With such a Germanic name you'd think Andrew Drachenberg was a historic warlord or field marshal, or maybe a pro football quarterback.
Andy Drachenberg is an 18-year-old Lewiston-Porter High School senior who does not bark out commands or issue curt, irrevocable orders of doom. He sings in his school's Senior and Vocal Jazz choirs and most recently played the lead role in this year's school musical production of "Jesus Christ Superstar."
But if singers wore uniforms and were decorated for their triumphs, Drachenberg's jacket would sport a chestful of ribbons and medals.
Not only has he been a mainstay vocalist in school choral programs and performed in several school musicals over the last four years, Drachenberg also has appeared in several musicals produced by other area theater companies, and been bestowed honors for his vocal work by statewide organizations.
For example, Drachenberg was chosen from a field of several thousand high school students statewide to perform in an elite chorus of 100-plus voices at the New York State Music Educators Winter Conference last Dec. 5 at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. In earning the state's highest honor for a student of his caliber, he was selected based on his outstanding performance at the state solo festival last May.
In a recent interview, Drachenberg, president of the Lewiston-Porter Honor Society, talks about how be became interested in singing and what he hopes to do after he graduates.
When did you get interested in singing?
I think it started in middle school chorus. At the time, it was just a class to take. I did it for fun. . . . A lot (of what I did back then) was bad singing, mostly popular songs.
When did you start taking singing seriously?
It was in ninth grade. You know, in high school where you need to find your niche. That turned out to be mine, and that's where I ended up.
Who influenced you the most?
My music teacher, Victoria Shea, definitely was the person who helped me along. She's just so enthusiastic about the music. She made it fun and made you want to go to her class and want to do extra things.
What kind of music do you like to sing best?
I like most music. But my favorite has to be musicals. I've done six so far: "My Fair Lady," "Peter Pan," "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat," "The Rocky Horror Picture Show," "Jesus Christ Superstar" and a version of the musical "Wicked." I've done three at school and the rest with other area theater groups.
How demanding is it to be involved in a musical?
It's a lot of work . . . months. It takes up all of your time. At my school, we do one musical a year, but I've also done things outside of that. I worked with another chorus earlier this year. We did a review of a show and recorded it on compact disc in a little studio up in Canada. We did that for ourselves. . . . A couple of years ago, I was also in an episode of "Bravo: On With the Show," which was a musical series featuring high school kids. They showed it on the Bravo channel a couple of times.
What are your three favorite musicals?
That's hard. I like so many. But I think my favorites are "Phantom of the Opera," "Jekyll and Hyde" and "Les Miserables." I like the way they combine story line, character development and how the music blends so well with their themes. I love the quality of the music and how it sounds. Each one is very different. "Jekyll and Hyde" is dark and somber . . . very eerie. "Les Mis" is depressing but beautiful. And "Phantom" is a classic you just can't hate.
How do you prepare for singing in a musical?
In addition to rehearsing at school, I practice at home with the piano. I play piano and guitar. That takes up several hours a week. In "Jesus Christ Superstar," I had several major songs and sang in at least half the songs in the show, so there was a lot of preparation.
Does your throat ever bother you because of all that singing?
Oh, yeah! For "Jesus Christ Superstar," since I'm a bass and the role I played was designed for a tenor, I had to drink at least four bottles of water a day to keep from losing my voice. It was very difficult for me. I wasn't even talking at all outside of the show while we were performing it to save my voice.
Are there things you can do on show days to make sure your vocal cords don't abandon you?
There are plenty of things you can do to help yourself. For one, you have to make sure you watch what you eat before you perform. Dairy products are very bad for your voice before a performance, so you avoid them. Things like milk do something to your voice that makes it very hard for a guy to hit the high registers and for women to sing lower. The same with chocolate. It's very bad for singing. Water is good. Lots of water and tea with lemon and honey in it. Pizza's not that great for you, either. The cheese and oil make your throat very weird for singing. But eggs and meat aren't too bad for you.
Are there other tricks to singing correctly?
You warm up (by singing scales). That loosens up your vocal cords. It's better to warm up a little than starting to sing and trying to hit a really high note out of nowhere. The most important thing is you have to support your breathing and your sound. You have to make sure your diaphragm is tightened and that you are breathing properly or you're not going to sound like a good singer who can hit a wide range of notes.
Since singing is a surprisingly complex endeavor, do you have have any professional training to keep you in step?
I've been taking vocal direction from Christopher Critelli (a professional voice coach) for about two years. He helps me with technique and works with me on solo songs. And just helps me find a way to sing something (well).
Where do you want to go to college and what would you like to be in life?
I'm hoping to be on Broadway or performing professionally in some other venue, doing the same type of thing. It's a very difficult to get into that profession. I've been accepted by several schools. I'm trying to decide between Sarah Lawrence College and Northeastern. They both have good music programs. I want to study musical theater.
Why do you like acting in musicals?
I love to sing and I like becoming someone else, having the chance to be a different character and being in that moment in that scene. It's just so different from what you normally do.
If a theater career doesn't work out, what do you want to do?
I'd probably try to get into some form of music involving performance and education. I'd really like to take music education and become a teacher in that case.
Is it possible to study both at college?
It's difficult when you are a theater major to take another minor because it's so complex. But if I have time, I plan to take music classes and try to get into music education.
Can you sight-read music, so you know what a piece sounds like by just looking at it, as opposed to memorizing a song?
Yes. I read more often now than I used to. I don't have to memorize things anymore. Now I pretty much sit down at the piano, open up the book and play it while looking at it. Sometimes I can hear it just looking at the notes. I don't have perfect pitch. But I can definitely figure out what something's going to be like before I start playing the music.
What was it like singing in the elite state choir?
It was the greatest choir I've ever been in. They were the top kids in the state. You had to audition and score from 90 to 100 on the hardest level of singing to qualify. It was unbelieveable. I tried out for the solo but didn't make it. . . . I also was in the state regional choir at Fredonia for two consecutive years. All those things were very helpful because they help you become better, and they're fun to go to.
Have you had any disasters while performing?
None that I can think of. If I forget a line or something, I just sort of make it up on the spot. It's not always the greatest, but I survive.
Did you ever play high school sports?
I was on the tennis team as a sophomore, but I don't play anymore. I was terrible.
Name your favorite rock group.
I think it's Guster. They're not very well-known but they're style is a lot like the Dave Matthews Band's style. They're crazy about them in Rochester. I also like Hispanic music. I like this group "Mand" from Spain. I also like groups like U2. I like Sting, a lot of '80s stuff. My favorite classical piece is "Zadok the Priest," by Handel.