Miss West Sound Megan Leibold of Poulsbo competed last weekend in the Miss Washington pageant, where she will be judged on character, poise, confidence and personality. If she wins, she’ll be the second Poulsbo resident to win the title in its 80-year history; Talia Watland was the first, in 1988. She’ll win scholarship money and entry into the Miss America pageant.
There’s more at stake for her than a title and scholarship.
Leibold wants the title so she can continue calling attention to the need to preserve arts funding in schools. Arts education changes lives, she says.
Leibold, 22, graduated from North Kitsap High School in 2008. She graduates from Pacific Lutheran University in December with a degree in vocal performance, and plans to be a music educator.
Leibold sat down recently and talked to the Herald about music education, the differences between natural and glitz pageants, and her bocce ball skills.
— On getting used to listening to her own voice: I started recording myself back when I was 14 or 15, when I started lessons, because when you hear your voice, you can hear the changes that you make and what your teacher is trying to tell you. You can learn to adapt to those better when you can actually hear the things you’re doing differently or not doing technically correct. It does take a while to get used to but once you hear yourself a couple of times, with that specific teacher, you learn to find a routine and you hear yourself getting better and better. It makes it easier and quicker to learn.
[Your voice] is constantly changing. My peak, in terms of singing, won’t hit until I’m 30, 33, in that range somewhere, so I’m still very much a young singer and haven’t matured. My voice is changing a lot so I’m constantly having to adapt to different techniques to produce the best sound at this level.
— On her career path: I specialize in opera right now. I understand that it’s a very competitive world out there in terms of singing in general. I really want to go more toward teaching private voice. In having a performance degree, I’ve been able to specialize in the voice specifically, the anatomy behind it, what techniques work for what singer, the repertoire that’s good for young singers up to 70-year-old women and men that want to sing.
If I did some featured-artist stuff with the Bremerton Symphony to keep it local, or perform in the Seattle Chorale just to do Handel’s Messiah, I would feel totally accomplished [as a singer] … I did tell myself that once I graduate from college I would audition for “The Voice,” just to say I did it, just to say it was a good experience. I’ll do that next year after I graduate.
— On her first performance: My first performance — I was 2 years old — it was at my mom’s 40th birthday party. My mom used to work at Sands [restaurant] ... There was a karaoke stage, and I went up and I sang my ABCs and “Happy Birthday.” From there, she knew I would be an entertainer … I joined the church kids choir when I was in third grade and the rest is history.
— On one of her favorite instruments: I go to First Lutheran Church and we have a handbell choir. I started playing handbells when I was 8 years old. I love them. I play the last octave and a half. I just love having the melody up there and being able to double and switch from one to the next. It’s been a really great skill.
— On the importance of arts education: It’s so hard to see what’s going with North Kitsap right now and all those budget cuts and to watch that music program that proved to me that I should be a musician for the rest of my life, watching it fall apart. You have district board members that don’t understand and if it weren’t for those educators and those music programs, I would not be a future educator and a future voice teacher. You have so many kids who have had so many successes in music. [Board members] need to listen to the ways it’s changed these kids’ lives. I know so many kids that are so introverted, so shy, and the only way they were able to express themselves was through music. And now because of that choir they’ve been in, they’ve been able to write music and express themselves that way, and that’s how we create music for the future …
I had a huge opportunity to perform with Choir of the West this year at the American Choral Directors Conference in Dallas, Texas, and we performed in the Winspear Opera House and the Meyerson Symphony Center. There There were about 2,000 music educators, conductors, composers at these concerts. After our performance, we had hundreds, thousands of people telling my director that our performance reminded them of why they teach music, and rejuvenated their spirits to fight the budget cuts that schools are going through. They said we inspired them to go back and remind their students why they’re doing this and why it’s important.
