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PAS Fundraiser: Socorro Sings

Socorro Sings

Watch as Socorro's vocal stars face off in this fundraiser event!

Hosted by Albuquerque vocal luminaries Jonathan Gallegos and Emily Melville, contest will give 9 vocalists from Socorro the chance to win a special prize. This prize includes recording an original song with Emmy award winning Irish-tenor Eamonn McCrystal's record label and performing a song live in New York!


Nine talented singers will vie for a trophy and bragging rights – and a trip to New York City and an iTunes opportunity – when “Socorro Sings” comes to New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center on Friday, December 1, starting at 7:30 p.m.

 The highly anticipated event unfolds under the umbrella of the New Mexico Tech Performing Arts Series (PAS) as a fundraiser to support its many outreach programs, such as youth concerts, NDI, Community Arts Party and the 4th of July Celebration.

Drum roll, please: In alphabetical order, here are the finalists culled from auditions held in September – Eli Armijo, William (Will) Barefield, Rose Carilli, Julie Ford, Victoria Murillo, Jeanette Otero, Chynna Pearson, Val Thomas and Jenna Thunborg (please see sidebar for brief bios).

At ages 10, 12 and 14, the misses Otero, Thunborg and Carilli are the youngest performers – the eldest is teacher and chess player Barefield at 52, with everyone else falling between those parameters. Barefield and Armijo are the only male finalists.

The audience will choose the winner with votes, with the judges providing comments. “We are obviously very excited about this event, which has been a long time in the making, and we are truly grateful to have Jonathan Gallegos and Emily Melville as host/emcee, judge and performers,” said PAS Director Ronna Kalish.

Due to conflicting schedules, Irish-pop tenor Eamonn McCrystal and his longtime collaborator Chloë Agnew, the original star of the hit group “Celtic Woman,” were unable to co-host the show as originally planned, although McCrystal did serve as a judge for the auditions and worked with the finalists, giving them tips on how best to showcase their talents.

Kalish credited McCrystal with his professionalism as a producer and offer of great prizes, which kicked off the event and set the high-quality tone from the get-go. The audition drew 41 hopefuls, two by video.

The ever-resourceful Kalish and her assistant, Dana Chavez, hustled to cover the bases in time for the Dec. 1 main event – with a great deal of help from Gaby Benalil, director of Tech’s Music Department, who wrote the medley arrangements, selected the songs and rounded up most of the instrumentalists; Benalil also is conducting rehearsals in the Jean Macey Recital Hall, and collecting backing tracks.

“We could not have done this without Gaby,” Kalish said. “She has really helped pull everything together.”

It was Megan McQueen, a music professor at NMSU and director of last year’s Scaffolding Theatre production of “Beauty and the Beast,” who recommended Gallegos to Kalish. 

“Megan is an amazing actress and singer who I now work with a lot,” Kalish continued, adding that McQueen is behind the musical, “Five Course Love,” a PAS event scheduled for Feb. 9, 2018. McQueen has performed with Gallegos in Las Cruces, and was one of three persons she recommended, but the only one in Albuquerque, who is a dynamite performer with a strong record of coaching.

“I wanted the vocal coaching element, and the emcee element, and the performance element, pretty tall order, and Jonathan has all this,” Kalish said. “He just finished up starring in the Rocky Horror Picture Show for Musical Theatre Southwest, by the way.  And Emily Melville has broad vocal adjudicating and performance experience, so I really lucked out.”

The evening offers up several special treats, beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Tech Club – Club Macey hosting an Italian buffet, ticketed separately ($10). Please RSVP to 575-835-5688 to allow for advance planning.

Everyone who originally auditioned was invited to sing a medley of songs both to open and close the program.

 “The quality and number of auditions was much higher than we expected,” Kalish said.  “About a third of those who auditioned, but did not make the finals, will sing the medleys.”

A selection of contemporary pop songs will kick off the program, with Christmas selections to close it. Gallegos and Melville will perform a collection of tunes, including a duet to “Love and the Weather” and “Love Didn’t Do You Right” from Irving Berlin’s White Christmas. Both will sing solos to theatrical songs, including “I Dreamed a Dream” (Melville) and “Bring Him Home” (Gallegos) from Les Miserables – plus an a cappella duet to “Oh Holy Night.”

Other solos are “Memory” from Cats and “The Wizard and I” from Wicked (Melville), and “I’m Going Home” from Rocky and Josh Groban’s “To Where You Are” (Gallegos).

