Singing a New Tune in Stamford
April 16, 2012 via Patch.com
At (just barely) 23, Christine Occhino is bringing to Stamford what she hopes is exactly what the city needed to hear.
Everyone's got dreams, right? Sometimes they're relatively focused, like learning an instrument, say, or writing a book. Sometimes they're technically oriented—become an astronaut or research scientist. Sometimes they're entrepreneurial. Maybe you wanted to open up that little coffee shop or used book store you've always dreamt about.
Christine Occhino is only 23 and while she's been busy realizing her own dreams with her brand new that she owns and operates, she wants to help bring yours to fruition as well—as long as you want to be in the entertainment biz.
Around the stage is what Occhino has oriented almost her entire life—and now her first professional business. At Pop Music Academy, students can learn an instrument, take vocal lesssons, work on acting skills, take zumba classes - they can do almost anything relating to stage and screen.
It's something that's been in her blood since birth. At two, she was putting on shows for the benefit of those around her.
"My mom has this video of me, and I've got two mics in my hands," Occhino said during a visit to her new offices at 1200 High Ridge Road. "One was a toy echo mic, the other was a regular unplugged mic and I made my mom turn a fan on so my hair would be blowing. I'd put on shows for my mom and sisters and I wouldn't let them leave the room."
Occhino, whose mother is Cuban and whose father is an Italian from the Bronx "who's not very musically inclined—but don't tell him that," parlayed that showmanship into what is already an impressive resume on stage and screen.
She attended the Berklee College of Music, performed with the likes of Michael MacDonald and Mavis Staples, worked at Sony and appeared in Righteous Kill alongside DeNiro, Pacino and Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson, according to her profile.
"I was very determined to be on stage," Occhino said, and adds, laughing, "I've always wanted eyes on me. Anything performing arts-based."
Occhino, currently a singer in the band "Last Call," and listed as a Vocal Coach and the Music Business Consultant for Pop Music Academy, now offers all the knowledge she's gained from working so closely with those in entertainment to those looking for a big break, while being honest about the talent she sees in front of her.
"I tell people you might not be Britney Spears—I want you to be Britney Spears—but you might not be her," She said, "But I don't think that means you can't make a very good living singing songs. I wouldn't take a check from someone I didn't think had the talent to accomplish great things. I think drive is more important than raw talent, usually."
Occhino saw a void in the "operatic" offerings of vocal coaches in the region and decided instead of hoping for someone to come along, she'd pick up the slack. She began saving in college to lease her current property and her business plans have been in the books for ages. Sometimes Occhino would skip going out on weekends, she shared, wrapped up in working out some kink in the dream business plan she'd laid out.
"I never felt like there was a really appropriate place for me to learn what I wanted to learn when I was younger," Occhino said. "I picked Stamford because I grew up in Stamford. I went to school in Stamford. It doesn't have the modern musical offerings around here that I've fallen in love with. I know this area, I know the client base and I know what's wanted here and what's needed here."
However, Occhino said her familiarity with the people of Stamford doesn't mean she hasn't been happily surprised at times for how her classes have developed.
"I wanted a diverse range of clients, but I thought a majority of our students might be younger," she said. "But we're also getting a lot of adult students. It's been a lot of fun. One called up and asked about classes, and then another, and we've been able to build around the number of people who want to branch out musically. 65 is our oldest student."
And so, Occhino keeps plugging away and taking on all her daily business challenges as only a lead singer-Pop Music Academy owner-young and successful 20-something can: fearlessly.
"My parents have been very helpful with their business expertise, but they knew this was my thing and I knew I was on my own," Occhino said. "I do all the work, but I reap all of the benefits. And I'm happy. So happy. It's so rewarding being here and I like being here everyday."