Squalicum senior and accomplished violinist lands lead role in school play

When Maritza Soto sets a goal in fine arts, she isn’t shy about it. Soto, a 17-year-old senior at Squalicum High School, won a spot on the 100-student All-USA Musicians Team with a CD in her first major competition as a violinist. She has been first violin all four years in Squalicum’s chamber orchestra and is the youngest member of the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra.

She had never acted in a play before she recently tried out and earned one of the lead roles in the school’s spring play, “Good News,” a college football musical set in the 1920s, which plays March 22-25.

Her real love, though, is neither violin nor acting. It’s opera singing.

She dreams of hitting the big time with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. For now, though, she’ll be more than gratified if her audition for a music scholarship to the University of Washington pays off.

Soto was recently honored as Student of the Month by the Bellingham Bay Rotary Club for more than 275 hours of volunteer work. She lives in Bellingham with her mother, Maria, and her stepfather, Robert Magness.

Question: “Good News” is a fun play, and is seldom performed today. But why else did you suddenly decide to take up acting?

Answer: It really is a lot of fun and I love the acting. I’m realizing I had some acting skills I didn’t know about. But my college major, opera singing, will involve acting skills, and that’s why I decided to become involved. I just love singing and this play seemed to fit my interests. I think I’m a pretty powerful singer. I’m a mezzo soprano.

Q: That’s an impressive prize in the violin.

A: Chip Bergeron, our chamber orchestra director, nominated me for it. I had to play two solos and two scales. Six violinists were picked among the 100 musicians nationwide, and only two musicians are from Washington (including Soto). There were thousands of applicants, so I was definitely shocked when I learned about it. I jumped up and screamed and ran around our house.It’s really an honor to be the first Squalicum student chosen. I entered thinking it would be a good experience, but I wasn’t really expecting to get the award. It’s sponsored by the Hershey Company.

Q: What’s this story of you and the music from “Titanic?”

A: Well, Mark Schlichting (Bellingham High orchestra director and also a 5th-grade strings instructor in local schools) likes to use my story as an example. I picked up a violin in the 5th grade and taught myself by ear how to play “My Heart Will Go On.” I was playing it one day in the 5th grade and he asked where I had learned it. He was flabbergasted when I told him I learned it myself.

Q: You must have liked learning from him; he won the state’s top music teaching honor last year.

A: Oh, Mr. Schlichting definitely inspired me. What I remember was how much fun learning from him because he would play this incredibly fast fiddle tune. So I also learned the play the fiddle and I love that. I’ve had wonderful teachers. I really want to say my current private violin teacher, Jane Perkins, is very important to me. I’ve been with her about a year.I’ll always love the violin, and I feel I’ll always play it, even though I want to go on to be an opera singer.

Q: Where are you singing now?

A: I’m part of the music group at Assumption Catholic Church. I’ve been singing my whole life, really. I’ve sung Italian opera for three teachers. Judith Page motivated me to get started along with the “You Can Sing” Foundation.

Q: Why opera?

A: Because it runs in my family.The UW has a good Hispanic minority outreach program. They contacted me. And the UW has such a great music program overall.

Q: But you still enjoy your high school orchestra?

A: Oh, yes, very much. Our orchestra visited New York City last year and that inspired me so much! I loved New York — it was so incredible. And yes, we saw “Phantom of the Opera.”What I’ve also loved is volunteer work, playing music for elderly people. I remember when we played songs for a group of dementia patients and I saw an elderly man wiping tears off his face. I was very touched by that.