Kayla Shue’s voice soars to fill a theater and then suddenly descends softly like a feather.
As a soloist, Shue doesn’t fool around with fancy vocal gymnastics. She stays true to a song and pours her heart and soul into the music.
“A pet peeve of mine is some singers think it is all about them and showing off, but it should always be about showing off the music,” Shue said.
“I’m not performing for me, but for the audience and I hope to make a connection to convey a feeling, an emotion or a story,” she said.
Show choir — not musical theater or opera — has been Shue’s outlet for performing in La Crosse.
The 21-year-old Viterbo University senior from La Crosse sings pop, rock, blues, jazz and Broadway tunes in Platinum Edition shows at Viterbo, a college known for training good opera and classical singers.
Shue likes opera and classical music, but she said she was raised by her parents on the blues. “My heart is not there in classical music,” she said.”It’s been a personal battle for me.”
She is a four-year member of Platinum Edition’s show choir and the Grand River Singers, an adult show choir in La Crosse. Shue also sings in Viterbo’s Concert Choir.
“I like the versatility, range and tone color of her voice — and its warmth whether she sings a ballad or is belting, especially in the pop realm,” said
Nancy Allen, a Viterbo music faculty member who directs Shue in the Platinum Edition show choir.
“She has that kind of depth of understanding to a song,” she said. “Her voice is beautiful, but I really like the intention behind her singing.“
Shue also is one of a few college students in the country who directs a major high school show choir. She took over as Logan’s Class Act show choir in 2011 after Dan Risgaard retired after 28 years at the high school. She was in Risgaard’s show choir for four years.
She and her students are busy preparing for the Logan annual show choir invitational Friday and Saturday.
“Kayla ate, drink and lived show choir,” Risgaard said. “She has experienced all facets of show choir.
“She always took everything in and was always thinking of what she would be singing next,” he said. “The Logan kids see her excitement, and they get excited to perform for her.“
Logan’s Class Act won a grand championship last season and made the finals in five of six competitions.
“The kids at Logan knew me, what I was truly about and I had their respect,” Shue said. “I was young, but subconsciously I knew I could direct this show choir.“
Allen said Shue is a natural teacher, but also is a natural show choir director.
“She knows what to do, and she also has this uncanny memory for dance combinations,” Allen said. “She picks up everything very quickly.“
Risgaard said he knows his show choir is in good hands, but he tries not to miss an opportunity to see Shue as a performer.
“She has an unbelievable voice and great stage presence,” Risgaard said.
Shue’s performance of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” was a highlight of Platinum Edition’s fall show and Viterbo’s high school show choir invitational last month. A show choir director remarked that seeing Shue perform was good for his high school students.
The director told Shue, “You took us to the church.“
Robert Jones, director of the Grand River Singers, said Shue is the most consistent performer he has ever worked with in show choir.
“She has a gift and can sing anything in any style,” Jones said.
Jones said Shue is young, but a wonderful show choir director with great time management skills.
“A lot of times when a living legend leaves, a show choir has the potential to fail, but Kayla picked it up and is helping the show choir get better,” Jones said. “She understands what needs to be done with a show choir.”
A 2009 Logan High School graduate, Shue sang her first solo in show choir in eighth grade, and she knew her passion was singing.
“In performing , I figured out who I am — passionate, stubborn, talented and usually self-confident,” she said.
She said she has been blessed with phenomenal mentors such as Allen, Jones and Risgaard. Shue said she has learned a lot about her voice from her
Viterbo teachers, especially from her voice teacher Ann Schoenecker.
“Singing has been natural for me, but I am a work in progress as I learn to better connect with my breath and improve technically,” she said. “I’m still trying to get rid of many years of bad habits.“