This Is Rutherford
This is Sophia Masullo
Updated: Jan 16, 2020
By Jennifer Ersalesi
Not only does Sophia Masullo have political aspirations, but she is also a young woman with a number of talents. A gifted singer, excellent student, and someone who understands the importance of civil rights and the community in which lives, Sophia is always conscientious, sincere, and dedicated.
TIR: Where do you currently attend school?
Sophia Masullo: I currently go to Bergen County Academies in Hackensack. I’m in the Academy for the Advancement of Science and Technology, because when I was in 8th grade I thought I wanted to be an astrophysicist. Most people assume I’m in the music or theater academy, which is more similar to what I’ll actually be going to college for this upcoming school year.
TIR: What type of extracurricular activities are you involved in at Bergen County Academies?
SM: I am in the choir. In school, we have a large concert choir and a smaller chamber choir, and I’ve been in both since freshman year. Bergen Academies is a remarkably stressful place, so choir is as much a stress relief mechanism as it is a group that sings music.
TIR: What are some of the activities you are involved in outside of school?
SM: I’ve been doing county, regional, and all-state choirs throughout high school. I intern every Wednesday with Congressman Bill Pascrell’s office instead of going to school, as part of our Senior Experience program. It’s so interesting to go to work and see your boss on TV talk about impeachment. I also cantor every Saturday afternoon at St. Mary’s Church in town, which gives me a chance to share my voice with the community. I’m also part of the Civil Rights Commission.
TIR: Tell us about your role in the Rutherford Civil Rights Commission. What do you enjoy about being involved with this group?
SM: I’ve been a member of the Civil Rights Commission for a little over a year now. Do you know that saying “all politics is local”? I see confirmation of that every time the Commission hosts an event or even holds a meeting. It’s so amazing that such a relatively small community has such diversity in nationality, identity, and viewpoints. I enjoy working with everyone on the Commission, planning events like the Rutherford Multicultural Festival, and speaking on behalf of the Commission. I would especially like to thank Mrs. Bea Goldberg for giving me the opportunity and encouragement to join the Commission.
TIR: As a singer who has been part of the BCA Choir, as well as regional, county, and all-state choirs every year, what do you enjoy most about these experiences?
SM: The people really make it worthwhile. There’s one girl I’ve been in the regional choir with for the past six years, and we’ll still make jokes about songs from middle school. When you put a lot of musical kids together, you have to expect that we make a lot of inside jokes about different songs and composers. Sure, the rehearsals are five hours long on school nights, and the pizza they feed us is cold, but the music makes up for it.
The best choral experience I’ve had was singing Mozart’s Requiem in d minor at Carnegie Hall as a freshman. The music was the most beautiful thing I’d ever heard – they don’t call Mozart the greatest composer of all time for nothing – and the stage, seats, and ceiling of Carnegie Hall were a fitting sight for such music. Obviously it’s important for me to train my own voice individually – hence the reason I take private lessons – but there’s something about a whole choir singing that one voice just can’t accomplish.
TIR: This past summer, you were very busy. Can you tell us more about the many interesting activities you participated in over the summer?
SM: I left school a few days early in June in order to get to Washington, D.C., where I sang with the Washington National Opera’s Institute for High School Singers. It was just 30 high schoolers from all over the country singing and learning about opera for three weeks. We had two weeks to learn an Italian art song, and another week to learn an opera scene. Combined with all the coursework from the classes we took, it was a lot of work, but it paid off. It was the first time I had taken classes in subjects like opera history and Italian diction, but it all just clicked for me. That’s when I figured I wanted to actually pursue opera in college. It was also the first time meeting people with voices like mine. Even seven months later, all 30 of us are still in contact.
After Washington Opera, I went down to Williamsburg, Virginia, to take a class in American history at the College of William and Mary. Just as with opera, I met high schoolers who were just as into U.S. history as I am. Every day we would go to a different historical site, and when we got back we would discuss the visit in conjunction with the readings we had to do the previous night. I don’t think we got through one day without making some joke about John Tyler. After finally getting back to New Jersey, I wanted to procrastinate my summer work as much as possible, so I told myself I would read Pride and Prejudice before I did any homework. My plan backfired, however, because I finished it in two days. Ultimately, I’m glad I got to focus on what I’m passionate about this past summer.
TIR: What are your plans after graduation from Bergen Academies?
SM: I am so happy to say that I will be attending Vanderbilt University after I graduate from Bergen Academies. Vanderbilt has always been my top choice, and I am incredibly grateful for everyone who’s had a hand in helping me get to where I am today. Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music has one of the best undergraduate voice & opera majors in the country if I do say so myself, and it keeps the program small so each student gets a lot of individualized attention and work. Vanderbilt is also one of the few schools where I can get a conservatory-style music education and also double major outside of music. I am planning on double majoring in voice & opera and history. I honestly cannot wait to start college this August.
