You may recognize Norika Zehnder from this year’s performance of Handel’s “The Messiah” put on by the Evergreen Chorale. The woman working behind the counter at Everbean Cafe certainly did when we met there for our interview.
Norika was adorned with an emphatic compliment or two as she stood with her hands folded in front of her. She is humble and graceful. Perhaps witnessing her as a part of “Quilters,” a musical based on a book about American pioneer women, wasn’t as startling, because she has an old-fashioned air about her. Seeing as how she spent many of her formative years in a village in England, this makes sense.
Norika is a senior at Evergreen High School this year, but a young senior, because school ages lined up differently when she switched from public school in California to private school in Surrey, England, back to public school here in Evergreen.
She calls Evergreen a “town” when compared to the “village” in Surrey, which seems to be her heart-home. For many of us, Evergreen is a tucked-away treasure, far enough from the suburbs to feel quaint. But for someone from a tiny village, Evergreen is a lot bigger. And fortunately for Norika, this bigger place has provided big opportunities.
Norika gives credit to the sports being very different in England as a reason for her becoming a performance artist. Because she didn’t want to try to adapt to something that was basically foreign to her, such as American basketball, Norika embraced her love of singing and decided to nurture that. She says she “get(s) away with acting” because she sings, and that singing is what she “loves to do,” especially opera.
She has been an intern with the Evergreen Chorale this year, which has given her an incredible community. And this year’s “Messiah” featured members of the Jefferson Symphony Orchestra, which also provided new ground for Norika to stand on. She said she had never sung with that much power behind her. She’s also played significant roles in “Evita” and “Sound of Music,” challenging her to perform quite an age span from a sophisticated mistress of Juan Peron to a teenage member of the von Trapp family.
Although performance schools in places like New York City are in Norika’s periphery, she says she has applied to schools all over the country that focus more on “nurturing” the voice. She says she has been advised to wait to go to the big city until graduate school, and it is because of the Chorale that she has a knowledgeable community with which to check in.
Norika says she is thankful to live in Evergreen. She feels supported and has been able to grow and explore a lot in the few years she has lived here.