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April 25, 2001


LA CROSSE, Wis.—As Brenda Cetera readied herself to sing and perform in the Bright Star Season production of Messiah last December, she looked at the audience, focused on one person, and thought, "If I could touch that person with my singing tonight, this will all be worth it."

Following the performance, that audience member, a Catholic priest, approached Cetera and said, "Thank you for giving us that beautiful music." Cetera, a Viterbo senior majoring in music theatre, doesn’t want to use her talents to compete; it’s her goal to simply make beautiful music. The priest she inspired at the Messiah performance spoke to that. "He didn’t say, ‘You’re a great singer,’" she points out. "He said ‘You make beautiful music.’"

Indeed, experts agree. This April, Cetera was named a "Liberace Scholar" when she received a prestigious $3,000 scholarship from the Liberace Foundation for the 2001-02 academic year. Liberace scholarship recipients are promising and deserving juniors and seniors enrolled in a course of study leading to a career in the arts. The purpose of the award is to provide grants to accredited institutions that offer training in performing and creative arts to be used exclusively towards tuition.

But Cetera’s honors don’t end there. She is a two-time first place winner at the statewide National Association of Teachers of Singing competition—for 1999 and 2000.  Originally from Wausaukee, Cetera graduated from high school a year early and attended a private college in eastern Wisconsin. Plagued by doubts about her vocal abilities, and unhappy with the style of teaching that was more about pushing her to the point of anger to excel, she transferred to Viterbo University in January 1999 and began majoring in saxophone performance.

It wasn’t long before she switched to music theatre and fell under the vocal performance spell of instructor Jean Saladino. "Jean made me feel like a million dollars. All I needed was confidence. My confidence level went from nothing to ‘maybe I’m going to make it one day.’

"Jean brought out the natural sound in my voice. My previous teacher wanted a deeper, darker voice from me," said Cetera. "I feel like what I’m learning at Viterbo has prepared me to go into the real world."

Saladino is equally glowing about Cetera’s abilities. "Brenda has immense raw talent. She is one of the most innately musical singers I've ever taught. She works hard and asks to be challenged. She takes nothing for granted. I don't take a lot of credit for Brenda's success; I try to polish the edges of what is already there."

Now visions of singing opera in Minneapolis or Chicago dance through Cetera’s head. "My dream is to be in some huge metropolitan opera performing as much as I can. It’s so ethereal. When I’m singing, I feel like I’m in another world. I know it’s right. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done in my life."

But Cetera knows dreams don’t always come true. That’s why she’s double majoring in human resources and music theatre. If an opera singing career doesn’t pan out, she envisions working for a place like the Hal Leonard Music Publishing Company or in personnel at an opera company. "But I would be depressed doing that and not being able to perform," she admitted.

A hard worker, Cetera has maintained a high grade point average while taking excessive class loads. Last semester, she carried 25 credits (12 is considered full-time) and attained a 4.0. In addition to her coursework, she donates plasma weekly and, for the past four years, has been a member of the 132nd Army National Guard band.

"We’re not in the fields. We stay in hotels," said Cetera with a grin. "I don’t have to get dirty. The most dirt I get is a little oil on my hands from our rifles a few times a year."

Long considered the "Governor’s Band," the group plays for official Wisconsin government ceremonies.  Though Cetera plays tenor saxophone in the group, earlier this year, she sang prelude music at Wisconsin Governor Scott McCallum’s inauguration. The band will be doing a summer tour around the southwestern parts of the state July 13-25 this year. Locally, they’ll be playing Riverside Park at a date to be announced.  Cetera also plays saxophone in an Army National Guard quintet, "Soldiers of Sax," a polka band, and a brass quintet.

As if that’s not enough, Cetera is busy planning a wedding this May to fiancé Scott Bush. She attributes much of her success to Bush. He "is my biggest supporter. Some of my friends call him my ‘Sugar Daddy’ because he’s always doing things to help me out," she laughs.

With only more year of school to go, Cetera is definitely a rising young star to watch.

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