The selections chosen by the finalists for their prime-time performance are: 

Eli Armijo, “Malagueña Salerosa” by Avenged Sevenfold; William Barefield, “Evermore” from Beauty & the Beast; Rose Carilli, “Losing You” by Alison Krauss; Julie Ford, “Glitter in the Air” by Pink; Victoria Murillo, “If I Ain’t Got You” by Alicia Keyes; Jeanette Otero, “Someone Like You” by Adele; Chynna Pearson, “Don’t Rain on My Parade” by Barbra Streisand and recorded by the Glee cast; Valerie Thomas, “When We Were Young” by Adele; and Jenna Thunborg, “How Far I’ll Go” from the film, Moana.

In addition to being a fundraiser, Socorro Sings is also a community-building event to show off the singing talent in or connected to Socorro, via New Mexico Tech and other local entities.

“After we did ‘Shall We Dance Socorro?’ last year, several people suggested we do one with an emphasis on voice,” Kalish said. Great idea, but with a small staff, PAS lacked the resources to plan and execute a full-scale singing competition.

Enter Eamonn McCrystal, who has a strong connection to Socorro and wanted to perform here, but he asked too late in the PAS planning cycle to fit a performance in as a subscription event. When McCrystal offered to donate his time, Socorro Sings moved from idea to reality.

“We hope to do something like this every year as a fundraiser,” she continued. “Next year we will probably do the ‘Shall We Dance Socorro?’ again, which was a huge hit.

And maybe the year after, we will do ‘Socorro’s Got Talent,’ and have it run over a few sessions to narrow down finals in several genres.”

 And, let’s not forget the sponsors. New Mexico Tech Auxiliary Services and Macey Center are donating rental space and tech support, and the Music Department is donating Gaby Benalil’s services and the Recital Hall for rehearsals.

Other sponsors are EMRTC, El Defensor Chieftain, State Farm Insurance (Damien Ocampo) and Jon Morrison, baker extraordinaire and longtime community volunteer.

 Admission is $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, $10 for youths and $5 for New Mexico Tech students. Tickets also can be purchased online or at the following locations: PAS office, New Mexico Tech Cashier (Fidel Center), Socorro County Chamber of Commerce, Sofia’s Kitchen and El Sombrero.


Jonathan Gallegos (Singer & Emcee) is a professional singer, vocal coach and string bass player in the Albuquerque area. He started music at a very early age as a singer in the Albuquerque Boys Choir.  As a string bassist, he has played in multiple professional symphonies, and as a singer has experience with many musical theatre and opera companies.  Gallegos has a degree in Vocal Performance from NMSU, with a large part of his training in Milan, Italy.  He has performed all over the country and in Europe with a highlight of appearing at Carnegie Hall.  In Albuquerque, he serves as musical director for multiple theatre companies and has a private voice studio.

Emily Melville (Singer & Judge) studied vocal performance and musical theatre at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, and UNM. She has performed in regional and local Albuquerque productions of Aida (Amneris), White Christmas (Betty Haynes), Sweeney Todd (Johanna), Hairspray (Velma VonTussle), Mary Poppins (Mrs. Banks) and many more. Melville teaches children’s theatre, piano and voice. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, Brent.

Carlo Chavez (Judge) is well-known in Socorro as long-time singer and leader of the popular band Remedy.  Before Remedy, he played in numerous other bands that date back to growing up in Socorro.  Remedy performed all over New Mexico, at fiestas, parties, festivals, casinos and many July 4th celebrations,  opening for Brooks and Dunn, Lonestar, Rick Trevino, Marshall Tucker and Molly Hachet. Carlo won the Ray Price Country Star Search held here in Socorro in 1982, and went on to be one of four finalists in the statewide competition. 


The call for singers was issued last fall, and the Socorro community responded with 41 contestants vying for a chance to compete for a cache of prizes as part of “Socorro Sings,” a vocal competition set for Dec. 1.

The finalists were asked to fill out a brief questionnaire listing their reasons for entering the competition, and a little about their backgrounds. Their replies are as follows

Eli Armijo has been singing for the past 23 years, and credits his mother with jump-starting his musical journey in utero. “Putting headphones on her pregnant belly was the only thing that would stop my kicking,” he wrote. He also credits his girlfriend Megan “who is amazing and always there for me.” Armijo’s favorite musical genre is heavy metal, and he lists Ronnie Radke as his favorite singer. Something Unique About You: “My ride,” Armijo wrote. “I drive an ‘87 Buick hearse with flames painted on one side, pink flowers and the word “DEATH” graffitied on the other.”

His biggest passion is singing, and Armijo lists violin, acting in musicals, and playing guitar, piano, hanging and playing music with all of his friends, roller skating and dancing.  “Singing has always been a happy place for me,” he wrote. “My entire childhood consisted of some kind of music from violin to guitar and choir, mostly. I sing because I’m happy and excited to share my most favorite thing to do with everyone.”

William (Will) Barefield has been singing “from a wee lad . . .” and lists his favorite singers as Sinatra, Pavarotti and Morrison, so no surprise that his preferred musical genres are jazz/Broadway. The love of the audience motivates him to perform, and teaching is his biggest passion. So far as hobbies, Barefield is ranked an expert chess player.

