By Lillian BOODAGHIANS
The answer to the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can change considerably from the age of 5 or 6 to when someone is in their 20s. Sometimes, however, a love for something at a young age can slowly mold its way into a career as one’s understanding of their passion matures with time.
Such was the case for Bethany Encina, associate choir director at the First Baptist Church-La Crescenta and newly appointed choir director at Los Osos High School in Rancho Cucamonga.
“I couldn’t get away from singing. My mother is a voice teacher. I grew up hearing her give voice lessons in our living room and, as a young child, you absorb that stuff like a sponge,” said Encina of how she was first introduced to choral music, which would later become the focus of her career.
Encina, who took singing lessons from her mother and participated in choirs throughout her childhood and teenage years, said she realized her true passion for singing in high school.
“When I got to high school, I realized that choir was the most compelling part of my day,” she recalled.
This realization sparked her desire to pursue music further in her studies and she attended Chapman University Conservatory for Music for her undergraduate study. She entered as a performance major, her original goal to train and become a professional opera singer. But Encina said her vision for her future career changed as she began the training.
“I realized being an opera singer was not the lifestyle I wanted. I had been teaching singing privately in high school alongside my mom, and I knew that when I taught, I kind of overflowed with this joy of being able to help someone else,” Encina said.
While she notes that performing gave her a similar feeling, Encina said that it was not at the same level as when she was teaching. With that in mind, she decided to double major in performance and music education.
Encina said she had one of the most memorable performance experiences while she was performing with the college choir at Chapman.
“While I was in the college choir at Chapman, we traveled to Italy and were able to perform a concert in the Sistine Chapel,” she said.
After graduation from Chapman, Encina was offered a fellowship at the University of South Carolina at Columbia where she would earn a Master of Arts in teaching, vocal music. From there, Encina continued with a number of different jobs as musical director for various church choirs while also continuing with her private voice coaching lessons and live performances.
“Churches have always supported musicians, even historically, and being raised by Pastor Bill Flanders [of First Baptist Church of La Crescenta] church groups were my first place to look when seeking out jobs,” said Encina.
Having been recently named choir director at Los Osos High School, Encina hopes that through her teaching she will be able to encourage her students to broaden their horizons when it comes to music.
“Most people stick to a particular genre of music because that’s what they have always listened to,” she said. “I want to open up my students to a broad mixture of music because there are a lot of different things out there.”
While teaching will take up a great deal of her time now, Encina still maintains her love for performance.
“I love to perform at events in people’s lives that are really meaningful. I’ve performed at memorial services before, and that’s one of the times that people need music the most as a way to reflect,” said Encina.
Encina hopes to one day audition for the Los Angeles Master Chorale, one of the resident performing groups at the Music Center of Los Angeles County, which performs regularly with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Hollywood Bowl orchestras.
The goal that Encina is most passionate about, though, is delivering the message of how important music is for the community, particularly for the youth. She believes the best way to encourage younger members of the community to appreciate music is to lead by example.
“We learn by watching other people do things. If young people don’t see older adults participating in music, then they might not think that music is a worthwhile effort and might not participate themselves,” said Encina, “Music is meaningful, and it can change people’s lives.”