What makes a person cool? For those in Kansas City, being cool in the summer can be difficult with heat waves and more, but for six young people, being cool is not a physical state, but a state of being. These guys are collectively COOL! Even in slang dictionaries, cool is still subjective … there is the cool that means excellent and interesting or the cool that is fashionable. For six young people, cool is a combination of both meanings.
There is the youngest of the six, Addison Landes, 11, who loves performing. Her voice and acting abilities have already landed her in small local films. Next is Nelle Henning, 12. She is an incredible violinist who fell in love with the many genres of music available to the instrument including bluegrass. Next is Zeb Lyons. He’s 13 years old with a tremendous love for ballet. And don’t worry, his friend support him 110 percent. They often come to the performances he is in. Then there is Jada Kimbrough, a young 17-year-old pianist whose musical tastes includes no clear-cut genre, but she does excel at jazz piano. Connor Leimer is also 17 and a promising songwriter and guitarist. The oldest is Bailey Becvar. She’s a photographer whose work walks the line between photojournalism, high fashion and fun.
Addison Landes, 11, singer
Addison Landes is developing her vocal chops under the direction of vocal instructor Lauren Braton, who has studio space at the Kansas City Young Audiences-Community School of the Arts. Addison has been taking lessons with Braton for three years now.
“I can’t remember when I knew I wanted to sing,” she says. “I started seriously singing about four or five years ago. My mom always says I sing more often than talk.” At Blackbob Elementary, she was in the special chorus for fourth- and fifth-graders. She will be at Frontier Trail Middle School in the fall. Addison hopes she gets to participate in all that the middle school vocal music program has to offer.
“Lauren lets me choose some of the songs I sing and we often sing together,” she says. Some of her favorites are from Wicked, Phantom of the Opera and of course, Frozen. “I am gaining so much from Lauren. I am learning about controlling my breath. I have learned how to read music and some piano. When we sing Let It Go with Lauren, I gain even more confidence.”
Addison has been in A Christmas Carol at the Kansas City Repertory Theatre for years. She auditioned for the role of Zuzu in the American Heartland Theatre’s radio production of It’s a Wonderful Life and that’s where she met Braton, who was cast as Mary Bailey. She has also been in a few short films. Addison played in a zombie film titled Dead Weight. She also was in The Heist, a live action/animation combination follows a group of neighborhood kids on a quest and then as a best friend named Sam in The 5-Minute Goodbye. She recently completed acting in a short film called Just Like You with her brother. The film is about autism.
“I like bringing a different character to life,” she says. “I can do that on the stage or for film. It’s really a neat feeling to perform in front of others. I don’t have stage fright. I know Lauren has really helped me with that. I know I have more confidence.”Along with singing, Addison likes to draw, paint, hang out with friends, read and enjoy time with her cat, Beauty. She’s also a Girl Scout who just bridged to Cadette. Her service projects include creating thank yous for local firefighters and cards for children in the hospital.
“I usually feel happy when I sing. Sometimes I get to be silly and funny,” she says. “No matter what, I like to express myself. I want to be an actress and singer. I will continue with KCYA and Lauren. She gives me great direction.” This summer will continue her singing and acting training with classes at the Coterie too.
Nelle Henning, 12, violinist
Nelle Henning just completed sixth grade and her eighth year playing the violin. She started studying the instrument through the Suzuki Method at the age of 4. Her interest in the violin came from watching members of the Bluegrass band of which her father is a member. Her mother is also not surprised that she wanted to start playing.
Beth Titterington, a Suzuki teacher who founded a regional affiliate in 1979, has been teaching Nelle since she started and still serves as her teacher. Along with lessons, Nelle also studies and plays with the Heartland Chamber Music Academy. She has been with the group for four years. Her coach is David Kovac, a violin/viola player and teacher. She participates in the yearlong program, Stringendo as well as the summer camp. “I love playing Haydn with the chamber group,” she says. “I am also working on some Bach pieces including a largo and an allegro.”
Some of her personal hero musicians include violinist Joshua Bell, a Grammy-winning violinist who played recently at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Her mother takes the kids to Kansas City Symphony rehearsals.“I know the kids that are younger and getting involved in the Heartland Chamber Academy look up to us. Even my brothers, who are all learning to play the violin, look to me as well.”
