Katie, Christiana and Camille are long-time friends, with relationships dating back to grade school and high school. (At the time of recording, Katie was a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, Christiana was graduating from Brigham Young University and Camille was completing entrance requirements for graduate school at the University of Utah.) For each member of the trio, music has been an important part of life and school since childhood. However, they had never sung as a trio until Katie’s father, Mark, had the idea for the album “A Gift of Christmas.”
Katie first met Christiana at a basketball tryout (Katie was in eighth grade and Christiana was in ninth grade at the time). The two didn’t really connect until high school in 2005 when they saw each other at tryouts for the Skyline High School tennis team. Katie made the team (Christiana had already played for a year), and the two became doubles partners, capturing the state championship for two years. Katie met Camille (who was the same age as Christiana) in a high school calculus class. Camille and Christiana have been good friends throughout high school and as students at Brigham Young University.
Katie grew up in Salt Lake City, although she did spend about four years in Kalispell, Mont. from the beginning of fourth through seventh grade. She is an only child, and is the daughter of Dr. Mark Johnston, who served as producer of “A Gift of Christmas.” Katie started taking piano lessons when she was 6 years old, and has played ever since, even though she stopped taking lessons after high school. She has also played the trombone since sixth grade, and still performs with local groups. She studied voice with Shawna Gottfredson her junior and senior years in high school because of the suggestion of Ann Marie Smith, Camille’s mother.
As a student at Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, Katie won three state tennis titles in doubles. Two of these were with Christiana Pinborough, one of the members of The Starbright Trio (Christiana is one year older than Katie). Katie was undefeated throughout her high school tennis career.
After high school, Katie went to Washington University in St. Louis. At the time “A Gift of Christmas” was recorded, she was a senior at Washington University. She is planning on applying to graduate school in Speech Pathology.
Christiana was born in Salt Lake City. When she was 5 years old, her family moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky (“For about a month, I developed a southern accent when counting by fives,” she says). Eventually, the family moved back to Utah. As a child, Christiana and her sister would sing together as their mother played the piano. As a student, she was involved with orchestra and choir. She sang with the Brigham Young University Women’s Chorus for three years and the Concert Choir for one year.
In addition to music, Christiana says that tennis is one of her favorite hobbies. As a student at Skyline High School, she and Katie captured two state championships in doubles together.
Christiana received her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University in Exercise and Wellness. At the time “A Gift of Christmas” was recorded, she was planning to pursue a career in physical therapy.
Camille and her family (including seven children) moved from place to place because of her father’s career as an otolaryngologist, or ENT. Most of her childhood was spent in Denver and Salt Lake City. She began her musical training as a youngster when she began taking violin lessons, and later, when she joined school choirs. She also trained with Shawna Gottfredson, the same vocal instructor her mother, Ann Marie, suggested for Katie’s lessons in high school. As a student at Brigham Young University, she was a member of the Women’s Chorus.
Camille received her undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University. At the time “A Gift of Christmas” was recorded, she was completing entrance requirements for graduate school at the University of
Utah. She is now working on her master’s degree at the University of Utah with the goal of becoming a speech-language pathologist.
About the album
One might expect to find such outstanding musicians as Gary Davis, former touring drummer for Alvino Rey and the King family, Lysa Rytting, the wonderful harpist for the Utah Symphony, and Daron Bradford, a regular soloist on multiple instruments for the Orchestra at Temple Square, to be in a top recording studio together. What might not be expected is their coming together with other exceptional professionals to back up three gifted but young singers who were in a recording studio for the first time. Katie Johnston, Christiana Pinborough and Camille Smith, now The Starbright Trio, had all shown special musical abilities as individuals but came together for the first time to create a remarkable Christmas album with an improbable inspiration: the death of Camille’s mother from cancer.
