At Crossroads FLEX and Martin Magnet Middle School, Singer-Songwriter Abby Schiller Got the Support She Needed to Chase Her Big Dreams
June 6, 2019
Student: Abby Schiller
School: Crossroads FLEX
College: Berklee College of Music
Danny Yancey saw it, years ago, at Martin Magnet Middle School: the talent, the poise, the confidence that Abby Schiller displayed in his chorus room.
These traits now have her on her way to attending the premier music college in the country in pursuit of a career as a singer-songwriter.
“I remember her always being willing and open to share a song with the class, always willing to try new things,” Yancey says. “She would do covers of songs that were popular at the time, but she would always put her own spin on it. And she crushed it every time. For a student to volunteer to be that out front … is very brave and very rare, especially at that age when kids are really trying to seek the safe zone of just blending in. That’s something I haven’t seen in very many other students.”
Abby has done anything but blend in since those formative middle school years, where she said Yancey played a pivotal role in steering her toward a career as a singer-songwriter. “He was the most supportive teacher,” she says. “He was so invested in everybody’s musical growth, and cared so deeply about our aspirations, even if it wasn’t in music. He advanced a lot of my techniques, and it was during those years that I noticed the most growth in my musical abilities. He really set that foundation for me.”
She has since performed at venues all over the Triangle, including Cat’s Cradle, Artsplosure and Pour House Music Hall, singing a mix of covers and her own compositions, often with her band Idealistic Citizens.
She’s continued to hone her voice, guitar and songwriting skills with weekly lessons, and she’s even started giving voice lessons to younger students.
Her hard work and talent led to an invitation to Grammy Camp in Los Angeles last summer. Abby was one of only eight vocalists chosen from the entire country to spend several weeks learning from top recording industry professionals and collaborating with other young musicians to create original music. They even got a visit from megastar Meghan Trainor.
“We are just so proud of her,” says mom Lisa Schiller. “To see your child to pursue what they love, what they’re passionate about, has been phenomenal. She has loved music for probably as long as I can remember. Even as young as three years old, she would just sort of sing non-stop. Way back then, there would be times when I would think ‘Abby could you just stop singing for a little while?’ Now it’s like, ‘Abby could you sing more?,’ because I can’t get enough of her beautiful voice.”
In the fall, Abby will head to Berklee College of Music in Boston, an ultra-prestigious institution where she’s already participated in a number of intensive summer workshops. She plans to major in Professional Music, with concentrations in voice, songwriting and music business.
During her junior and senior years of high school, she was able to devote all the time she needed to her musical ambitions thanks to Crossroads FLEX. The unique school allows students with time-intensive extracurricular pursuits to complete graduation requirements with a mix of in-person and online courses offered on a flexible schedule.
But Abby didn’t just do enough to get through high school. Instead, she became one of her school’s most active student leaders.
‘Everybody had a voice’
“At first I was kind of scared because it was a smaller school and everybody knew each other,” Abby says. “But that wound up being a good thing because I felt like everybody had a voice.”
She used her musical talents to support school activities, including writing an original song for an anti-bullying video that won 1st place in the district.
‘Above and beyond’
With the encouragement of history teacher Kasey Turcol and others, she joined student government, serving as junior class president and then student body president.
She led a number of community service and fundraising efforts, inspired by what she learned in the classroom. For example, she spun her report about World War II victory gardens into the creation of a community garden in the back of the school, where fresh vegetables are grown to be donated to a local food bank.
She also led fundraisers for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and for The Innocence Project, and started a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals club at Crossroads FLEX. “They were all her ideas, her plans and her generosity,” Turcol says. “She always goes above and beyond. And I’ve never met anyone with a larger heart.”
Pursuit of excellence
Abby’s dad, Rob, credits the staff for inspiring Abby to explore and grow. “I’m not sure she would have ever considered things like student government if weren’t for Mrs. Turcol or Mrs. [Nartarshia] Sharp, dean of students, who have just been hands-on and really terrific,” Rob Schiller says. "Everyone there is just tremendously supportive and fully invested in the students. Crossroads FLEX gives each student an environment where they can excel in the classroom and still excel in whatever their pursuit might be."
That is, in fact, the mission of Crossroads FLEX. But Turcol says it goes even farther than that. “All of our students have this incredible gift and this incredible platform,” she says. “I hope all of our students will use their platform to change the world for the better, and Abby does that. She wants her music to help people be more kind, be more empathetic.”
Rob Schiller says Abby’s lyrics show a maturity and depth beyond her years. “Sometimes I wonder where it comes from,” he says.
Abby agrees with Turcol that empathy is a major part of who she is, and that comes through in her music. “I kind of get lost in the emotions of others sometimes, which can be great for songs,” she says. “Sometimes music is the only thing that can help with some of these powerful emotions. Music holds so much power to not only tell your story, but tell other people’s stories.”
‘Share my music with the world’
Abby says she knows the road to a successful career in the highly competitive music industry will have ups and downs. She’s grateful to her parents for supporting her desire to take a path that does have its share of risk. And she’s grateful to the teachers and staff at Crossroads FLEX for helping her progress not only musically but academically and personally as well.
She’ll take with her to Boston that same sense of self-confidence that caught Mr. Yancey’s attention way back at Martin Middle School. “For some reason. I have this really weird optimism, that somehow life will work itself out, so why not dream as big as you can?” Abby says. “I really want to make my career my passion. I know that’s something I can do if I put in the work, and I’m working every day. My biggest goal is to share my music with the world, and help the world through my music.”