Hitting the high notes
Danielle Beckvermit is only 25, but the soprano singing sensation has already performed at Carnegie Hall and the Metropolitan Opera House in the last year alone. She is quick to note that The Salvation Army has played an essential role in her rise to stardom.
As a kid in middle school, Danielle’s young life was marred by tragedy when Ted Mikolinis, her step–father, died from injuries suffered in a house fire. Ann Mikolinis, her mom, and five siblings struggled to get by. They eventually found love, support, solace, and music at the Kingston, N.Y. (Citadel) Corps.
“The Salvation Army is really where I got started with singing,” Danielle says. “The Salvation Army’s music programs helped shape who I am. I was very active and I just got more and more involved. It was the Salvation Army’s music programs that really resonated with me.”
Her life changes
Danielle’s Salvation Army journey began in 2001. Majors James and Deborah Kisser, who had just arrived in Kingston, invited Danielle’s younger sisters to their daughter Rebekah’s birthday party.
“My sisters started going to the corps and then the rest of my family started going, including me,” Danielle recalls. “I was involved in everything.”
That included Corps Cadets, Sunbeams, Girl Guards, Star Search, Timbrels, and the Greater New York Youth Chorus. Danielle also became a junior soldier and attended summer camp at Star Lake, where she accepted Christ.
“I remember it happened in The Tabernacle where we were all praying as a group,” Danielle says.
Danielle said she found “friends, music, and God” at the corps. She and her older sister, Nicole Beckvermit, who is also an accomplished vocal soloist and has performed with the New York Staff Band, started accompanying their younger siblings to the corps for weekday activities and Sunday worship: Ashley, Allison, Sean, and Ryan Mikolinis.
Major James Kisser remembers, “Being very musical themselves, Danielle and Nicole easily learned all the songs. They became involved with the Sunbeams, became junior soldiers, and helped with the Singing Company. They also invited their friends to the corps.”
Then came the fire that changed everything for the family. The blaze destroyed their house and forced Ann and her six children into a hotel for about a year. The corps supported them with food and clothes. “From that point on, it seemed that the four girls and two boys were always at the corps,” Kisser says. “They would stop in before and after school.”
After Ted Mikolinis died, the Kissers provided pastoral care for the family. During the funeral, the Beckvermit/Mikolinis siblings stood in the choir loft of the church and sang that year’s Star Search compulsory piece, “Psalm 139.”
“There was not a dry eye in the near–capacity crowd that day,” Kisser said.
“During our eight years at the Kingston Citadel, Danielle blessed many at the corps on Sunday mornings with her beautiful voice, either as a soloist or in duets with her sister Nicole or as a part of the Singing Company, which always included their brothers and sisters.” Danielle and her siblings sing. The brothers play piano. She started playing the cello in 4th grade and got involved in chorus in 5th grade.
Her first time on stage was in her elementary school’s 5th–grade musical.
“I’ve always loved to sing,” Beckvermit said. “I remember singing along to the musical ‘Annie’ with my sister when I was very young. Music has always been an important part of my life and that has never changed.”
Danielle grew up listening to contemporary Christian music, most notably Casting Crowns. She also found healing through the song “Don’t Worry Child” by Salvationist Marty Nichols.
“His music got me through some tough times when I was younger,” she says.
Finding her purpose
Beckvermit also enjoys singer–songwriter Josh Groban and opera star Nadine Sierra. Others who helped her develop over the years were Salvationist musicians Gavin Whitehouse, Gordon and Chris Ward, Doug Berry, and Lily Finikin.
Danielle graduated from Kingston High School where she participated in chorus, orchestra, choir, ensemble, and several musicals. She then attended SUNY Fredonia, earning a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance. It was while performing her first opera in college that she began to believe a career in music was possible.
“I didn’t really know what that meant yet,” Beckvermit says. “I just knew I loved music and it was a big part of me.
“I didn’t know I could make a career doing that. I think that’s when it all kind of clicked for me.”
The Big Apple calls
Beckvermit’s next stop was the Mannes School of Music, a conservatory in The New School. She earned a master’s degree in voice performance. While in New York City, she lived at The Salvation Army’s Markle Evangeline Residence.
“It was about 200 feet away from my college,” Beckvermit says. “It was like a sign that this was totally meant to be. A place to live in New York City was huge. Otherwise, I would have wound up at a different school in a different state.
