It appears Virginia is taking back one of the voices it gave to Niagara Falls High School.
High school senior Melissa Brown, 18, is being lured back to Virginia, her native state, on a four-year choral music scholarship.
She has been selected to sing Christian music starting this fall at Liberty University in Lynchburg, as part of the Liberty University Praise Team.
The gifted soprano -- who arrived from Danville, Va., with her family four years ago -- won the full-tuition music education scholarship by competing nationally with 1,000 other students. She was one of 80 who received a scholarship following auditions at Liberty University in February. Forty of the music scholars were placed on the praise team.
"I had to audition for three judges to get it," Brown said last week. "I gave them my music resume, a personal testimony about how I came to know Christ and what he's done for me in my life, and I also gave them a DVD of one of my performances at a choral concert with the Niagara Falls High School Advanced Chorus."
Getting there seemed to be more of a challenge than the audition.
"It was the day after that big snowstorm," she said. "My mom [Rhonda Pizzimenti] and I drove there after we debated whether we should. It took us 14 hours through ice and snow to get there."
Though she was nervous, Brown said she "spoke very openly with the judges" and "it went very well. I even told them about our trip through the snow and ice. . . . They told me they liked me even before I sang and they liked my voice. I have kind of a soulful voice."
She said one woman on the panel also liked the solo she sang, called "I Got to Believe," recorded by Yolanda Adams. "When I sang it, she really liked how I was comfortable with the song. When I was done they said, 'Tell your mom this was a God thing because we really liked you.' So I was really pretty sure I got the scholarship."
An honor student, Brown said the Liberty scholarship, when coupled with many of the other scholarships she's received, should pay for everything at Liberty to the point where "it will only cost me about $940 a year to go there."
"I've wanted to go to Liberty since I was young," she said. "It may be the largest Evangelical college in the world. . . . It's only an hour outside of where I used to live. My whole family lives in that area."
Brown said she wants to study music education and become a choral teacher.
"I'd love to teach choral music at Liberty after I get my doctorate," she said, "but that could change. I could come out doing something else, like leading a worship team at a church or something like that. That would be awesome. I just know for sure that I definitely want to do something with my life involving music. That's my passion."
Brown has been singing in church since she was 3 years old. She said she was about 7 when she and her sister, Whitley, who is a year older, were inspired by a Christian bluegrass band to do an a capella performance in church.
But she said her singing was always kept in church, until high school.
"I never really came out of my shell until I moved here," Brown said.
At Niagara Falls High School, Brown joined the chorus, something they didn't have at her school in Virginia. She also got involved in the school's last three musicals, and captured lead roles in "A Funny Thing Happened on The Way to the Forum" last year and "Anything Goes" this year.
"I love the musicals best of everything, even better than chorus," she said.
Brown also has done solos during choral performances. The last two years she sang the hymn "Oh Holy Night" at the school's Christmas concerts, and did some solo work when the chorus performed at Niagara University.
She said Niagara Falls High School has done a lot for her.
"I hated it when I first got here," she said. "Words can't describe how scared I was . . . but now I love it. It's going to be hard to move back because I really like it here and I've made so many great friends, actually more than I probably had in Virginia."
Having heard New Yorkers were mean, she said she was surprised to find everyone here was helpful and nice, especially teachers and administrators.
"I especially like the educational opportunities at high school," she said. "It's more advanced here. They offer you way more opportunities."