Nanauwe Vanderhoop’s voice is electric, angelic, soulful, and pure. Her performances are always impressive, and people say that she sounds like a pop star. She’s only 17 years old, and has been studying hard, putting her heart into her performances. The Times sat down with Nanauwe, her mom Saskia, and her teacher and mentor Maureen Fisher, at Maureen’s lovely home and teaching studio in West Tisbury.
Nanauwe has been singing as long as she can remember, and said she loves all types of music. She always knew that singing would be her calling. As early as 7 years old, she began composing songs and melodies, and still keeps a journal of these ideas. She says her biggest influences are Stevie Wonder, Lauryn Hill, and Erykah Badu. “I listen to everything from R & B to funk soul, jazz, neo soul,” she said.
”And salsa!” Saskia interjected.
Her mother is also very musical; Saskia is in charge of Sassafras Earth Education, as well as teaching salsa classes at the Ritz. At Sassafras, Nanauwe grew up singing so often that she developed an ability that went far beyond her years.
“This is a girl we used to call ‘the canary,’ after a traditional salsa singer named El Canario,” Saskia said. She always encourages everyone to sing and dance, saying, “It is important now, more than ever.”
Her mother is always in attendance for Nanauwe’s performances, and pointed out that the Ritz and the Lampost are upcoming venues for her daughter.
Nanauwe’s father, David, a jazz enthusiast, and her brother Evan were also major influences in her life. Evan accompanies her in the band Other Chyld, and is a successful multi-instrumentalist attending Berklee College of Music. Evan often provides a particular sound that allows Nanauwe’s voice to really stand out. She performed at Evan’s senior recital at Berklee, and will perform at many weddings as well this summer. By the time she was 12 years old, she was ready for professional mentorship.
Maureen Fisher, a New York City piano and vocal performer and instructor, had just arrived on the Island, and was selecting students carefully. Rumors of a new music teacher wandered through the Vineyard grapevine into the Vanderhoop home.
“When she first came to the Island, there was this buzz that there was a really good music teacher here,” Saskia said.
Maureen responded, “I had no idea there was hype going around; must have been my daughter spreading the word.”
Maureen has instructed Island students of all ages in piano, voice, and music theory. She now focuses on teaching students out of her home, but some may know her from Island Music, where she taught for eight years. Maureen likes to challenge her students. After only a few years of training, she gave Nanauwe the difficult “Girl from Ipanema” to perform. After solo performances at small student gatherings at Maureen’s home and at the West Tisbury Congregational Church, Maureen says people are still talking about Nanauwe.
“I hear about it all the time, and that was you and your piano, and nobody else,” Maureen said to Nanauwe.
”I would definitely not be where I am without Maureen,” Nanauwe answered.
”Thank you, honey,” Maureen said.
Saskia chimed in, ”Maureen is not only an excellent teacher from New York, she is much more than a teacher to her; whenever there were difficulties in her young life, Maureen always talked to her, and was always there for her like a mentor, almost like an auntie, and we really appreciate her.”
Nanauwe also studied under music teacher Michael Tinus, performed with the jazz band while attending the regional high school, and took jazz theory. She was homeschooled for some time, and took classes at the New England Conservatory on weekends. After much research and consideration, Nanauwe eventually found Idyllwild Arts Academy in California, where she is currently majoring in songwriting.
“She really had a direction and vision for herself, and I think that’s what led her to Idyllwild,” Maureen said.
It can be very difficult when a child leaves home, and Saskia was concerned at first, but then realized that she could trust her daughter about her decision.
”I said, ‘Do your thing,’” Saskia said. “If you ask me what’s the most difficult thing about Nanauwe leaving, it’s the silence in the house. But by the time she went to California, I was stoked for her.”
After her schooling, more than anything, Nanauwe said that she wants to travel the world and experience every nuance of every musical style.
“We recently went to Costa Rica, and there is a whole different vibe with the way people play in the Caribbean,” Nanauwe said. “It’s amazing if you can take that and integrate it into your own music.”
Nanauwe Vanderhoop will perform with Other Chyld at the Ritz, August 19 and 24 at 10 pm, and at the Lampost, with dates to be determined.