“I’m extremely grateful to The Salvation Army for everything from Star Lake to Youth Chorus to Star Search. I’ve made friends and traveled. The Salvation Army also had a big impact on me spiritually. Having someone believe in me and say, ‘You can do anything’ and nurture my talent was obviously huge.”
Majors Bethany and Rick Starkey, who were the corps officers in Kingston during Beckvermit’s college days in New York, said she would take the two–hour train ride back to Kingston on Friday to lead the Youth Chorus.
“Then she would go back to the city and return on Sundays for church services,” Major Rick said. “She has a great spirit to go along with incredible talents God has given her.
“Every time she came home on break, she did whatever she could to help the children’s programs, sing on Christmas kettles, and work around the corps.”
Captains Bill and Susanne Geracia, who were Beckvermit’s corps officers when she was in high school, called her “one of the most determined, motivated, and gifted young people” they have ever seen.
“Danielle’s dedication to her God–given gift is amazing,” says Captain Bill. “In our time in Kingston, Danielle wanted to lead, sing, and participate in anything that gave her a chance to use the wonderful gifting of her voice or her knowledge about singing.”
Hitting it big
In the last year, Beckvermit has taken her talents beyond Kingston and placed in several prominent singing competitions. She was named a grand finalist in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Beckvermit said she was in awe at the “size, magnitude, and beauty” of the Metropolitan Opera House in Manhattan. She had come a long way from growing up poor in Kingston.
“I got to sing onstage at the Met with the orchestra,” she said. “It was surreal. That was definitely the most amazing experience I’ve had so far.”
Two weeks later, Beckvermit found herself onstage at Carnegie Hall as a soloist. She sang Mozart’s Requiem, which had special meaning for her after the death of a close friend.
“It’s actually a spiritual piece,” Beckvermit said. “It was a way for me to honor what I’ve been given from God.”
The next journey
Performing on some of the world’s most prestigious stages can be overwhelming, but Beckvermit’s training with The Salvation Army had taught her the power of prayer.
“Singing in front of that big of an audience can be kind of daunting, no matter how good you are or how confident you are,” she said. “I think prayer is definitely a way for me to calm down, center myself, and remember why I’m doing all of this.”
Beckvermit recently left New York for Minneapolis to be a resident artist with the Minnesota Opera for the 2018–19 season. It’s a paid gig where she will sing in six operas. She will be there at least one year; perhaps two.
“What’s nice about this company is it’s a lot of stage performance time compared to some others,” she said. “I’ll definitely be kept busy. It’s a dream job for me.”
Beckvermit also hopes to find a Salvation Army corps in Minnesota. Her busy life has kept her away from church lately.
“I do miss that kind of community I grew up with,” she said. “It’s much more difficult when I’m all over the place to keep that community in my life.” Beckvermit said she maintains her spiritual life through devotional messages that come to her phone, Bible studies, and by following online spiritual posts from some former corps officers.
“Being friends with so many awesome spiritual people through The Salvation Army is a giant help,” she said. “I see their posts and that’s inspirational to me.”
Beckvermit said Christ remains at the center of her whirlwind life.
“It’s an important part of my life to have this relationship with God and Jesus and to be saved,” she said. “To me, I can take that with me wherever I go and kind of share this message with other people through the gift I’ve been given as a singer.
“This gift has been cultivated over the years through people in The Salvation Army, people in school, and people who have believed in me from a young age.”
Helping others thrive
Beckvermit said the life she has chosen is “unsettling” and “full of auditions and travel,” but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I can’t picture myself being as fulfilled and as happy and as whole doing anything else,” she said. “I get so much fulfillment from performing.”
While she loves performing, Beckvermit said her ultimate goal is to teach music at the college level someday. It’s a desire instilled in her as she instructed young people at the Kingston, (Citadel) N.Y., Corps.
“People in The Salvation Army have done so much for me. They’ve changed the course of what it could have been,” Beckvermit said. “By doing what I’m doing, I think there’s an element of me wanting to teach younger children that anyone can do this.
“The Salvation Army believed in me and gave me faith. I want to instill that in others. It’s fulfilling for me, for example, when I worked with the Youth Chorus in Kingston and taught the kids. Sharing with other people what I’ve received brings my life full circle.”
by Robert Mitchell