Arts, Arts Features

Grace Collins’ Musical Journey Leads to Pops Performance

Grace Collins never knew her mother could sing. There was one day, though, when her mother mentioned her past experiences singing, telling Collins and her sister about her travels around Europe with a choir, and then singing “On My Own” from Les Misérables for them.

“She really shaped my love of musicals, [and] having another singer in the family was huge for me,” Collins, MCAS ’22, said. 

Following in her mom’s musical footsteps, Collins was selected as the featured student performer at Boston College’s Pops on the Heights this year.

Her early experiences with music came at home, and she was largely influenced by her family. Her father owns a bar in her hometown of Providence, R.I., and his work schedule meant he would often ferry Collins to her different activities—and play his music along the way.

“I would say that I pretty much owe my music taste to my dad,” Collins said. “He would play lots of stuff, but mostly like Motown and ’70s music, so I was a huge Motown fan. I still am.”

Although Collins did not take formal voice lessons until she was a teen, she loved musicals and performing all throughout her childhood. Her participation in a program called “Girls Rock! Rhode Island” provided her with her first experiences writing songs and performing as the lead singer in a band. She also studied at the Young Actors Summer Institute at Trinity Repertory Company, a Tony Award–winning theater in Rhode Island.

In addition to pursuing her personal passions, Collins has also made time to get involved on campus. She is a member of 4Boston, where she serves as a tutor at the Sister Mary Hart After School Program in Roxbury, and has performed in an opera workshop on campus as well. 

Her friend Lucas Webber, Lynch ’24, recalls seeing one of Collins’ performances at BC. She sang “Mister Snow,” from the musical Carousel. Webber said this was the first time he had heard her sing.

“We were all just very amazed right when we saw that,” Webber said. “We were more interested in her singing and … getting her to get out of her comfort zone.”

Webber also observed Collins’ growth after participating in BC’s Opera Workshop and the impact that has had on her confidence in her singing and, ultimately, her preparation for her performance with the Pops. Randy McGee, the director of Opera Workshop, expressed how impressed he has been with her growth as a performer.

“She’s that student who stays in communication, learns her music, shows up, takes direction easily, brings her own ideas, and spreads joy through her generous performance,” McGee said. “Beyond that, Grace is filled with a joy that makes her easy to be around and reminds me why I chose music as my profession.”

Collins approached her Pops audition with the same dedication and passion she contributes to the Opera Workshop. Her musical journey brought her to the audition process for this year’s Pops on the Heights, for which she submitted two videos of herself singing two songs and then had a callback on Zoom.

“I was really like ‘I’m not going to get this,’ and I’m going to be embarrassed if I tell people I’m auditioning,” Collins said. 

One of the songs Collins auditioned with, “The Man That Got Away” by Judy Garland, is the song she ultimately performed for Pops. Collins said she has always felt a connection to Garland and has been physically compared to her by her family—particularly in Collins’ expressive eyes. 

“I’ve always loved Judy Garland … and I think she’s just fantastic, and I think it’s a very heart-wrenching song, very emotional, so hopefully people will connect with it,” Collins said ahead of her performance.

Collins said the performance day itself was hectic and busy. Collins’ sound check at 2:30 p.m. did not go as well as she wanted it to go, and then she had to wait another hour and a half to rehearse with the Pops. 

Though she met with Keith Lockhart, the conductor of the Pops, a few weeks before the performance and sang through the song with him and the Pops pianist, Collins said she did not rehearse with the full orchestra until the day of the concert. But, she said Lockhart and the Pops were very encouraging throughout the process.

“I can’t say enough fantastic things about them,” Collins said. “They made the whole process so easy, and they supported me the whole way.”

Prior to the concert, Collins was approached by John Finney, director of the University Chorale, who gave her some words of encouragement before she went on.

“Right before, John Finney came up to me, and he said … ‘You know, whenever I hear this song, I always hear Judy Garland singing it, but when you were singing it, I didn’t hear that. I just heard Grace Collins.’”

Though she said she was very nervous before stepping onstage, Collins mentioned that taking a deep breath and getting into character really helps to settle her nerves. She said that once the adrenaline kicked in, her performance felt exhilarating and she was able to enjoy the rest of the concert feeling relieved and excited about her performance.

Collins said her favorite part of the performance day was being able to spend time with her friends and family after the show.

“They’re my support system, and they were all there for me every step of the process,” she said. 

Before the performance day, Collins told The Heights that her ideas about what her future will look like have changed. She said the opportunity to perform with the Pops has shifted her thinking a bit.

At a very young age, around 3 or 4 years old, Collins sang “I Have Confidence” from The Sound of Music for her family, but she said she never thought seriously about pursuing vocal performance until now. 

“I sang ‘I Have Confidence,’ but I don’t know if I really did,” Collins said. 

Though her path is now bursting with new opportunities, as Collins looks ahead, she said she is certain of one thing.

“I will always keep singing as a part of me.”

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

October 5, 2021