In Chautauqua, pair of rising stars find a place to find themselves

Yemi FalodunStaff Writer

Lauren Rock | Staff Photographer
Mac, Jolie and Tom McShane.

“There is just something about Chautauqua at 6 a.m. that cannot be described,” said Mac McShane, 16-year-old circulation manager of  The Chautauquan Daily. “My route is my way to relax. It’s just me, the cool morning air, and a list of houses.”

The kid everyone calls Mac spends his summers working at the Daily, along with waiting tables at Intermezzo at Chautauqua.

En route, he delivers the paper on his scooter to people all throughout the grounds, including to Institution President Tom Becker.

“Mac comes in, and he has four ideas about how to make things better,” Becker said, thinking about the time Mac pitched his first idea

“ ‘Mr. Becker,’ he says. ‘I think there’s something that can be improved about the scanning system.’ So, he talks to me about these wave scans. And so I wrote it down, and I thanked him.”

Four days later, Mac came into the office with a surprise.

“He says, ‘Here’s who makes it, how much it cost, etc.,” Becker said. “He talks ideas and he follows through on them. He’s intellectually fearless. He’s personally attractive and respectful. You put those things together, and I don’t think there’s a limit to what he can do.”

The gears are in constant motion with Mac, who is a Baltimore, Md., area native. He attends a large high school with more than 2,000 students and he takes Advanced Placement and honor classes.

Excelling in the classroom and sports, Mac is always challenging himself to accomplish any great feat.

“When he was young, I knew he had that technical mind,” said Jolie McShane, Mac’s mom. “We would go to a museum, and where was Mac? He was behind the display to see how it works.”

A problem solver is very valuable in life, no matter what arena. And in newspapers, Mac’s instinct can turn failure into success.

“He’s quite literally solved half a dozen problems for us — fixing the news machine and motivating the young staff,” said Matt Ewalt, editor of the Daily. “I mean, the 12-year-olds come back to the newsroom, and the first thing they want to do is give Mac a high five.”

And for his invaluable service, Mac has been promoted to the Daily’s business office manager position for next season. He will be the youngest to be at the post, which is generally held by college students.

“He knows how to read people and situations,” Tom McShane, Mac’s dad, said about his son’s innate business savvy. “The way he pulled the kids in when they weren’t singing and the sales were dropping off. He saw that.”

But Mac is not all work and no play.

At his house, he sets up a screen projection on the porch, where family and random friends watch TV and movies. On the streets, he glides on his longboard like a surfer over the cement road. By the lake, he walks with a fun ease among friends.

“I have a great group of close friends, who allow me to be 100 percent myself,” Mac said.

The personification of Chautauqua’s Americana ideal, Mac is well-versed, focused and driven. Yet, at no point has he lost sight of being just another kid.

There is a balance to him, much like the grounds he roams, as he is always in search of a way to better connect with the world.

“I think we forget sometimes how much we learn from children,” Becker said. “You see the little ones with almost a mythic level of freedom here.”

Michelle Kanaar | Staff Photographer
Batia, Talya and Bernard Lieberman

From age 6 to 12, vocalist Talya Lieberman was in Chautauqua Children’s Chorale. During that time, she appeared in eight operas.

“Those were the best times in my life, being in those operas,” she said. “I loved it here. It was this place of total freedom. We lived in Queens, where we weren’t allowed to go anywhere by ourselves. Here, we could bike around. It was kind of like a dream as a kid.”

Lieberman, who her mother calls the zig-zag child, grew up in Chautauqua, where her parents are long-established members of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra. Her cellist mother, Batia, has just completed her 40th year with the CSO as her bassist father, Bernard, finished his 37th.

The youngest of three kids, Lieberman has always been trying to find her voice.

Clarinet. Trumpet. Piano. Name it, and chances are she has dabbled in it.

In seventh grade, Lieberman picked the clarinet for band. But by the summer, she made a switch.

“The cutest boy in the eighth-grade class played the trumpet,” she said.

The crush for the boy quickly faded as he found interest in Lieberman’s best friend. But she gained a confidence in being the only girl in an all-boy section.

In a ranking system, the top trumpeter would sit in the first seat.

“I had the first seat at one point,” she said. “And everybody challenged me for my spot. And I won it. That was very empowering.”

In the ninth grade, Lieberman joined her first youth orchestra.

“I didn’t necessarily love the trumpet part,” she said. “But I loved playing in the orchestra.”

But her parents tried steering her away from having music be her livelihood, because of its instability.

So, Lieberman went to Duke University, where she earned a degree in linguistics.

And despite serving as the Duke Symphony Orchestra’s president during her senior year, Lieberman’s cousin saw that she panged for making music a greater part of her life.

“He said, ‘You don’t have to listen to your parents,’ ” Lieberman recalled. “ ‘You can still do this. You can apply for a master degree in music.’

Without hesitation, she auditioned for University of North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, where she eventually earned her degree in classical trumpet performance.

“Coming out of there, I knew trumpet wasn’t really my thing,” Lieberman said. “With singing, I really enjoy the process. And with trumpeting, all I wanted to do was throw it out the window.”

Six months after completing her program, Lieberman refocused her energy into singing. But the very thing she loved to do more than anything hurt the most.

“She’s got to sing,” said Bernard Lieberman, her father. “It’s in her blood.”

So, Mr. Lieberman contacted the now 102-year-old family relative named Francis, who was a voice coach.

Mr. Lieberman remembered Francis saying to Talya, “You’re about 5 years too late, but you can still do this if you want. You have a special kind of voice that if properly trained, the whole world should hear.”

From that moment on, Lieberman never looked back.

She now studies with Michelle Johnson in Philadelphia. And she recently completed a summer as a School of Music vocalist.

“My sister got married here last year in a beautiful Chautauquan marriage,” she said. “To come back here and re-experience and rediscover Chautauqua through the Voice Program, which is one of the best programs in the world, it’s amazing.”