Siren Mayhew arrived breathless for her interview, wearing cutoffs, a black T shirt, aviator glasses, and a backwards visor cap. She looked like any other Vineyard girl, fresh from her part-time gardening job. She’d been up early and worked, following a late night out performing onstage with the Sultans of Swing at Taste of the Vineyard.
After a leisurely conversation in her mother Deborah’s living room, Ms. Mayhew would head out to pack and prepare for the next morning’s trip to the Cape to sing at a wedding. She was especially needed, as the couple requested a tune sung in French. Ms. Mayhew could handle that.
Of course, Ms. Mayhew can sing in several languages, having performed and studied operatic music in her earlier years.
This hectic schedule is an everyday pattern in Ms. Mayhew’s life these days, since she has decided to return to performing after several years away from the stage. Now at 24, after attending college and pursuing other interests, Ms. Mayhew is welcoming music back into her life.
Blessed with an innate talent and a love for music, Ms. Mayhew began singing publicly as a youngster. By the time she was headed to college at SUNY Purchase in New York, it was time for a break.
But last winter when Jil Matrisciano asked her to sing a solo in the RISE Christmas show, Ms. Mayhew surprised herself. She said yes, and performed “O Holy Night” accompanied by Phil DaRosa, at the Performing Arts Center (PAC).
“It was the first time I’d sung in public for awhile. I started to want to say yes to performance opportunities, because I’d been saying no,” Ms. Mayhew. “I was taking a hiatus from that life for awhile. But I did start to miss it.”
Highlighting this new beginning and the next step in her musical career, Ms. Mayhew will perform with the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra on Wednesday, June 29, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Jung-Ho Pak will conduct a program of Broadway, Hollywood, and patriotic favorites. Broadway vocalist Fred Inkley will guest-star. Ms. Mayhew will sing five selections.
Most thrilling, if a bit daunting, is that Ms. Mayhew will perform one of her own compositions, “Ode to Lughnasa,” translated “Ode to August.” Ms. Mayhew has composed many pieces over recent years, but has kept them mostly to herself. Now she is feeling ready to share them with the world.
“Singing is a very personal thing,” said Ms. Mayhew. “I write my own music; it’s a form of therapy. If I have a bad experience, I like to turn it into beautiful music.”
Ms. Mayhew grew up in West Tisbury as Katie, but changed her name two years ago. “I feel a name should reflect the identity of the person who owns it,” she said. Ms. Mayhew felt like Siren was the perfect choice.
Growing up musical
Siren Mayhew’s musical life began in West Tisbury, in a cozy living room overlooking a big backyard and farm fields. Family and friends noticed her gifts for dancing and singing and her impeccable sense of rhythm when she was just a toddler, twirling on the rug, singing in her own language.
When Ms. Mayhew was 5, her mother took her to the Broadway production of “A Lion King” and purchased the CD as a souvenir.
“She learned every word of every song, and sang them over and over,” Deborah Mayhew said. “That’s when I really knew she was headed toward being a musician, probably a singer.”
At 6 years old, Ms. Mayhew began attending Children’s Theatre, Island Theatre Workshop’s popular summer program. She loved it, and continued attending and performing every summer into high school.
There she met Linda Berg, musical director for the program. A private music teacher, choir director, and performer, Ms. Berg recognized Ms. Mayhew’s talent.
Ms. Mayhew counts Ms. Berg as a strong supportive influence in her musical development. Although still young for formal voice training, Ms. Berg took Ms. Mayhew on as a student when she was 8 years old, and they worked together for years.
Ms. Mayhew grew up with music. Her mother and family friends took part in “musicales,” informal folk-music jam sessions in the living room. Uncle Jack played guitar. Her older cousins, Lucy and Caroline Mayhew, played violin. Along with voice, Ms. Mayhew studied violin, piano, and dance at Danceworks, and operatic singing at the Performer’s Workshop with Mareda Gaither-Graves.
By the time she enrolled at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, Ms. Mayhew and her clear, captivating voice were already familiar to many Vineyarders.
She joined the Minnesingers, and sang in several plays, including “Camelot,” “A Chorus Line,” and “Rent.”
“I had heard of Siren long before she came to the high school, and actually had a CD that she had made,” Janis Wightman, music teacher, department chair, and Minnesinger accompanist, recalled. “We all knew she was something special. What we all didn’t realize was what a lovely, modest, and unassuming young singer she was. I always knew she would have music in her life, and hoped that she would continue to share her gift.”
The crowning highlight of Ms. Mayhew’s high school music career was the first-ever Boston Pops High School Sing-Off. Selected from an initial field of some 400 entrants, Ms. Mayhew competed against 22 young musicians from around the commonwealth. She was one of three finalists performing at Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops, and was named winner.
Ms. Mayhew said making friends with the other young musicians was the best part of that exciting time.
Soon afterward, Ms. Mayhew sang with the Pops at their July Fourth extravaganza at the Esplanade, before thousands of revelers. Family members cheered her on from VIP seats on the lawn while Vineyard friends proudly watched on TV.
Ms. Mayhew performed in countless Island venues from the Katharine Cornell to the PAC, at the Possible Dreams Auction, with David Crohan at the Old Whaling Church, with the Boston Pops at Ocean Park. She performed several times in Boston, on Cape Cod, and even in London.
At SUNY Purchase, Ms. Mayhew majored in biology, minoring in musical composition. Later she transferred to Sterling College, a small Vermont school, majoring in sustainable agriculture. On the Island, her jobs focused on farming and gardening. Although she still composed, musical performing seemed far behind.
But late last winter, like a plant sprouting out of dormancy, music began to reawaken in Ms. Mayhew’s life. And the universe responded, bringing new opportunities.
A friend told Sultans of Swing founder Jerry Bennett about her. An invitation to join the band came within days of the Cape Cod Symphony’s request to sing at the upcoming concert.
Now her days are packed, not only with planting and tending gardens, but also with music, her two passions. Along with performing with the Sultans, Ms. Mayhew is preparing for the symphony concert. She is in contact with conductor Jung Ho Pak and practicing her songs.
She is not apprehensive about the concert. She has sung the pieces before, and performed for large audiences in the past. Performing her own music in this setting is a big step, but one Ms. Mayhew knows it is time to take.
We asked Ms. Mayhew if it feels good to be getting back into music.
“Yes,” she said softly, very thoughtfully. “Yeah, it does.”
Symphony on the Vineyard: Wednesday, June 29, 6 pm, at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs. Sponsored by Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank. Tickets are $35 in advance or $40 at the door (if available). For tickets and more information, visit capesymphony.org or call 508-362-1111.