Ann Marie Smith, a dedicated mother, had always believed in the power of music to inspire and comfort. She was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2008. With her death in December 2009, the family was faced with a tremendous loss. However, Ann Marie left many gifts for her family including the gift of music. A family friend, Dr. Mark Johnston, attended Ann Marie’s memorial service and was moved by the wonderful musical tributes of her children. With the holiday season approaching, Mark found himself thinking of the special ability of music to inspire hope and perseverance.
From this beginning, an idea grew for producing a Christmas album with the goal of raising money for cancer research. Camille had two long-time friends who had experienced recent cancer diagnoses in their families. Mark began to envision using these three young women as a trio for the Christmas album. All were talented vocalists, close friends and had a shared experience of dealing with cancer. However, Mark had no illusions that producing an album of quality would be easy. A classical and jazz musician himself with 40 years of performing experience, he understood that the quality of a true professional album requires a great composer/arranger and excellent studio musicians.
What occurred next seemed a small miracle in its own right. Robert Peterson, an exceptionally talented composer agreed to write original arrangements of popular and sacred songs for the album. A wonderful group of studio musicians came together in Rosewood Recording Studio to lay down the tracks. Guy Randle, an engineer with decades of experience and past work with the Osmonds and David Foster, supervised the recording and mixing. And — the young trio rose to the challenge with outstanding vocal performances, creating an album that truly celebrates both the joy of the season and honors the spirit of giving that is the true heart of Christmas.
About recording the album
In discussing the recording of the CD, Katie said, “I had not sung in a trio or in a group—only as a soloist—so blending and picking out harmony were completely new. I had just a tiny bit of
experience in a small recording studio from when I recorded a few songs for a CD for my family and friends. Having special arrangements, the need to be as absolutely perfect as possible, and two other singers to work with were all very new and exciting!”
“Singing in choirs has taught me many valuable lessons about singing, such as blending and finding a group sound,” Christiana said when asked about the experience of making the album. “This recording experience was different from anything I have ever done before, but I was able to apply the element of singing that I had learned before. It has been such a treat to work with everyone in the recording studio and have such fantastic musicians playing for us.”
When asked about the process involved with “A Gift of Christmas,” Camille said, “I had never recorded in a studio previous to this experience. I’m used to performing live and getting one take. Having to manufacture several takes in the studio allowed for some meticulous control that I enjoyed. There was also an added level of patience developed as well, especially when you’re in an ensemble and need to nail every member’s part. Due to that, I would say it’s a much bigger task to take responsibility for the group’s sound as well as your own. Harmony is worth it though!”
About the dedication of “A Gift of Christmas”
“A Gift of Christmas” is dedicated to the memory of Camille’s mother, Ann Marie Smith. Ann Marie, the mother of seven, was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer in December 2008 and passed away 12 months later. In honor of her and the thousands of others who have died from this terrible disease, $4 from every album sale will be donated to cancer research.
When discussing her mother, Camille has said, “She was meticulous for detail—not just in noticing aesthetic beauty and coordination, in scrutinizing literature, in sewing fine detailed stage costumes—but deeply perceptive of the details of people. There wasn’t an inch of any of her children she wasn’t interested in. I think many of her friends and neighbors would say that one of the draws of her association was the unique, well-researched advice she gave along with
the genuine love and concern. [She] never stopped thinking on the welfare of others and how to meet those needs. She was also a great example of selflessness. Countless times throughout her final year, I watched her act in benefit to others whose struggle didn’t hold a candle to hers. I also felt the sweet but humbling ramifications of that attention. Suffering reveals a lot in human nature, and I think those gestures spoke much of her refined character. I’m grateful to call my mother my best friend.”
The Principal Musicians
Lysa started playing the harp when she was 9 years old in 1968. She first studied harp with Louise Pratt, and then with Karen Krisel, Deon Wilfert, Rosalie Pratt, Susanna Mildonian, Marilyn Costello and Eileen Malone. Lisa attended the Royal Conservatory of Brussels, where she received a Premier Prix in harp performance.
