By SAMANTHA PIDDE
A West Carroll High School student has been accepted into the exclusive Interlochen Arts Academy where she will be attending school this fall.
Nikki Honchell, 16, of Mount Carroll, will begin attending classes in August at the prestigious school, majoring in Classical Voice and Opera.
Located in Interlochen, Mich., the Interlochen Center for the Arts has offered an "immersive arts experience" since 1928. The academy runs as a year-round boarding school which allows students to major in creative writing, dance, film and new media, interdisciplinary arts, music, theater and visual arts. Approximately 500 students from 28 different countries attend the academy.
Nikki said she has received a great deal of support from her mother and father, Amanda and Steven Honchell, as well as from her older sister, Katie.
Describing herself as someone who has thoroughly enjoyed music since she was quite young, Nikki recalled that when she was nine, she auditioned for and received a role in the children's choir for Timber Lake Playhouse's production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
For the past four years, Nikki has been singing classical music, saying she never thought about the genre until she began taking singing lessons with Laurie Wilkins of Mount Carroll. From these lessons, Nikki said she fell in love with classical, operatic music.
She has spent the past several months on an aria called "Non piu mesta," which is sung in Italian. Nikki noted she does not actually speak Italian, but did not have much difficulty in memorizing the piece.
"It's not too hard," Nikki told the Mirror-Democrat/Times-Journal last week. "I really like doing foreign language stuff."
Her mother, Amanda, said her daughter’s lessons made a real difference and Wilkins has been great and done so much for Nikki pointing out how passionate her daughter is about singing and performing.
"Nikki puts her heart and soul into all her practicing and all the work that she does,” Amanda said. “And we couldn't be prouder.”
After prompting from several people, including two of her teachers at West Carroll High School — Robert McFletcher-Jones and Emily Nunemaker — Nikki auditioned, applied and interviewed with Interlochen and was accepted.
This fall Nikki will be going into her junior year of high school and will move to the academy in August. She said the academy follows a schedule of nine-hour school days, with the mornings focusing on traditional academic studies.
The remaining four to five hours a day are spent on each student's individual art form/focus. Nikki will be focusing on classical voice and opera and hopes to one day have a classical performance career.
"I would like to sing opera professionally,” she said with a smile. “I think that would be cool.”
Acknowledging she is a bit nervous about attending a year-round boarding school, Nikki said her excitement is more than just her nerves “because I know it's going to be cool.”
Amanda said that while she is quite proud of Nikki, she was concerned initially if she was ready to let Nikki leave home, noting that her older daughter, Katie, just graduated from West Carroll and will also be leaving home for college this fall.
"I'll be an empty nester two years ahead of time," Amanda said.
However, she said she and her husband know Nikki is responsible, focused and driven, and they are very excited for her.
Besides singing, Nikki has been a WCHS cheerleader, served on student council, and been a member of drama club. She also participated in previous WCHS musicals, “The Wedding Singer” and “Into the Woods.” She attends both Mount Carroll United Methodist Church and Shannon Lakeside service.
Amanda and Nikki said have been touched by all of the public support she has received. Nikki said tuition at Interlochen is not cheap and the family has been doing a lot of fundraisers, including a yard sale last weekend, to help pay for Nikki's expenses.
Nikki will be performing at 5 p.m. Sunday, July 18, in Shannon Village Park during the Shannon church's Praise in the Park concert. A collection taken during the concert will go toward her Interlochen expenses.
Nikki also has a "Support Nikki on her Journey to Interlochen" GoFundMe page at https://gofund.me/4741bff9. As of last week, the page had already raised $550 of its $3,000 goal.
"The support has been great,” said Nikki. "I've really been overwhelmed."