When Juliet Rand was just 8 years old, her grandparents Ronnie and Jerry Matovcik took her to a local vineyard to see an opera concert. It was an experience that likely would be forgettable for most children that age, but it left a profound impression on her.
“I was just in awe of the singers,” Juliet, now 18, said in a Zoom interview last week. “I told them, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ It was amazing the way they told stories through music and made you feel emotions you didn’t realize you had. I knew I wanted to be able to share that with people.”
Since that moment, Juliet has shown an uncommon dedication to achieving that goal, and the combination of hard work and talent has paid off. The Southold High School senior was recently accepted to 13 musical conservatories — despite the challenge of having to record auditions digitally instead of doing them live because of the pandemic — but when the acceptance email arrived from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia on April 1, Juliet said her search was over.
Curtis is widely recognized as one of the top music conservatories in the world. Founded in 1924 by Mary Louise Curtis Bok, its enrollment is limited to the number of students needed for a symphony orchestra, an opera department and select programs in piano, composition, conducting, organ and guitar, as well as Community Artist Fellows and a string quartet in residence. Hundreds of musicians apply each year, and admission is offered only to enough students to fill the void left by those graduating. The school is also tuition free.
Becoming one of the select few students to earn a “congratulations” letter from the school was a process of years spent honing her craft. Juliet began taking piano lessons shortly after attending the opera concert, at the suggestion of the singers she met when their performance was over. They told her learning the piano would provide a strong basis of musical education that would be the foundation for opera singing as she grew older. By 13, Juliet was playing piano, organ and violin — and taking voice lessons. She formed a strong connection with piano and organ teacher Ann Welcome, whom she has dutifully shown up to see on Saturday mornings for years, taking instruction in piano and organ from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. Juliet credits both Ms. Welcome and her school orchestra teacher, Audrey Grathwohl, with fostering her love of musical performance and helping her improve, and reach her goals.
As Juliet’s talent and love of performing continued to grow, she also developed a passion for sharing her gifts with the community.
She first became involved in singing and playing organ at area churches at the suggestion of Renee Stakey, who told her she should try playing “Away in a Manger” at Christmas. That moment helped foster her love of playing the organ, a love that grew so strong her parents, Heather and Jay Rand, eventually purchased an organ, which resides in their home. (It can be loud, Juliet said with a laugh, adding that she tries to keep it toned down most of the time.)
Before long, Juliet was performing at several churches. She is currently pianist and cantor for Saturday evening Mass at Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church in Mattituck, serves as organist and cantor at Sunday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s R.C. Church in Southold and recently sang during Good Friday services at Mattituck Presbyterian Church.
When she reached her teenage years, Juliet began opera lessons in earnest, starting off with group lessons in her hometown before starting private lessons. Opera training is a process, requiring much more than just fine tuning a beautiful voice and sound.
“I started with English arias, but operas are primarily in foreign languages, so piece by piece I added Italian opera arias, but they take a while to prepare,” Juliet explained. “You have to learn the notes and rhythms first, then add the language to it, and you have to do the translations, too, and add it all together with the piano. By the end, it’s such a rewarding process because you work so long on the details and little nuances and then you get the final product and it’s great.”
The work she’s put in over the years have led to a kind of “final product” in her acceptance to Curtis, but in many ways it’s simply a new beginning. Juliet was in her car, driving home from the gym, when her mother called to say an email had arrived from the school. She immediately pulled over to check her email.
“When I saw it, I was like oh my God, oh my God,” Juliet said, smiling broadly. “It was always at the top of my list, but I didn’t think I would get in.”
Juliet had visited the conservatory during spring break, and said it was love at first sight.
“I really loved the location and felt like I could thrive there,” she said.
Ms. Welcome has all the faith in the world that that’s exactly what her longtime student will do.
“She’s enjoyed the process of getting better and better, and doesn’t get frustrated when it’s hard,” she said. “She just works harder and reaches her goal.
“She’s very humble, but loves to perform,” Ms. Welcome added. “When she sang at Good Friday service, people were just blown away by how well she sang. I’m really going to miss her. Not just musically, but as a person as well. Her maturity level is amazing.”
That personality trait will serve Juliet well when she embarks on the new chapter of her musical journey at Curtis. She hopes to eventually be part of “Curtis on Tour,” a global touring and performing component the school offers for students, which will let her share her gifts around the world with her fellow students. Her love of performing, and her comfort with standing on a stage in front of an audience, are attributes she credits to the theater and music departments at Southold High School. Juliet has played the lead in school musicals, including “The Phantom of the Opera,” and said she’s grateful for those experiences.
“Curtis has a motto that you learn by doing, and that was one of the aspects that really drew me to the school,” Juliet said. “I love to perform and I think you learn so much by putting yourself out there. Some schools want you to just train, train, train, which is good, but I think it’s important to share with the community.”
That belief is at the heart of Juliet’s long-term goals for what she wants to do in the future, beyond Curtis. She’d love to progress from minor roles to major roles in the opera world, and has dreams of embarking on a solo career as well, then transitioning to sharing her gifts by teaching when it’s time to settle down. No matter the details, Juliet she is clear about one thing.
“I definitely want to perform for the rest of my life,” she said.