Lysa has played with many orchestras and music festivals. She currently plays second harp with the Utah Symphony, and has played with the Rochester Philharmonic, the Oregon Symphony, the Las Vegas Philharmonic, and the Boise Philharmonic, among others. She has performed at the Moab Music Festival, the Oregon Bach Festival, the Deer Valley Music Festival, the Chautauqua Institution and Skaneateles Music Festival. In addition, she has performed with such well-known musicians as Josh Groban, David Archuleta, Jackie Evancho, Jenny Oaks-Baker, Kurt Bestor, Yanni, Pink Martini and Keith Lockhart. As an active studio musician, she has recorded with David Archuleta, Jenny Oaks-Baker, Kurt Bestor, Sam Cardon, and many film composers from Los Angeles as well as local composers for film scores, CDs and other recording projects. She has recorded as part of the Aurora Duo with Donna Fairbanks, and also as part of the Amaryllis Duo with Mary Richards.
Gary began studying drums at age 9 with Jan Hyde and Bob Campbell. He joined the local musicians’ union and began playing professionally at age 14. While living in Los Angeles, he had the opportunity to study with highly acclaimed recording artists Colin Bailey, Chuck Flores and John Guerin.
Gary later toured and performed on television specials with Alvino Rey and the King Sisters, as well as touring with the King Family Show. In addition to live performance and recording work in jazz and popular music, Gary is an accomplished percussionist and has played in the orchestras for Ballet West and the Utah Opera Company as well as performing with the Utah Symphony for over 30 years.
Daron is a part-time faculty member of BYU’s School of Music, teaching saxophone and clarinet. He has performed with the Utah Symphony, Utah Saxophone Quartet, Lyra Recorder
Quartet, Utah Baroque Ensemble, and other local groups on clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophones, double reeds, flute and voice.
Daron was principal clarinetist in the Mexico City Philharmonic Orchestra and is currently principal clarinetist with the Orchestra at Temple Square. He is active in the recording studios for local and national projects, often playing various ethnic instruments.
He is a member of the group Enoch Train, whose CDs in 1999, 2001, and 2004 received critical acclaim. He has performed with many touring Broadway productions and entertainers. He also performs regularly with Kurt Bestor.
Daron is a graduate of Brigham Young University. He has privately studied with Steve Allen, David Randall, Martin Zwick, Leon Russianoff, Robert Marcellus and Fred Hemke.
As a student of Eugene Rousseau, Ray has been an avid champion of the classical saxophone. However, he is equally at home in either classical or jazz-related styles and is adept at all five of the woodwind instruments: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and saxophone. He has nearly 200 CD credits and has recorded on many film scores and television themes and jingles including “The Sandlot,” “Mi Familia,” “The Swan Princess,” “Good Morning America,” The Today Show” and “The Ricki Lake Show.” He has also recorded commercials for such companies as Buick
and Chevrolet along with many Canadian and German television and radio themes. Ray performs periodically with the Utah Symphony and Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He is a regular performer with the Utah Saxophone Quartet and Q’d Up, a jazz quintet, as well as the saxophone quartet, FOUR.
Ray also does clinics and performances at colleges and high schools and adjudicates at jazz festivals. In the summers, he teaches at various jazz workshops including the Birch Creek Jazz Camp in Wisconsin, where he received the Woody Herman Award for musical excellence and professionalism.
Robert showed his gift for music as a young child, writing lyrics and playing piano in elementary school. Later, he played trumpet with the Gold Nugget Brass and the Trolley Tailgaters Dixieland Band.
Robert earned a bachelor’s degree in Music Performance at Brigham Young University in 1985 and a master’s degree in Music Performance at the University of Michigan in 1986. For nearly a decade after completing his academic work, Robert was a composer for the U.S. Army Bands and Jazz Bands in Texas and Virginia. He has taught music at Davis and Elkins College, UVSC, and Snow College.
Robert has performed with such artists and groups as Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Peter Nero, Burl Ives, Synthesis, Utah Premiere Brass, The Dick Losee Band, James Oneil Miner, Nauchmusic, Pro Musica and the Provo Symphony.