Nelle is homeschooled and participates in her parish school athletic program including high jump, distance running and shot put. Plus she sews. Nelle also enjoys learning Chinese. She is also interested in majoring in Chinese in college possibly or looking at pediatric nursing. Then there are her art lessons and going to The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Other interests include helping a pregnancy center with a diaper collection. She may also want to own her own farm.
“No matter what, I know that music will always be part of my life,” Nelle explains. “Playing music helps me. I have to be dependable when I am playing in a chamber group. I have to know my part and help put it together.”
Zeb Lyons, 13, dancer
Zeb Lyons is getting ready for eighth grade at Indian Woods Middle School. Until then, he will mark a busy summer with the Kansas City Ballet and school’s junior summer intensive. He’s been dancing since fifth grade at the Kansas City Ballet School. Zeb became interested in ballet when his school participated in a school program that had dancers spending time with the students. He received a scholarship to pursue dance and hasn’t looked back.
Now, Zeb is a Level 3 dancer. He has the first two levels completed and looks forward to building on the foundation he has already gained. Barre and center exercises are more complex and students will begin to incorporate upper body movements to add uniqueness and character to their dancing. Additional focus is placed on using correct accents with the legs and feet. He is looking forward to mastering the pirouette.
“Dancing is a great workout,” Zeb says. “Dancing gives me a chance to meet new people.” During the school year, he was dancing four days a week up to 90 minutes to two hours. Students attended class from 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday for four weeks.
Zeb’s mentor comes in the form of Marcus Oatis, the Johnson County campus manager. Oatis began his dance education with the summer program Ailey Camp. This program afforded Oatis the opportunity to study at additional programs including Smith Sisters Dance Studio, The Center Dance, Kansas City Ballet, and the Ailey School. In 2008, he joined the Kansas City Ballet under the direction of William Whitener.
“If I’m stressed out about school, I forget about everything,” Zeb says. “Everything about dance excites me. When I am learning new dance moves, it is like learning to read or walk. Everything is new and challenging.”
Zeb, who is also part of his school choir and enjoys social studies and math in school, tried sports, but discovered ballet fit him. “I plan to stay in dance through high school and if I can go to college to study dance, I would like that too.” He has been in the party scene for The Nutcracker the past two years and he was in The Wizard of Oz with the Memphis Ballet when the ballet came to the Johnson County Performing Arts Center. This October, he will play a playing card in Alice (in wonderland). “I like being on the stage at the Kauffman Center,” he says. “Someday I want to play one of the princes in a ballet like Sleeping Beauty. That would be cool.”
Jada Kimbrough, 17, pianist
Jada Kimbrough has already a burgeoning following for those who love jazz and blues in Kansas City. She has played piano around town and performed in February for the Band of Angels fundraiser with jazz singer, pianist and songwriter Tony DeSare. Her home piano was given to her through the local chapter of Keys 4/4 Kids. One of her teachers is legendary Kansas City statesman Everette DeVan, an organist.
As her acclaim in the community rises, Jada and her mother appreciate where Jada has come from with her small Casio keyboard and the drive to move forward. After their home was robbed and the video games taken, Jada turned to the keyboard and learned to play. “I learned to read music and sight read. Now I am looking at pieces by Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Chopin’s Prelude in A Major. “I also like to look at the jazz and blues versions of some of these pieces,” Jada says. “When I play music, I like it to be clean and creative. Of course, I like to explore different techniques and feelings, but it is gift to find the fast and happy tunes or the slow and sad ones. I like to tell the stories these songs represent.”
Along with the piano, she knows how to play the electric guitar and is learning to play the bass guitar. Now as a homeschooler, Jada spends time volunteering as well as playing. She has volunteered at Operation Breakthrough and ushered at the Blue Room through the American Jazz Museum. She’s played for residents at Sunrise Assisted Living and jammed with fellow musicians at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. “They have become mentors and family to me,” she says. “It’s a rich music scene here.”
As she finishes her last year of high school, she will perform with two jazz bands through the Johnson County Community College and is a member of the GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project this summer. “Thanks to the Band of Angels, I will be attending the KU Jazz Camp for the second year. I also received a scholarship for lessons through the UMKC Conservatory based on the merit of my skills.” Her other arts connections include Kansas City Young Audiences and the Kansas City Girls Choir.
“I like to focus and study and for me, that’s fun,” she says. “I like to record my music and post the tunes on YouTube. I have even been studying programming for the computer through the online school Khan Academy. I am learning coding in Java Script.”
