ELKO — When Gail Mierins moved to Elko from New Hampshire with her husband and two small boys, she struggled to be content in a small town.
“Then I reached out,” she said. “And put myself out to meet some people and to look around and say, ‘Oh, here are all these things that I can do.'”
Once she plugged in, she found others who shared her passion: music. Now, whether she’s teaching private lessons or working on music direction for a local theater group, Mierins hopes to spread her passion and joy.
“I think the thing I’ve probably learned the most,” Mierins said of her work, “is how to take something I love, and I value, and share it with somebody else in a way that they get joy out of it.
“They don’t have to love it the same way I do, you know. Everybody doesn’t have to like the same things I like; they don’t even have to like me, and that’s fine. But if I can take — that’s probably the biggest joy I get out of doing this — is that I can take this thing that I highly value, and it’s a huge part of my life, and share it so it helps to bring some joy to other people.”
Although joyful, it’s not easy. The people she works with are creative. While getting a group of highly talented and creative people together to work on a project produces amazing results, it also generates a lot of drama.
“Drama should stay on the stage and it doesn’t always,” she said as her smile diminished. “I find myself repeatedly coming home at the end of a rehearsal … thinking how many more weeks of this, but, of course we get to the end,” her smile growing, her voice gaining volume and speed. “I’m in love with what I see on the stage, and the show closes, and I’m antsy for the next one.”
She has worked on local theater productions for 10 years now, beginning with Overland Stage Theater as a favor.
“Overland was created in 2008,” she said. “I was here then, but I didn’t know about them.
“I had actually not done — like I had done some theater, but mostly I was performing as a classic singer, you know a choral singer in the groups I was singing with … I was a performer,” she said, sitting a little taller in her chair.
“And then we came out here, and I got asked to direct a choir. One number. It wasn’t like a big concert. One of the women singing in the choir was one of the ones there for the creation of Overland. She approached me and said, ‘Hey we’re gonna do this big show,’ which was ‘Wizard of Oz.’
“’Sure, I can do that.’ Having no clue what I was getting into …
“And so she handed me this box that had piano conductor scores. It had the flute part, and the trumpet part, and the trombone part and the violins and the cellos: ‘Good, you can put the orchestra together.’
“I didn’t know anybody. There was no way. I mean I knew a pianist… so I called her and I said, ‘Help.’”
For that performance, Mierins sat between two pianos in sight of the performers.
“Completely out of my element. Absolutely thrown into this. Not a clue what to do and had an absolute ball,” she laughed.
So she stuck around to help.
After “The Wizard of Oz,” Overland invited her to join their board, which she is still on.
She doesn’t only help Overland with their family-friendly endeavors, she also helps at the college. Her first college production was “Les Miserables,” her “hands down, all-time favorite.”
“He (John Rice) had Joyce (Shaw) on board already. She was helping with the solos, and he asked me to teach all the ensemble vocals.
“‘OK, yep, I can do that,’” she said, bouncing her foot excitedly. “That was a little trial by fire, too, because it was a bigger than any show I had ever done. But it turned out beautifully, and he asked me to come back and do it again for the next year. So I’ve done five shows with them and loved every minute of it.”
Currently, she is helping Overland with its junior production of “Wizard of Oz.”
Whatever she is helping with her goal is clear:
“To forget you are sitting in a chair in an auditorium in some place and that the acting and the singing and the storytelling is so good that you are drawn away into the story that you’re watching and it isn’t until the end of act one and the applause happens and the lights come up that you realize that you’re not there. You’re sitting in a chair in the auditorium. That’s my goal, to bring that experience to everybody that comes to watch a performance.”
Mierins is also one of the few full-time vocal coaches in the area, teaching voice for more than 20 years.
Each of her students comes with different needs and motivations. That means Mierins must be patient and flexible, taking each student as an individual, yet working to give the proper technique to sing for a lifetime.
“I will tell them there are certain things that I am going to ask you to sing because it is going to teach you the right way to sing. Twenty years from now, if you still want to sing, you wanna make sure you haven’t damaged your voice in the process.”
The most common corrections are “kids singing from their throats, from their chest, or all the sound comes out through the nose. Those are the three big bad habits that I have to correct. And one of the first things I do with kids that sing through their sinus cavity is make them sing with their nose plugged.”
Along with proper technique, she desires to stretch her students to help them grow into great performers. Not only does she insist on teaching Latin, German and French classics, but she also introduces her students to new genres and new possibilities.
“Part of my goal in teaching that class (at Silver State Studios) is to introduce the kids to — you know, the kids that want to dance and do their thing — is there is more out there than Hip-Hop and all these skills and things that you learn. We apply these things to this new genre of musical theater.
“And the kids that came in and participated who were primarily vocalists. … Are you going to use your vocals beyond singing in the high school choir? You wanna use it in college? Well, you need to use these things. Well, you have to learn to dance … so come and bring your voice and learn to dance.”
The first thing Mierins wants to know when taking on a new student is, “is this the student’s idea or mom’s idea. It’s OK if it’s mom’s idea. We do what we need to for our children to teach them and help them grow.” She spoke from experience. “And sometimes they need to do things they don’t want to do, because that’s what we (as moms) do.
“But I want to know how much of that is mom’s idea and how much is the student’s idea. I’ll work with both.
“If it’s the student’s idea and the family is supportive that student is going to practice and they are going to love what they do. If it’s mom’s idea, I have to approach it differently. I don’t want any of the kids to walk out of here hating music. I don’t want them to dread coming for a lesson. So you have to change how you do things.”
“I’m in love with what I see on the stage, and the show closes, and I’m antsy for the next one.” Gail Mierins