OAKLAND — There are many more aspiring singers than there are singing jobs, which leads schoolteachers to gently remind starry-eyed students to have a backup career plan.
But sometimes a student’s talent and drive are so evident that instructors instead do their best to catapult them on toward fame, or at least a good chance at a job in the singing profession.
Darby Martin, a 17-year-old senior at Oakland’s Messalonskee High School who will unveil her talent to the community during a recital Saturday evening, is one of those exceptional students. More than 200 students graduate from the school each year, but Pam Rhein, a chorus teacher and vocal coach, said a girl like Martin only comes along once in a great while.
In the Regional School Unit 18 district, the students with drive and musical talent eventually earn their way to ever-greater opportunities as they are invited to take part in certain festivals and events. Rhein said it’s a natural selection process in which Martin has done about as well as a high school student can do.
Rhein said that a life as a professional singer is a very realistic possibility for Martin, of Sidney.
“We don’t often encourage students to go on in performance,” Rhein said. “I might see one every four to six years. The instrument has to be exceptional for me to make that recommendation.”
Ever since Martin was in fifth grade, Rhein has been working with her to hone her instrument — a mezzo soprano voice that is now so expertly controlled it can project chill-inducing operatic strength one moment and soft, velvety dulcet tones the next.
At 7 p.m. on Saturday at the high school’s Performing Arts Center, Martin will unveil the full range of her talent to the community at a senior recital. Admission to the event is free, but donations will be accepted for the Humane Society Waterville Area, where Martin has occasionally volunteered.
The song selection is ambitious and diverse, including the American 1938 classic “Sure on This Shining Night,” a Baroque song from 17th-century England, Italian arias and show tunes from theater productions such as “The King and I,” “Beauty and the Beast: The Musical,” “Funny Girl” and the Disney movie “Anastasia.”
Martin will use a microphone sometimes but at other times, Rhein said, her exceptionally strong voice will allow her to sing without artificial amplification.
“She will fill the space with sound,” Rhein said.
Planning a one-woman show has been nerve-wracking for Martin. In addition to learning and rehearsing the music, she has advertised it on public access television, put up dozens of posters around town, sent out 200 invitations by mail, and invited another 200 people by social media.
“I’m an anxious person,” she said. “There are so many details you need to be just perfect.”
The school auditorium holds 800 people, and she hopes 200 will show up for something she considers the culmination of her budding music career.
“Here is the biggest thing I’ve done, showing who I am, what I’m working toward and what I’ve learned,” she said.
She has already built up an impressive resume for her age.
As part of the school’s regular choral program, Martin has performed in regional singing events and also traveled, for performances in Florida’s Disney World and New York City’s Carnegie Hall, each trip the end result of an extensive application process spearheaded by Rhein and other members of the faculty.
“Those are experiences that change students,” Rhein said.
Martin was chosen for spots in the national honor choirs of the National Association of Music Education and the American Choral Directors Association, distinctions that typically go to only one or two students in the entire state, Rhein said.
There, she has tackled more complex vocal tasks, including an 18-part harmony — in Chinese.
“Any time that we could come up with an opportunity that would engage her and stretch her opportunities, we would do it,” Rhein said.
Martin, who estimates that she spends upwards of 15 hours on singing rehearsals, has also advanced her career outside of the school. She has performed at area community venues, including the Waterville Opera House and the Lakewood Theater in Madison.
Rhein has also helped connect Martin with a voice instructor from the University of Southern Maine for advanced lessons.
Despite all of the work behind her, Martin plans to undertake years more schooling before she’s ready to become a professional. She’s been accepted at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, N,J., a prestigious institution that has offered Martin $16,000 in scholarships and another $7,000 in grants against the annual tuition of about $50,000.
Martin acknowledged that making a living with her voice is a risky proposition, but she doesn’t see any other life path that would work for her.
“If I didn’t do this, what would I do?” she asked. “Would anything else make me happy?”