Rose Carilli, the youngest of five siblings, is a Socorro native; and, at 14, one of three performers in their teens or pre-teen. She has been singing since she was able to vocalize, and lists electronic music as her favorite genre, and Alan Walker as favorite singer. Her family is Carilli’s greatest motivator, and her biggest passion is art. She’s “pretty good at drawing,” which is one of her hobbies, along with playing piano, writing and golfing.

Julie Ford has lived in Socorro since she joined the faculty at New Mexico Tech in 2003. Her musical tastes are disparate. “My favorite band is RUSH, but I also love a cappella and singer/songwriters with a good story to tell and poetic lyrics,” she wrote. “In my 20s as a grad student I moonlighted with acoustic duo gigs in settings ranging from bars to coffee shops to grocery stores. I took a long hiatus, but I’m happy to be singing again,” said Ford, whose favorite singer is Geddy Lee.

What is unique about Ford? She teaches engineers to communicate; and, she wrote, “I have a knack for finding four-leaf clovers.” Her motivation comes from “serving as an example for my children and my students that it is possible to work hard at your career, but also pursue and make time for other interests.”

Her biggest passion is living a balanced life and maintaining perspective, and hobbies are spending time with her husband and sons, swimming, golf, distance and learning to play piano.

“I’m a professor in the mechanical engineering department and this is my 15th year at NMT. I think my students would be very surprised that I sing. And honestly that is part of my motivation to audition. Part of my instruction to students (beyond content area) is to teach them to not confine themselves to small boxes. I encourage students to embrace left and right brain, to be an engineer AND human at the same time.

“I also feel strongly that NMT students need to learn to attempt endeavors that may result in failure. Sometimes I worry that our students become too focused on the safe path of right answers instead of taking risks and learning from productive failures. I’m on a mission to show them examples of putting yourself out there for the sake of learning and growth regardless of the outcome,” she wrote.

Victoria Murillo has been singing since she was three years old. She loves all musical genres, but Latin is her favorite, and Carrie Underwood is her top singer. Something unique? Murillo teaches multiple forms of Zumba classes, and teaches PE at the elementary level. She is motivated by her adult and elementary school students, music and competitions.

Music and dance are her passions, while she lists her hobbies as “anything family-oriented, camping and singing in church choir.”

“I come from a background of music from both sides of my family (mom’s and dad’s),” Murillo wrote.  “I sing because it’s my passion. I used to be afraid and didn’t have confidence. As I’ve grown up, I’ve learned that music and singing can be a wonderful gift, if you sing for others and not for fame. I love to sing with my family for local events in the community, private parties, and for church.

“And I love how much people in my community appreciate music. Music is everywhere and I thank God for blessing me, along with all the other participants in this event. If I can make a difference and touch someone’s heart with my voice, then I have done my job,” she wrote.

Jeanette Otero at 10 is Socorro Sings youngest performer. The pre-teen’s favorite music genre is love songs, and she has been singing since she learned to talk (some nine years). Freddie Mercury, the late frontman for Queen, is her favorite singer.

The finalist listed her personality as a unique trait, adding, “I’m usually very nice to all people.” Her parents provide her greatest motivation, and singing is her biggest passion. Being in plays and crocheting are hobbies.

Chynna Pearson attended Socorro schools K-12 along with taking classes at New Mexico Tech. She is now a student at Oklahoma State University where she was awarded a performing arts scholarship and is a member of the University Singers. While in high school, Pearson was a member of the Lady Warriors Golf Team.

“Personally,” she wrote, “I don’t think my story is interesting, since I only sing because I’m good at it.”

Val Thomas is a Louisiana native now living – and singing – in Socorro. Her musical tastes run to “a little bit of everything,” while her favorite chanteuse is Celine Dion. Thomas has been singing for some 32 years, since childhood. So far as a unique trait, Thomas is very organized “and able to make the best out of any situation.”

She is motivated by her love of learning and her family. “My biggest passion is and has always been making music and encouraging others to express themselves with music,” she wrote, adding that her hobbies include cooking, crafts and writing.

Jenna Thunborg, at 12, rounds out the cast of younger performers. She lives in Lemitar and lists country western as her favorite music genre. It follows that the late Marty Robbins is her favorite singer. Thunborg has been singing since the age of four, and wrote that her biggest passion is sharing her music with others.

Her unique trait is having a twin sister with whom she sings and plays music, and she is motivated by “having fun and learning new things.” Her favorite hobbies are singing, reading, geology, chemistry and painting.

Friday, December 1, 2017 - 7:30pm

$20/Adult, $18/Senior, $10/Youth, $5/NMT Students


Eamonn McCrystal

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