By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Want to know how much McNary High School grad Amber Traver impressed her professors at Southern Oregon University? This much:
“If all of our students were like Amber, people would be asking, ‘Where’s Julliard?’” said Dr. Paul French, music program coordinator at SOU. “She’s smart, socially mature and setting her goals high.”
Traver, who graduated from McNary in 2012, was awarded the SOU music program’s largest scholarship, $5,000 per year for four years, upon acceptance. The program doesn’t take an investment that large lightly, French said, but it was done based on the strength of her recommendation from McNary choir director Jim Taylor.
“It definitely wasn’t because of my voice when I auditioned,” said Traver, now a sophomore at SOU pursuing double majors in vocal performance and pre-nursing. “I didn’t sound very good when I auditioned for the school, but they’ve told me repeatedly that it was Mr. Taylor’s recommendation that got me in.”
Traver, who had been a part of McNary choirs all four years of high school, was going through a vocal growth spurt when she auditioned for SOU. However, two years into the program, Traver is considering options as an opera singer or choral leader in an oratorio setting for choirs without the added pressure of staging and dramatic performance. Neither of those was exactly on the radar before her acceptance into the Raider music program.
“I am a really careful person,” Traver said. “I never really considered the possibility of majoring in vocal performance until I got to college because it seemed like such a long shot. I always loved science, so nursing was the way I planned to go.”
Still, when the opportunity arrived, Traver was prepared to embrace it because of the work ethic she honed as a Celtic.
“Mr. Taylor was a big factor, he was the one teacher that really pushed me to do my best and not just try to get a certain grade,” she said. “I took that work ethic and applied it to everything else I did in high school.”
Traver still considers a music theory class taught by Taylor to be the hardest she’s ever taken. Keep in mind, this comes from a student taking diction classes in French, German and Italian so she is capable of singing opera if that door opens.
It didn’t hurt that her arrival at McNary coincided with a difficult time for her personally.
“I was living with some people who took me into their home in freshman year. Jim Taylor and the music program became a home that was stable and I really enjoyed. It pushed me to get over the other, weird things that were happening,” she said.
By her sophomore year of high school, Traver was part of three Celtic choirs, a section leader, and doing everything from fund raising to picking up what she could about the technical side of performance.
The skills she picked up in that environment have translated to her involvement in the Ashland community. She earns money working church gigs every weekend. That’s when she isn’t practicing four to five hours a day or performing with a local, professional choral group.
Last year, Traver even landed her first opera role with the Rogue Valley Opera Company. Traver is trying to keep all options open at this point. The success that’s come her way is a result of fighting through that initial awkward period and attacking the challenge with the same vigor she’s always applied to her studies.
“My voice is big now and getting bigger. If that continues, something like opera is a realistic option, even if I’m still warming to the idea,” Traver said.
It’s likely her voice won’t fully develop until she’s nearly 28 years old; she’s 19 now. She was recently awarded two additional scholarships without even applying for them and has no plans to halt her pursuit of a career in music.
“I wasn’t going to do it, but I was offered the scholarship and I realized that this was something I should work for. Now, I’m just going to step up and work on it,” she said.
At the very least, a student like Traver makes some of the work easier on her teachers.
“The good students have a genuine love of learning. When someone comes in who is self-motivated everything gets so much easier. That’s Amber,” French said. “She has big expectations of herself and knows where she’s aiming. Everything else about a liberal arts education will make her marketable in whichever direction she chooses to go.”