— On the way arts education builds relationships and self-esteem: I remember when I was in elementary school, more than half the kids in my fifth- and sixth-grade class took choir because it was the cool thing to do. It was early in the morning, so we were risking getting up early to go do choir at 7:30 in the morning as 10-and 11-year-olds. You can’t get that from another subject …
In high school, we used to meet Tuesday and Thursday at 6:35 in the morning for chamber choir. We would practice from 6:35 to 7:30 and for that you get to see [each other] on a more vulnerable level, you’ll see us make mistakes all the time. And that’s not an issue. You’re supposed to make mistakes so we can learn from them, learn your notes so you’re more prepared for the concert rather than just hiding your mistakes and not fixing them.
— On Sylvia Cauter’s influence: In my sophomore or junior year of high school, when I was working with [vocal music teacher] Sylvia Cauter, she gave me a lot of leadership opportunities in terms of playing piano for the choirs, assistant conducting when she wasn’t there, acting as a section leader for the audition groups. That was a huge way for me to realize maybe this is something that I can pursue as a career.
— On her pageant career: In her first contest, the Cinderella International Scholarship Pageant, she won the state title and the best vocalist award at the national level. In 2011, she won the best talent award and was second runner-up in the Miss Whatcom County contest. In 2012, she won the international talent award and was fourth runner-up in the International Junior Miss Scholarship Program. In February, she won the Miss West Sound title.
— On the value of pageants in today’s world: Glitz pageants are the reason pageants are looked at so negatively … Every pageant that is done on “Toddlers and Tiaras” is completely glitz, which means these girls must be in full makeup, fake lashes, fake teeth, fake hair, big hair. Girls that are 6 years old are wearing dresses that cost $2,000 to $3,000. You literally must look picture perfect on stage. But those glitz pageants don’t have a private interview, those girls don’t speak in front of [judges] ever. They just model. They don’t do anything about community service. It’s all how good they look in a picture and how they well they can walk on stage.
On the other side of it, you have natural pageants that are completely focused on the girl’s natural beauty on the inside. She may not be the most beautiful girl in the world, but if she is beautiful on the inside and is serving her community and making a difference and loves what she’s doing, that girl’s a winner, easily.
— On pageants as a force for good: This is the great thing about Kitsap County specifically. We have a lot of community pageants that not a lot of other regions have. … We have so much and we’re doing this for community service. We’re doing this to make a difference in our communities. And that’s so many girls. If we were all able to collaborate and team up and take all these programs and use it, create that sisterhood within these community programs where we have the same mission, I could see us doing really great things … using our queens as assets, to promote to people, “Come to us — we know how to supply you with community service, we know the steps that it takes to get out there and get your hands dirty.” I don’t want anyone to feel awkward about going to this program or going to this program. I want them to feel they can come to all of us. That’s been a huge thing I wanted to accomplish this year.
— On how pageant competition changes a contestant’s life: I would not feel ready to start my own business as a private voice teacher, I would not feel OK doing these types of interviews and learning about current events and discussing them with a panel of judges. I would not ever feel OK about that if it weren’t for pageantry. I would have never felt motivated or inspired to have these talent shows to raise funds for music education. I would never have even thought to do that if it weren’t for the girls that had done pageants before me, to inspire me to make a difference ...
I really care for a lot of people, but I never knew how to let it out. I would usually keep that kind of stuff in ... But once I was able to see that these girls that are in pageantry are telling these stories and really caring about their communities and they’re able to express that, I was able to get motivated and say, “I don’t need to be quiet about what I care about. I don’t need to be quiet about wanting to make a difference or caring about what this family’s going through. I can make a difference. I can help them. I can talk about it and let people know I really do care about what’s going on.” Pageants have been a way for me to do that and to get in front of a group of people and give a speech about planning it.
— On her favorite sport: My family started a bocce tournament about 12 years ago, and I am a two-time tournament champion. We don’t follow official rules; we think the straight line, just going back and forth, is a little tedious, maybe a little boring.
— What’s on her iPod?: She likes jazz, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Diana Krall. “I saw Neil Diamond last July. He was amazing. He commanded the stage.”