The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

The student news site of Iowa City High School

The Little Hawk

Staff Profile
Tai Caputo
Tai Caputo
Feature and Opinion Co-Editor

PERFORMER PROFILE: Esther Puderbaugh

Esther+Puderbaugh+25+was+one+of+only+nine+classical+sopranos+from+the+United+States+selected+to+receive+the+National+YoungArts+Award
Megan Swartzendruber
Esther Puderbaugh ’25 was one of only nine classical sopranos from the United States selected to receive the National YoungArts Award

Few people know the significance of classical music in the lives of those who pursue it, or understand the degree and intensity of the work required. Training to be a classical musician is like training to be a world-class athlete. Those who succeed at such an endeavor are rare; one such individual can be found taking classes and participating in activities at City High. Her name is Esther Puderbaugh.

In November, 2023, Puderbaugh ‘25 was one of only nine classical sopranos from the United States selected to receive the National YoungArts Award. Given out by the National Foundation for the Advancement of Artists, the award is granted to only 700 high school students out of 9000 applicants and is considered to be an extremely prestigious and distinguished recognition. Other categories besides voice include dance, writing, and photography. 

“It’s really cool to put work in and to see the result,” Puderbaugh said. “[When I applied,] I honestly didn’t expect anything. So it was a really fun surprise.” 

For Puderbaugh, music is a fundamental part of life. She has been singing since she can remember. She currently studies voice with Jessica Pray Patel in Iowa City.

“[Singing] has always been the best way that I can express myself,” Puderbaugh said. “No matter what I’m singing, I feel like it is the most authentic version of me.”

For her YoungArts audition, Puderbaugh sang Và godendo and O Sleep Why Dost Th ou Leave Me by George Frideric Handel; Heart, We Will Forget Him by Aaron Copland; and Du bist wie eine Blume by Robert Schumann. 

In addition to the National YoungArts Award, Puderbaugh has won many others, including awards from the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Student Auditions, in which she received first place in classical voice in the state of Iowa and third place in the Central Region. She is preparing for the national division of the NATS contest for this spring. 

In addition to requiring the mental focus, becoming a vocalist involves special physical preparation.

“I think the most challenging thing about the voice is that it is so different from every single other musical instrument, because it is in your body,” Puderbaugh said. “It lives in your body. I’m using it right now as I speak to you.”

Puderbaugh’s skill is the result of a lifetime’s worth of hard work, dedication, and concentration. Singing requires strengthening of the muscles similar to that required for the most specialized athletic activities. Because the breath starts in the lungs and diaphragm, Puderbaugh focuses on increasing her abdominal strength. She regularly exercises with weights in order to practice keeping her breath centered, steady, and measured.

“Training the very small, one-inch vocal muscles to vibrate at certain frequencies, to create certain notes, [requires] agility, stamina, and breathing,” Puderbaugh said. “The amount of strength one has to have to create healthy, free, and sustainable sounds is not small.”

Vocal muscles can be affected by many factors, both those that are inside and outside of the vocalist’s control, such as illness, mood, and diet. This makes voice especially challenging, since one’s bodily functions fluctuate day by day. 

“[The voice] can be affected by so many more environmental things than any other instrument,” Puderbaugh said. “So, illness, stress can do things, hormone changes, what I just ate, how much I drank.”

I’ve always enjoyed voice the most, and I’ve always thought that that is where I belong the most, out of every single thing I’ve ever done.

— Esther Puderbaugh '25

Puderbaugh’s dedication to her art comes first and foremost in her life. She is deeply involved in City High activities such as The Little Hawk school newspaper and Mock Trial. But while pursuing these school activities, she must always be careful about moderating caffeine intake, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and sometimes wearing a mask to prevent infections in the lungs and vocal cords. 

Over the years, Puderbaugh has become increasingly visible as a solo performer. In Iowa City, she has given solo performances in a variety of venues, including the Hancher Auditorium and the Preucil School of Music. 

“At this point, I am performing so much and competing so much that there is no way that I can be a healthy vocalist and not put it as a top priority in my life,” Puderbaugh said. “[This] means that some things have had to take a back seat. . . which I’m good with, because I’ve always enjoyed voice the most, and I’ve always thought that that is where I belong the most, out of every single thing I’ve ever done.” 

After her time at City, Puderbaugh plans to attend a four-year college and double-major in vocal performance and another major. In the meantime, she continues attending competitions, giving performances, and striving for perfection. 

“I feel like any form of artistic expression teaches you how to be more human. You are just so fully inhabiting yourself that I think it’s an avenue to further humanity,” Puderbaugh said.

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About the Contributors
Tai Caputo, Feature and Opinion Co-Editor
Tai has been to public schools in three different countries. She enjoys eating spicy foods.
Megan Swartzendruber, Yearbook Editor
Hey, my name is Megan Swartzendruber. I write and take photos of sport events, while on the side I take photos of other events. I have 3 younger brothers and 2 dogs. I am in multiple sports myself and I am a big Hawkeye fan, so if you like the Cyclones I'm sorry I can't talk to you anymore. ;)
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    Chip HardestyFeb 5, 2024 at 12:57 pm

    Wonderful and in depth story about a great CHS student. Vocal performance takes so much training and self-discipline. Congrats to Esther

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