Mead grad, pals to sing in concert

On Dec. 18, area residents have the opportunity to attend a holiday concert and help a local man achieve his dream.

Mead High School 2006 graduate Jonathan Mancheni will perform at St. John’s Cathedral to raise funds to attend the American Institute of Musical Studies, in Graz, Austria, next summer. His friends Jahmaul Bakare and Lisa Eden will join him in concert. The three are vocal performance majors at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

As a child, Mancheni sang in a church youth choir organized by his mother, Pam Mancheni. He said, “I heard an older kid sing – he had vibrato, and I said, ‘I want to sing like that!’ ”

After hearing her son sing, Pam Mancheni decided to invest in voice lessons for him, and that’s when he discovered opera.

“I was 15,” Mancheni said. “I started studying with Steve Mortier. I went to his studio and sang something from ’N Sync.”

Mortier liked what he heard. But then he asked his young student to sing a classical Italian piece and Mancheni’s love of opera blossomed.

It wasn’t easy being a high school student who blasted Pavarotti instead of Pearl Jam from his car stereo. Mancheni already felt different from his peers. He has Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalizations called tics.

Fortunately, Mancheni discovered he had another talent – baseball. In 2006, he received honorable mention as catcher for the all-Greater Spokane League team.

“Playing baseball helped me make friends,” Mancheni said. “When I was with the team, nobody cared about my Tourette’s.”

As Mancheni sings his Tourette’s symptoms, such as repeated throat clearing, dissipate. “When I perform I don’t even have time to think about Tourette’s. All of the tics and everything goes right out the window.”

Noted soprano and voice instructor Ann Fennessy taught Mancheni during his four years at Mead High School. “Jon came to me as a pudgy little freshman with the most deeply seated desire to sing that I’ve ever experienced before or since,” she said. “I found myself in the position of trying to hold him back!”

Fennessy compared a young person who wants to sing opera to a kid who likes to run attempting a marathon. Moving too quickly through the vocal challenges of opera can actually damage developing vocal chords.

Mancheni discovered there’s no fast track to becoming an opera star. He said, “You can’t skip any steps – it’s a very disciplined art form.”

However, he excelled in high school, and was twice selected to the all-state choir. Additionally, he performed with the Coeur d’Alene Opera.

After graduation, Mancheni attended Eastern Washington University before transferring to UNLV. He’d hoped to play baseball for UNLV but on the second day of walk-on tryouts he tore a muscle in his shoulder.

The injury forced him to make a choice between his two great loves. He chose to let his shoulder heal without surgery, so that he could focus on his music. Now, the opportunity to study abroad could open doors into the global opera community, he said.

Mancheni and his colleagues from UNLV will sing arias, classical hits and holiday music at the concert.

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