You can be forgiven for wondering if theater and vocal music instructor Sherry Benedek sings during day-to-day activities in the manner of a Disney princess. “People do assume I sing all the time — because I do sing a lot!” said Benedek, 33, a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Music. “If I stub my toe, I’m more likely to sing ‘Ow, that hurts’ on a random tune. My friends find this quirk amusing.”
In addition to teaching at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, she offers private piano, voice and theater lessons in the Baltimore area, where she grew up and lives today. A Pikesville native, she attended Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School and had her bat mitzvah at Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim.
Benedek’s relationship with music and performing started young. She began taking piano lessons at the age of 6, and at age 11 was cast as Annie in the camp musical at Camp Nesher.
“The musical director reached out to my parents and told them I should take voice lessons, and I fell in love with musical theater,” she said. “I began musically directing camp productions when I was 17 and started with my first private voice student when I was 19. The rest is history!”
Can anyone learn to sing, with the right teacher?
Anyone can improve their singing or musical ability! Taking voice lessons is kind of like “going to the gym” for your voice. Your vocal cords are made of muscle. As you work them through various exercises over time, you can build up the strength and ability they have.
Like going to the gym, you can’t push too hard all at once and expect great results; overwork can damage vocal cords. Finding a good teacher who understands how to train the voice over time is a necessary step in reaching certain goals.
What role do performing arts classes play in a child or young adult’s education?
There are various pros for students where performing arts and music education are involved. For me, the biggest advantage of music and performing-arts education is confidence. When a parent asks me, “What do you teach?” I say, “Singing, and confidence is a close second.”
A student who takes voice lessons, choir or another type of performance instruction learns that while they might begin without any knowledge in the area, they can grow their abilities and improve their skills greatly with time, hard work and dedication. In my experience, this confidence often spills over into other areas of their lives, whether it be making new friends, feeling more comfortable giving an oral presentation in class or maintaining a positive self-image in the face of bullying.
You not only teach but also perform. What were some of your favorite performances so far?
My favorite professional performance was “Pirates of Penzance” with Washington Savoyards at the Atlas Theater in D.C. I love the music in the show, and the ensemble was full of terrific voices, so we sounded great. Plus its just an all-around funny show with great costumes and sets.
My favorite community theater performance was probably playing Jo March in “Little Women” at Dundalk Community Theater. It was my first time playing a “belting” role in a long time and required a lot of stamina. The character is full of strength, perseverance and imagination. She is not without her faults — she can be stubborn and impulsive — but overall, she is a hero to her sisters and determined to find both happiness and purpose. I very much admire the complications and strengths of the character, which made her interesting to play.
If you could perform on Broadway for one night, what role would you want to play?
When I’m old enough, I’d love to play Mrs. Dolly Levi in “Hello, Dolly!” I fell in love with the show the first time I saw Barbra Streisand in the movie as a child — and I’m currently musically directing the show at the school!
Do you have a Jewish hero or role model in the performing arts world?
Barbra Streisand, for bringing musical theater characters and music to life; Stephen Sondheim, who passed almost a year ago, for all of the amazing music and incredible stories he gave us — “Company,” “Into the Woods,” “Sweeney Todd,” the list goes on; and Steven Schwartz for the music he’s already written — “Wicked,” “The Baker’s Wife,” “Pippin”… and what he will write in the future.