing their gifts with their audiences."
According to Valerio all the proceeds from the event's ticket sales are funneled into programs for the future. She added, "tickets, ad sales in our programs and donations are our primary revenue sources. There is no charge to any youth to audition, rehearse, and perform in "Night of 1,000 Stars."
Artsoul, Inc., a registered nonprofit organization, was created in 2015. The organization is excited to be the official sponsor because the programming is so well aligned with its mission statement: "To create, produce, direct, promote and present collaborative, multi-cultural activities and projects that are therapeutic, theatrical and musical in nature."
Valerio said Taos audiences can expect to experience "Variety, excitement, laughter, validation, fun, love, and passion for the performing arts in youth and adults." She said that a nightly finale dedicated to the Parkland High School students and other youth who have been victimized and killed will be performed. "We invite the audience to join us in our finale song and thank everyone in advance for coming, she said. "Your support means the world to us! Come on out and fill the theater!"
Performances are at 7:30 p.m. today through Saturday, plus a 1 p.m. Saturday matinee. Tickets are $15, $10 for youth 18 and under. For information or reservations, call (575) 758-2052 or visit tcataos.org.