Performer Profile: Lyle Belger
Lyle Belger is a senior at Redwood High School who has devoted her time as a volunteer performer for Bread & Roses Presents since the eighth grade. She has performed twenty-one shows for our institutional audiences since 2016, notably creating interactive workshops for children at the North Bay Children’s Center. In 2019, B&R presented her with the Outstanding Youth Award for her commitment and dedication. Bread & Roses Staff Producer Francesca Lee recently had a chance to interview Lyle to learn more about this inspiring young woman and her work in our community.
Q: When did you first discover that you wanted to perform music and what does music mean to you?
A. I always enjoyed music at school and come from an extended family with musical talent on both sides. My parents aren’t musicians but always encouraged me to pursue singing, because that’s what I loved doing early on. I can remember being in third grade and singing the National Anthem for the first time in public, and that was an experience that made me want to do more. I’m also an experienced actor with musical theater training, so it all kind of came together early on for me.
To me, music is a way to express myself while also bringing others into whatever it is that I’m feeling. I see it as a universal and long-standing way that people communicate and connect with each other across cultural, socioeconomic and other divides. It’s also a vehicle for having fun with friends, relaxing and taking my mind off of the usual stressors.
Q: What are your main instruments and how would you describe your style and sound?
A. I sing and play acoustic guitar. I do covers of all types of music, mostly pop, rock and folk music. I’m trained as a musical theater vocalist. While I don’t typically perform musical theater songs for B&R, it’s still a large part of my repertoire. I took 18 months of guitar lessons early on in high school but have since been self-taught. I’m no expert, but I get the job done and it’s nice to be able to accompany myself for my performances!
Q: How has volunteering as a performer for Bread & Roses Presents affected you and your music?
A. Musically, being a B&R performer has pushed me to keep practicing and expanding my repertoire, despite my very busy schedule with school and theater endeavors. I always want to put on a good show, so it has motivated me to rehearse. It has also expanded the styles and songs I have at my fingertips. Performing for different types of isolated audiences has forced me to broaden my musical horizons, learn new songs and new types of music. For example, at the Cedars in Ross, I had some requests for the Grateful Dead, while at the North Bay Children’s Center, I was asked for more Disney and pop songs.
My experience as a B&R performer took me out of my comfort zone. With each audience, not only does my song list change, but the ways in which I interact with my audiences change as well. I’ve had to develop my approach to each group, as I’ve learned the most effective ways to engage and connect with them. When I first started, I was only 13. I sang at some medical rehab centers for aging adults, as well as in facilities for adults with developmental disabilities. I was nervous and wasn’t sure what to expect. At the time, I also didn’t play guitar, so my repertoire was more limited. I wasn’t always sure how I was being received, even though I could feel that they enjoyed the music. Over time, I learned that just showing up was a big deal. As I relaxed and got more comfortable with my audiences, we started to get to know each other on a more personal level and the connections grew stronger each time I visited. These days, I can’t wait for my next show, as I love re-connecting with the many returning audience members!
Standing in front of a group of people, with no lights, no makeup, no script, no dress rehearsals (all of which I have when I perform in theater), leaves only the most pure connection and the music. The relationships I have cultivated with my B&R audiences, especially at the Cedars in Ross and Cedars Fine Arts in San Anselmo, mean so much to me. I will take these moments of connection through music with me as I move on to college next year. I hope to be back for some performances, since I’ll be close by!
Q: You recently brought a series of interactive workshops to the North Bay Children’s Center through Bread & Roses Presents. Can you tell us more about these workshops and what kind of impact that they had on the children there?
A. Yes, when I first performed there, I brought a few Disney songs. It was clear that many of the kids were itching to sing along with me, so I grabbed the second mic and let one kid at a time come up. I could see that singing in front of their peers was both challenging and exciting for them. Beginning when I was younger and all the way through high school, I was fortunate to have many opportunities to perform for, and with my peers, so I thought it would be nice to give these kids a similar chance. I created a curriculum where the kids could prepare lyrics, take the mic and perform each week. While there is so much more we could have done if we had more time together, my hope is that I gave them enough of a taste of what it’s like that they will find a way to seek out the experience of performing live again.
