Gifted teen hones rare musical talent in Charter program


Vivian McFall, a senior at Indian River Charter High School’s Schumann School for the Visual and Performing Arts, has had an amazing senior year at this specialized school in Vero Beach, to the point where it’s hard to believe all that she has accomplished.

McFall, who says music is important to her whole family, became a member of the Gifford Middle School orchestra in sixth grade and learned a great deal from Matthew Stott, the orchestra director there and at Vero Beach High School.

McFall next attended VBHS, again working closely with Stott, where she focused on the violin, thinking she might make it her career.

By her junior year, Stott had taken a job elsewhere and McFall, as Concert Master that year, felt she had a duty to the orchestra; to give back to them as a mentor and to teach them as Stott had taught her.

“I wanted to be that one they looked up to, to give inspiration,” McFall recalls.

But then fate intervened. McFall had been given an opportunity to join the Charter School for her senior year and knew she had to make a bold decision. Should she continue at a school where she already knew, liked and worked well with the orchestra, or should she take a leap of faith and go to a completely new place – academically as well as socially – to further her talents with an unfamiliar orchestra director?

In the end she recognized the benefits of attending Charter, where she could also add vocals and theater to her repertoire.

Although it was intimidating to enter a new school, where there were so many talented people, McFall says she was excited to prove herself, “to conquer both passions, creating art in both theater and music.”

Mission accomplished. McFall will have spent only her senior year at Charter, but in that one year her career focus and life would change dramatically.

McFall is First Violinist in the school’s orchestra, plays seven instruments, makes costumes, paints, draws and writes poetry. She, and many others, were soon to discover that she is also an enormously talented vocalist.

Michael Naffziger, the artistic director at Charter who has guided her this year, describes McFall as “a Swiss army knife of talents.”

When she was considering entering a Florida State District Festival in November 2021, a competition for Florida District 15 consisting of some 20 schools, Charter’s theater director, Fednike “Nikki” Nozistene, suggested to McFall that she sing the song “I am Here” from the musical “The Color Purple” for the solo competition, and McFall took First Place.

Next, the students from the Florida District 15 held a Critics’ Choice Showcase at VBHS, which McFall participated in, and her solo was picked Best in Show.

McFall had been leaning toward an education major, thinking to become an arts-related or art history teacher, and had already been accepted at Stetson University, the University of Central Florida and the University of North Florida.

All seemed to be going as planned until she entered the Florida Thespians “Top Honors” showcase, held at the Florida Thespians State Festival in Tampa this past March. This is the largest high school theater competition in the world, with about 7,000 participants.

Again, McFall sang her solo “I Am Here.”

“It is such a powerful piece. You definitely have to be into the character, and to do your research, and it’s all about delivery. That was something I was definitely challenged on by theater director Nozistene,” says McFall.

“After I experienced what it’s like to perform for 7,000 other thespians and theater kids who are also passionate about the same things I am, it lit a spark in my heart.”

As a result, McFall began thinking, “I don’t know what I have to do or how long I have to wait, but this is what I want to do – musical theater. I love acting and I want to be taught acting.”

At the Thespian Festival, there is a three-hour open mic where those with top honors can sing.

She sang her song twice and the second time, Hans Weichhart, coordinator of the entire festival, was astounded to discover she was a high school student, thinking she had been one of the Broadway stars they had invited to the event.

Taking notice of her talent, Weichhart asked if she had committed to a college yet. Not yet, was her reply, although McFall says her main goal is still to be part of a college.

“That will challenge me,” says McFall, adding that as long as she can do what she loves, she will remain motivated and happy.

While McFall’s eyes sparkle with excitement, she seems grounded and steady, and ready to meet the next challenges life has to offer her.

Although so much has happened in a short period of time, McFall knows she made the right decision to change schools for her senior year.

“I opened a new chapter in my life, and it was the right move, even though I will only have spent one year here. I would not be in the same place if I had stayed at Vero. And that’s not necessarily a negative thing, because Vero was a great school for that chapter in my life. I have opened a new chapter, and this is the school I needed to be at,” says McFall.

“There is a lot more funding in the arts at Charter. Students are here because they want to be here,” says McFall.

Compared to the thousands of students attending Vero Beach and Sebastian high schools, Charter is small, and puts an emphasis on production, design, dance, acting, musical theater, orchestra, jazz band, tech design and stagecraft.

Having been immersed in it, McFall says she has a new-found respect for the various areas of study and specialties it takes to put on a production.’

“It is groundbreaking and inspiring when you go through the dry run for a production; it’s a monster, a beast to tackle,” reflects McFall. “It makes me enjoy the show, and the production so much more.”

She says she also finds the smaller class sizes more intimate and rewarding. She can see her fellow students grow and “see the intimate connection between students, and other students and teachers.”

The poise of this young woman, and the grasp of her many gifts, is humbling to see.

But, McFall says, “I come from humble beginnings, and I never want to act pristine or act like I deserve the best, because as long as I get to do what I love, I’m content and I am grateful. I’m just going to take it one day at a time, and just perfect my craft every day.”

McFall would like to provide others with the same type of inspiration and guidance she received.

“I still have some doubts, as anyone would have in this situation. But just having the support of my family, my friends, my teachers, I can still feel grounded knowing where I’m coming from and knowing that I still have those people by my side, no matter how far in life I go.”At the International Festival, June 21-24 in Bloomington, Indiana, McFall will again perform her solo piece. This time the audience will be full of scouts from colleges and Broadway, among others, hoping to snag the next up and coming talent.

It will be the biggest venue yet for McFall, and Naffziger expects she will receive multiple offers for college opportunities. But McFall seems to take the journey in stride.

“I was given the opportunity and I plan to be there.”

There, where the audience will be wowed off their feet by this talented, charming and engaging 18-year-old.

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