A! Magazine for the Arts

Youth Spotlight: Noelle Sibley

May 25, 2010

When A! Magazine asked versatile musician Noelle Sibley about her participation in arts-related activities, she laughed, "My life is an arts-related activity."

Not content with playing classical violin in three orchestras and performing on the fiddle, the multi-talented Noelle also enjoys singing, acting, storytelling and reading.

This 18-year-old daughter of David and Denise Sibley is a senior and president of the National Honor Society at Providence Academy, a K-12, Christ-centered classical school in Johnson City, Tenn.

When not in school, Noelle is playing fiddle with the folk band The Borderlines; singing in the Providence Academy Ensemble; rushing off to Academy of Strings lessons; rehearsing with the Milligan College Orchestra, the Central Baptist Church Orchestra, or the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra; or immersing herself in good books and poetry.

She has not received her high school diploma yet, but she already has college credit under her belt thanks to the dual enrollment program at Milligan College, which allows high school students to earn credits that are transferable to the college of the student's choice.

She found out about the dual enrollment program when she joined the Milligan College Orchestra as a violinist. The orchestra is open to high school students, college students and adults from the community.

"I figured the orchestra was just another chance for me to gain musical experience," she explained. "The first day of rehearsal, Dr. Kellie Brown handed out syllabi to the students attending for course credits, and I thought, "Hey, why not get college credit for this?' So I raised my hand for a syllabus and cleared the class with my college counselor at Providence." Noelle enrolled in another music course at Milligan this spring.

Noelle began violin lessons at the age of five through the Suzuki School of Music (now called the Academy of Strings) in Johnson City. She has continued in this violin school under the tutelage of Timothy Barrett.

The summer before her sophomore year, her violin instructor suggested that she audition for the Symphony of the Mountains Youth Orchestra, directed by Ross Bader. "I called the office, set up my audition date, and received my music within the week," she recalled. "I auditioned despite losing time with a broken collarbone and found my place in the orchestra. The compositions Mr. Bader has selected have been wonderfully challenging and satisfying."

Noelle took up voice lessons as a junior in high school after singing in church and school choirs since preschool. "Stepping up to a higher level of singing has been a challenge that I have relished," she said.

For the past two summers, she attended a Sound Encounters music camp, where she "received a wonderful off-season education and found friendships which carry great strength through music."

Her favorite music includes folk, Impressionistic, modern/20th-century orchestral/ensemble works; especially music by Ravel, Copland, "good ol' Bach" and Sigur Rós (an Icelandic post-rock band).

Noelle noted, "I have not stuck with purely classical music. As a member of a local folk band, The Borderlines, I have focused a lot of time on developing improvisational skills and a personal violin voice. My love for this intimate, original ensemble work stems from my love for orchestra. Perhaps this reveling in ensembles is not unique, but the emotions I associate with it run so deeply and strongly, I cannot help but imagine my enjoyment is one in a million."

The Borderlines blend folk, irony, indie rock and bluegrass. They take influences from Appalachian bluegrass and classic country and fuse that with influences from indie and post-rock conventions. They funded and self-produced their first recording project, Circe and Bravo, in 2009.

In 2008, Noelle tackled theatre, portraying the White Witch in Providence Academy's production of The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe at the Trinity Arts Center in Johnson City. "That was my first formal theatre experience," she said. "I never expected to be cast as the White Witch - I am short and typically typecast as the "maiden in distress' or "lovesick sweetheart.' The unusual, dark nature of this role proved a difficult initiation into the theatre world, but I am proud of the character I created."

Later, she played Maid Marian in Robin Hood (November 2008) and Margy Frake in State Fair (May 2009), both school productions. She also helped dramatize A Normal Kind of Different for a high school conference in August 2009.

Last year, she was crowned Grand Champion Storyteller at Providence Academy's 2009 Christian Storytelling Festival. Then she shared the spotlight with seasoned storytellers at the 2009 Iris Festival in Greeneville, Tenn. Her original presentation, "Do Not Turn Away," was inspired by a short film screened in her humanities class at Providence on Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Noelle said, "Because the theme of the storytelling festival involved American history, I could not tell the story of Babi Yar [depicted in the video]. I knew I wanted to move people the way Babi Yar had moved me, telling of the atrocities of the Holocaust to prevent such events from occurring and continuing today. I chose to tell of the American soldiers' discovery of the concentration camp Ohrdruf. The theme of my story carried the same theme of the film: do not turn away from these horrors even though you cringe. By hearing, seeing and acknowledging the atrocities, we are acknowledging a wrongdoing and working to prevent its repeat."

She continued, "Every time I told the story, it drained me of emotional energy. It was difficult to tell such a sad story in the midst of cheery May festivities. Yet I had to remind myself, these atrocities played out beside spring flowers, in ice and snow, and in the green of spring. We must always remember that."

This fall, Noelle will attend the University of Tennessee-Knoxville where she plans to major in language or communications. She has been selected to participate in UT's Haslam Scholars Program, which includes a series of integrated, interdisciplinary seminars and extracurricular experiences, including study abroad.

Noelle is one busy young woman. "Yet," she concluded, "when I'm not "arts-ing,' I have found beauty in investing myself in relationships -- an art within itself."