TIR: What are your goals for the future?
SM: It’s been a running joke for four years now that I will run for president in 2040 – the first year I’m eligible. I guess you can call this my official announcement of candidacy in the 2040 presidential race (laughs). All jokes aside, I am definitely not opposed to entering politics in the future. After college, I want to go to law school and become a constitutional lawyer. Maybe then, the opportunity will arise for me to seek public office. I also haven’t ruled out becoming an honest-to-goodness opera diva and making it to the Metropolitan Opera stage. If I do choose the opera singer route, I want to use my influence (if I may have the vanity to say I will have influence) to change people’s perceptions about opera. Lots of people view it as an elite, boring art form you can’t relate to, but I want to show people that opera can be hilarious, exhilarating, relatable – for every adjective you can think of, there’s an opera for it.
TIR: Have you had any particular mentors that have inspired you throughout the years?
SM: Too many to name. The first mentor I ever had was my mixed martial arts instructor, Peter Tuccino, but we always called him Mr. T. I did martial arts at SubForce from when I was six to around my freshman year of high school. At every belt ceremony (where we advanced a rank), he would always give these long speeches about how you should act with integrity, honesty, and honor in every facet of your life.
Peter Tuccino told TIR, “Every so often a student comes along who rises high above the average person. One who inexorably absorbs the myriad lessons that martial arts teaches, applies the values, and consequently achieves the extraordinary. That student is Sophia Masullo. She embodies what a martial artist is...strong, confident, fierce, diligent, thoughtful, and centered and calm in the storm of life.”
In the more recent past, there were a few teachers from Union School whom I’ve appreciated more in retrospect. My 7th and 8th-grade history teachers, Mr. Evans and Mrs. Fencik respectively, were the first to show me how interesting and downright hilarious history can be.
Mrs. Colleen Fencik told TIR, “I had the pleasure of teaching early American History to Sophia in 8th grade. Whether she was debating the finer points of Alexander Hamilton’s financial plan, the Second Amendment, current events or any topic, Sophia defended her viewpoints passionately and was always able to back up her points with the facts. She was (and I’m sure still is) a conscientious student who never gave less than 100% in anything- writing, debating, homework, singing, etc. Sophia’s determination to do her best was always evident in my class and I know she will be a success.”
My middle school vocal music teacher, Ms. Lalla, was the first to encourage me to get involved more in music by joining lots of choirs.
Ms. Tricia Lalla explained, “I had the privilege of being Sophia Masullo’s music teacher from grades 4 through 8 at Union School. She displayed a love for singing and shared her beautiful voice with her community. She was a member of the Concert Choir and Select Choir, as well as sang solos. She performed with the Bergen County Junior High School Chorus and the North Jersey Schools Music Association Region 1 Junior High School Chorus, both of which are difficult choirs to be accepted into. Not only was Sophia musically talented, but she was also intelligent, hard-working, and kind. She looked at the world differently than most students her age and often expressed a desire to want to help those in need.
One day in seventh grade, she said to me, “ I would like to go to law school, enter politics, and become President of the United States one day.” To which I replied, “I know that you are capable of becoming President of the United States and you will.” Since then, Sophia discovered a love for opera and we have discussed that an opera-singing career could also be used as a platform to promote social issues and bring about social change, in addition to her political career. I am very excited to see how her passions for music and politics make the world a better place in years to come.”
Lastly, my conscience would not allow me to answer this question without mentioning my current private voice teacher, Andrea Covais, and my current school music teacher, Mr. Spinelli, without whom I would not be half the singer nor person I am today. There is a zero percent chance I would be going to Vanderbilt if it had not been for the hours of labor they have sacrificed by putting up with me. Andrea Covais explained, “Sophia is a malleable and a very open student who is often able to adapt to new ideas quickly. She is a creative singer, always striving to delve deeper into character development, text interpretation, and communication, often offering her own thoughtful opinions on a piece of music.”
TIR: How long have you lived in Rutherford? What do you enjoy about living here?
SM: I’ve lived in Rutherford all my life. I must say, I enjoy the food here – although, I enjoyed it a little more before my favorite restaurant in town, Nizi Sushi, moved out. I enjoy the coconut almond dream ice cream from Ice Cream Charlie’s. I enjoy having friends over and showing them downtown, from the train station to the WWI memorial by Lincoln Park. I enjoy watching the sunrise over New York City when my bus to school drives down Union Ave. I – not surprisingly – enjoy the Multicultural Festival. I enjoy the whole atmosphere of this town, and I know that when I move down to Nashville later this year, I’ll still be a Jersey girl, and a Rutherfordian, at heart.