For Kayla Richardson-Piche ’12, Music Keeps on Giving

By Al Daniel

The refrain from Eurythmics’ magnum opus comes to mind when Kayla Richardson-Piche ’12 lays out her varied musical background and postgraduate ambitions.

“I have so many long-term goals!” says the energetic senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Granted, her suitcase has not quite logged stickers from the whole world, let alone the seven seas. Although she has traveled to one of classical music’s historic hotbeds.

Regardless, Richardson-Piche has developed as an artist in general by exploring a wide range of genres, instruments, organizations, and roles. That array of performing-arts penchants was practically predestined, as her family essentially made the Montessori Community School her second home through eighth grade.

“My parents raised both my brother and me on plays, musicals, and concerts,” she said. “Those are things that they have always really enjoyed, and so they made sure to share that enthusiasm with us.”

This past summer, Richardson-Piche gave back to one of her upbringing’s most influential institutions. She served as an assistant musical director on the 12-member creative team behind the PlayMakers Repertory Company’s annual Summer Youth Conservatory show.

If not for last summer’s UNC-sanctioned travels to Vienna — where her courses included German 101, a vocal Mozart-oriented workshop, and opera stage direction — it might have been easy to ask what took her so long with PlayMakers. Bountiful opportunities elsewhere played a part in pushing back her involvement with the familiar training ground for local musical actors.

With that said, nothing diminished her desire to join in when the time was right.

In her later years attending MCS, where she started as a toddler in 2000, Richardson-Piche frequented the Paul Green Theatre on class trips. None other than her father, then-MCS guide Peter Piche, arranged the outings.

Meanwhile, Richardson-Piche’s mother, Karen Richardson, taught music and furthered her interest in that aspect of production. Karen’s syllabus introduced MCS students to music theory and ear training.

Those topics hastened Kayla’s comprehensive mastery of orchestral instrument sounds and spawned her vast taste in genres. And even before mother and daughter occupied the same classroom, the former’s guidance honed the latter’s piano proficiency.

“It has been said that I also inherited her singing voice,” Richardson-Piche said.

“Both of them are very curious people,” she said of her parents, “and they have always encouraged my brother and me to be curious. So I think that is the most profound way they impacted my education — by encouraging me to go out and get it and cherish the opportunity to do that.”

More than five years after the Richardson-Piches dispersed from MCS, the siblings have done their part to sustain the school’s PlayMakers pipeline. Kayla’s brother, Ben Richardson-Piche ’14, previously performed in two youth conservatory shows. One of their contemporaries, Ryan Widd ’11, played Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls there.

More recent MCS alums joined Richardson-Piche in making their PlayMakers debut via the SYC’s production of Bright Star. Emerson Mack, now a junior at Carrboro High School, served as a scenic light board operator. Michael Lyons ’17 joined Mack on the tech crew, focusing on scenic spot operations. Barely a month after graduating, Micah Hughes ’19 played the guitar and the part of Spirit 2/Leanne Dobbs.

The eldest Mustang in the production barely missed overlapping with some of the others as Pope Road pupils. With age differences between five and seven years, none of the others shared a classroom with her. The youngest enrolled the year after she graduated.

Nevertheless, Richardson-Piche said, “It was wonderful to see Micah during rehearsals. It’s always special to talk and connect with other MCS students.”

While she did not work directly with every MCS connection in the show, she did get a sort of throwback to her original academic haunts. In a five-week sprint of rehearsals, she guided her fellow young performers in both ensemble and solo performances. The latter entailed one-on-one vocal sessions, with both parties accruing new wisdom in the process.

“I learned that a key part of a music director’s job is shaping the music to help facilitate the director’s vision and story concept for the show,” she said.

Going forward, that takeaway can benefit her on many fronts. As one of her career-relevant endeavors at UNC, Richardson-Piche wears a musical director’s hat of her own with the Carolina Ukulele Ensemble. The club was featured in a Daily Tar Heel story last year, and her language therein all but evoked her experience with an equivalent group at MCS.

Of the CUE’s humble beginnings, she told UNC’s student paper, “It was just a bunch of friends who got together to play the ukulele and jam.” But the ensemble soon snowballed in popularity, prompting auditions and inviting a breadth of styles.

The serious fun on Chapel Hill’s college campus was not unlike when Karen established and supervised the MCS ukulele ensemble. Richardson-Piche took to that club with enough fervor to literally dream about it the night before its inaugural session.

Reality was just as fulfilling.

“The program was really special,” she said. “It allowed a lot of kids to pick up an instrument and accompany themselves as singers. This led to a lot of spontaneous jamming and collaboration that I don’t think most kids got to experience in music programs at other schools.

“Being able to accompany myself on the ukulele also inspired me to write songs when I was in middle school, and that has evolved into a really sacred activity for me, even as a college student.”

In more formal settings, though, Carolina Choir has been one of the most crucial constants in Richardson-Piche’s collegiate journey. To that point, she said, “Being part of an ensemble is a requirement for music students at UNC, but choir has never felt like a requirement to me.”

The well-traveled chorale made an instant, upfront impression on Richardson-Piche, taking her to the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., during her first semester. She and the selective group’s other 69 student-singers have also collaborated with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle and performed Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem. In addition, she has performed a junior voice recital and joined the choral ensemble in a production of Handel’s Alcina.

On lesser days, the sheer company of like-minded peers offsets the effects of loneliness that come with required solo practice.

“Every run-of-the-mill rehearsal is an enriching experience for me,” Richardson-Piche said, “because it refreshes me as a singer and makes me feel just plain joyful!”

Not surprisingly, therefore, she lists classical singing as one of her ideal pursuits starting next year. But she is also open to following her parents’ paths in another manner, whether by teaching, conducting, or directing.

“I’d love to keep developing as a songwriter and maybe record some songs someday,” she added. “In general, my long-term goals are about staying curious and creating things that I want to see existing in the world.

“Right now, the plan is to see where that takes me.”