Whether it’s because of her own life, other people’s lives or simply tales she made up, 19-year-old singer-songwriter Avery Chapman never runs out of fuel to create songs that convey stories and inspire audiences.
“Without music, I don’t know if I’d be able to go through any problem, celebration or literally anything in my life — I use it to process everything,” Chapman said. “I just love storytelling and that I can turn any experience I have into a piece of art.”
A Bay Area native and sophomore at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music, Chapman has been singing for as long as she’s been speaking and strolled down different musical avenues, from guitar classes to youth choirs, throughout her childhood, but she always held a soft spot for the pop repertory and writing original works.
“With the more schooling I’ve had, I’ve watched my compositional skills evolve,” she said. She credited her diverse musical upbringing and exposure to contrasting choral environments through singing in BisCaydence (UM’s a cappella ensemble), the elite Frost Chorale and a Jazz Vocal Ensemble for shaping her current sound.
“Right now, I’d say my style is pop music with a [touch of] folk, heavily influenced by background harmony and vocal arrangements, but I’m not really tied to one genre,” said Chapman, who cited Imogen Heap, Damien Rice, Sara Bareilles and Kacey Musgraves as some of her songwriting idols. “There are no limits, which I love.”
Chapman composed, recorded and independently released “Up in Her Head,” her first full-length album, and “Yellow Lights,” an EP, while in high school. Her third project, “Stars” (distributed to streaming platforms on April 16), is, in Chapman’s words, her “most personal, harmonically advanced and experimental” output yet.
A culmination of her last two and half years of artistry development, the 15-track album bundles some emotionally potent memories and milestones — a tribute to her home state (“In California”), the sheer power of her choir community (“Greater Than Stars”) and, most notably, letting go of a loved one (“Dove” and “Golf Cart”) — into a bright and reflective collection of pop music.
Chapman enjoys recreating existing anecdotes through music and said she “went down a fictional storytelling route” during quarantine: “I’d write songs from the perspective of a book or movie character and share the narrative through their eyes.”
But when her grandpa passed away in late 2020, Chapman coped with grief and channeled her undying love for him through the songs “Dove” and “Golf Cart,” which were “undoubtedly the hardest ones to write.” The lyrics reminisce on her early days, when her grandpa would tell her to hold on tight as they’d zip around the neighborhood together in his golf cart.
This spring, she meshed the two songs into a piece for treble voices titled “Golf Cart” and entered — and won — the Frost Choral Studies Choral Composition Contest. The grand prize? Her composition was premiered on April 18 at UM’s Gusman Hall by the Frost Bella Voce in a live concert.
“This piece struck me immediately because of the text,” said Dr. Amanda Quist, director of choral activities at the Frost School of Music and one of the judges of this year’s competition. “It’s just a really, really beautiful setting.”
Sydney Altbacker, a sophomore composition major at Frost and vocalist in Bella Voce, was honored to intone the opening solo of Chapman’s breathtaking work.
“It was so incredible to [be a part of] her choral arrangement and watch the music come to life from the moment it was written to the performance,” said Altbacker, who is one of Chapman’s classmates and closest friends.
At Frost, Chapman majors in music education with a concentration in creative American music. Relocating her life and career across the country was no simple feat, but she said she’s grateful to be “surrounded by amazing songwriters” every day and for the “motivating” community she’s found in the contemporary track.
She started out in Frost’s musicianship, artistry development and entrepreneurship program but made the switch this year to pursue an education degree after coming to terms with her passion for teaching during the pandemic.
“I enjoy educating and collaborating with students, especially younger students, whether it be classical or modern … in the classroom or choral setting,” she said.
Chapman stepped into a new role last fall as the worship music director for UM’s United Wesley Foundation, a Christian campus ministry. She devotes hours each Sunday to selecting praise songs for community nights and leading worship band rehearsals and performances.
Elevating Wesley’s music fellowship to new heights, Chapman recently organized a songwriting workshop in which students at Wesley authored “Whole,” an original praise ballad, under her coaching. The worship band then premiered it on Easter Sunday.
Jess Williams, executive director of UM Wesley, said that although Chapman is “incredibly talented musically” and “passionate” about her role, what strikes him most is that she is also a “gifted leader.”
“Her humility and authentically kind spirit come across in how she conducts herself and others, and it brings people to her side,” Williams said. “It’s [a joy] to allow her gifts to be displayed for others.”
“I dream of creating initiatives in elementary or middle schools and teaching guitar, songwriting and rock band while continuing to [advance] my personal career,” said Chapman, who doesn’t envision a future in which she’ll have to pick one expressive outlet over the other.
words_gianna milan photo_courtesy avery chapman