Q: You also fostered a powerful relationship with the residents at a developmentally disabled program in Marin called the Cedars. Can you please describe the connection you made there and how that felt for you?
A. As I mentioned previously, at first I was apprehensive because I wasn’t sure what to expect and what level of communication skills my friends at the Cedars would have. I was so young and didn’t have experience with that type of population. But I quickly figured out that they were so excited to see me each time I visited and that it didn’t really matter if I gave a perfect performance. What mattered was that I was there, interested in them and showed them that I was happy to see them. They just wanted to see me, talk with me and sing with me. What began with me singing to them quickly became us belting out songs together, including favorites like “Let it Go” from Frozen and Louis Armstrong’s “A Wonderful World.” The residents hugged me, gave me high fives and we shared our feelings sparked by the lyrics. Amidst my hectic schedule with expectations and responsibilities, my connection with my buddies at the Cedars has helped me appreciate small moments and filled me with a kind of joy that’s different from what I experience with my friends. I think that my Cedars friends and I have provided each other with genuine, soul-feeding connection through music!
Q: As it is known that we are going through a global pandemic at this time with the COVID-19 virus, do you have any advice on how people might use music to uplift them during these difficult times?
A. I think listening to music that reflects how you are feeling is a good way to be uplifted in challenging times. It’s nice to have our emotions mirrored in lyrics, because it makes us feel heard and to know that we are not alone. At the same time, I also like to listen to music that doesn’t necessarily match my experience. So if I’m feeling down, I might end up seeking out upbeat, happy music to get me into a different mood. Right now, I think we can also use music to explore. For example, I’m taking suggestions from my friends for artists they enjoy and then I’m learning that music for myself. Sometimes it resonates, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s a great time to be learning and exploring new music. I would also encourage people to write their own lyrics and songs if that’s something they enjoy. There is so much emotion at the moment. What better way to express it than by creating new music?
Q: What is on your current playlist right now?
A. Everything from Mumford and Sons to Queen to Mac De Marco.
Q: In what crucial ways do you think Bread & Roses Presents has supported people and communities?
A. I think that ultimately the biggest gift of B&R is human connection, especially for audiences who are on the fringes. B&R brings people together from all walks of life and connects them through music. Appreciation of music is a universal human experience, and B&R makes sure that everyone has a chance to share in that. Performances through B&R also show the audiences that they are just as important as anyone else and that they are worth bringing a show to. I think it makes them feel valued and important. But mostly, it makes them feel connected to other people and to something bigger than themselves!
Q: What are your plans for your music in the next few years?
A. I am a senior in high school and sadly not finishing my high school career in the way that I’d planned. I’m missing out on a number of end-of-year performances outside of school. That’s challenging and is a sad way to leave this phase behind. But I’m looking forward to pursuing music and all types of performing in college. I’ll be a theater major at Stanford University and hope to continue with rigorous acting training on top of my academic pursuits (possibly as a double major in psychology), with an eventual goal of being a professional actor. I would love to be in a band in college and to perform in musical theater productions, so I feel sure that I’ll keep up with it all, one way or another! And I absolutely plan to continue my community outreach through music while in college. I might even create a program modeled after B&R, with fellow college students performing with me for underserved audiences!
From all of us at Bread & Roses Presents: Congratulations Lyle Belger on all you have accomplished. You have made a difference and we look forward to welcoming you back to do more shows for our institutional audiences as you have time in the future.
Q & A -- Intro and Questions by Francesca Lee; Answers by Lyle Belger
Photo & Video Credits:
1) Producer Francesca Lee presents Lyle Belger with the 2019 Outstanding Youth Volunteer Award at Bread & Roses annual volunteer celebration aka The JAM. Photo by Peter Merts.
2) Lyle Belger performs at the main stage showcase at 2019 JAM. Photo by Peter Merts.
3) Lyle Belger leads the children at the North Bay Children's Center(NBCC)/Tinker Way in singing "The Best Day of My Life." Video by Allison Belger.
4) The children at the NBCC sing "Baby Shark" with Lyle Belger. Video by Allison Belger.