While she works on her playing, she also listens to her inspirations such as Chick Corea, Oscar Petersen, Alicia Keys, Charlie Parker, Adele, Count Basie, Diana Krall and Barry Manilow. “I don’t want to fit into any specific genre so I like to listen to folks from many genres too,” she says.
Connor Leimer, 17, singer/songwriter and guitarist
Connor Leimer just finished up his junior year at Blue Valley North, but there is no rest for the summer. He plans on working on a full length compact disc. Like It’s Summer is Connor’s first extended play CD with five songs. He worked on the disc in 2013 at Weights and Measures Lab.
He started playing drums at the age of 7, but when he entered seventh grade something else entered his life – a guitar. Then came the love of words and songwriting.
He was part of the second year of the GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project that took place in Kansas City last summer. He says the program gave him added incentive to write more songs. “I like the creativity to write lyrics. I like telling stories, sharing memories and more. I enjoyed drumming, but I have a passion for songwriting. I hope it takes me far.”
Created with generous support from Sprint Center/AEG and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, The GRAMMY Museum’s Music Revolution Project offers talented youth ages 14-21 the opportunity to engage in musical discourse, composition and recording in order to spur innovative ideas within the realm of American music. Connor’s first EP (Extended Play) features a song written at the camp, Driving. “I credit the camp with connections. I didn’t realize how many studios and other musicians are in town.”
His parents are lawyers, however, music has always been a big part of the Leimer household. “My parents like a wide variety of music. I found exposure to Bob Dylan and Neil Young.” Then he started finding his own musical interests such as Jack Johnson, John Mayer, Stevie Wonder and Blink 182. “I am always working on the perfect draft of a song. I do like rhyme and alliteration.” He expects to put out a full length CD later this year, recording works at Element Recording Studios.
Connor is also striving to balance school with his music. Next year, he will be enrolled at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies through the Blue Valley School District. He is looking at New York University or Austin to study stocks, finance and investments. “It would be great to be near a city that would allow me to grow my music and fan base. I know education is valuable and I am not passing anything up. I know the music business is tough, but I am hopeful and realistic.” Connor is also a member of the National Honor Society and has taken several Advanced Placement courses.
As for being inspired and inspiring others, Connor says music is a creative aspect that gives fellow musicians and singers a chance to be fans to each other. “I know there are people who look at me such as when I am on stage with the school’s jazz band,” he says. “Whether it’s in jazz band or writing and performing my own work, I know that music is universal with expressing and reflecting feelings, growing up, love and more. I am still a teenager so I write about what I know.”
Bailey Becvar, 18, photographer
Bailey Becvar is the oldest of the Cool Kids featured in this KC Studio Kids section. Bailey attended Staley High School, and is going to attend the Kansas City Art Institute in the fall. Her main interest is photography. “I may look at film as well,” she says. “I wanted to attend a school close to home and I fell in love with KCAI. Plus who can resist being so near to The Nelson and the Kemper museums.”
Bailey attributes her art teacher Chelle Cox with her deepening love of photography and what she can do with that photography. During her freshman and sophomore years, she took advanced photography and Advanced Placement studio art. “For me, photography and then the work through digital manipulation give me a chance to explore the many sides of my personality. I am a curious person and I like to get outside of my comfort zone. I really never want to be held to one style.’
Her portfolio has gotten her many awards. She received second place and third place honorable mention in the Congressional Art Competition in Missouri, she was honored at a reception where congressman Sam Graves presented the awards, and the art work will hang in his St Joseph Office through the year.
She was selected as one of only 15 students to the Nelson-Atkins Photography Scholar program, where she studied for five weeks with photographers from all across the nation, and then she had a gallery opening at the Nelson in early May. She received two Gold Key awards for her work with the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She took a Gold Key for her entire portfolio and a Gold Key or an individual piece. Both came at the regional level.
Along with her photography and school work, she has been part of the school soccer team for four years and on student council. “Soccer has been a big part of my life. However, my friends have commented that I always have my camera and I want to capture what I see around me.” Her college courses while in high school included college French, college English and other Advanced Placements as well. “I know that the underclassmen looked up to the older players. I have always tried to set a good example and think about it all the time.”
Her community service involves helping with children’s church and a pet shelter near her home. “I have been taking pictures of the pets available for adoption for the KC Pet Project,” she explains. “I would love to travel the world and take pictures. I want to grab at life and take whatever comes.”