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Art People: Northampton’s Susan Dillard sets sights on career as a cappella singer

  • Jerrey Roberts<br/>Susan Dillard works with members of Green Street Brew while seated at a piano Wednesday during a rehearsal at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • Jerrey Roberts<br/>Susan Diliard pauses to think Wednesday while leading a rehearsal of Green Street Brew at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • Jerrey Roberts<br/>Susan Diliard
  • Jerrey Roberts<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard sings while leading a rehearsal of Green Street Brew Wednesday at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard pauses to think Wednesday while leading a rehearsal of Green Street Brew at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard sings while leading a rehearsal of Green Street Brew Wednesday at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard directs Green Street Brew while seated at a piano Wednesday during a rehearsal at the home of Jeff Zesiger in Northampton.
  • JERREY ROBERTS<br/>Susan Diliard

Susan Dillard, 22, has always been something of a singing phenom.

When she was a toddler, she began to warble. By the time she was 5, she was belting out show tunes. A favorite was “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?” from “My Fair Lady,” sung on Broadway by her idol, Julie Andrews.

“My friend and I would run around the playground singing it to teachers, asking, ‘Wanna hear a song?’ ” Dillard said in an interview in her Florence home. By the time she was in third grade, her teachers were telling her to “come back to visit when you’re famous.”

Dillard is a classically trained soprano with a three-plus octave range. “I sing whatever you need me to, from a low D to a high D, and maybe a little bit more: I can hit an F-sharp if I really want to,” she said.

Though she hasn’t yet found fame and fortune, she has been working to hone her craft. And if she ever harbored thoughts of following in her idol’s footsteps onto the Great White Way, those dreams have been reshaped: Dillard, who received a degree in classical voice last spring from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is setting her sights on a career as a professional a cappella singer.

“In high school, I remember thinking, ‘That’s crazy. That just doesn’t happen,’ ” she said. But there’s an increasing interest in a cappella, she says, so it seems like an attainable goal. “My number-one dream is to have friends with similar musical aspirations and create a group that can do anything, whether it’s jazz or opera, or pop music or world music. Who even knows?”

Dillard was introduced to a cappella as a freshman at Northampton High School, when she heard the Northamptones, the school’s ensemble. “I was longing to be a part of that,” she said.

Sadly, freshmen weren’t allowed to audition, but she got in as a sophomore. By her senior year, she’d found her musical groove and was also helping to run the group.

“I enjoy the genre of a cappella because it can cover so many realms: jazz, doo-wop, pop, rock,” she said. “I love all sorts of music, so it is a way to explore all genres.”

In high school Dillard tried her hand at arranging songs, something she continued to do in college as director of the UMass Dynamics, and now as the new musical director of Green Street Brew, a 25-year-old a cappella group based in Northampton.

Right now, she’s finishing up a degree in music education, and will be certified to teach. But, she says, “If I could choose anything, it would be to be a member or director of some small ensemble that performs. ... When you are surrounded by people who love what you love, it’s just magical.”

— Kathleen Mellen

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