Author: Vanessa Oswald
Cortney Costanzo was born to perform. From a young age she was singing, dancing and making her presence known to any crowd willing to listen.
Her career as a budding performer started early on at the age of four when she started taking dance classes at Miss Bev’s Dance Studio in Niagara Falls.
She began her foray into singing when she joined her elementary school choir and continued on into middle school and high school all in the Lewiston Porter school district. In eighth grade she starred in her first musical, “The Wizard Of Oz,” playing the role of the scarecrow. Then in high school she also had musical roles in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and “Jesus Christ Superstar.”
“It kind of runs in my family,” said Costanzo of her musical inclination. “My aunt, Bonnie Nye (singing with Cortney – inset), is a choir director and my cousin, Mandy Urbaniak, is a music teacher.”
In college she wanted to keep singing and dancing, so she became involved in the community choir and college dance team. She participated in each group all four years from 2005 to 2009 at The College at Brockport. Her senior year of college she became captain of the dance team.
“Once I graduated college my aunt asked me, ‘What are you going to do about singing now?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t know,’” Costanzo said. “And she was like ‘Well do you want to join this group with me?’”
In 2010 she decided to join the Lewiston Choraleers with Nye and has been singing with them ever since. She is the youngest member of the community chorus, which is directed by Donald D. Shrimpton and based in Lewiston. They perform seasonal concerts at Christmas and Easter, along with their spring and summer shows, which includes uplifting choir music and show tunes.
“I’ve performed a bunch with them at mainly churches, but we also do festivals in the Lewiston area, like the Lewiston Arts Festival and Peach Festival,” Costanzo said.
In 2013 Costanzo was able to return to dancing when she joined The Foxy Diamondz, a professional dance performance company comprised of local talented dancers trained in various styles of dance. The group has performed at several events in Buffalo, such as The World’s Largest Disco, The Witches Ball at Hotel Lafayette, and will be taking the stage at the upcoming MaddTiki Winter Luau on Saturday, February 28 at Riverworks at 333 Ganson Street in Buffalo.
“Singing and dancing has always been what I loved to do and the fact that I can kind of incorporate both with the Foxy Diamondz is awesome,” Costanzo said. “It’s opened so many doors and it’s lead me to meet so many awesome people.”
Costanzo was chosen as dance captain of The Foxy Diamondz, as she leads the majority of the dance rehearsals and contributes a lot of her own choreography used in the dances they perform.
“I picked Cortney as our dance captain because she is always positive and she’s very efficient and reliable,” said Maria Provenzano, founder of the Foxy Diamondz. “She’s always coming up with really fun, new ideas. Her energy is something that radiates and spreads throughout the group.”
Last year Costanzo sang Adele’s “Rumour Has It” while the rest of the Foxy Diamondz were her back-up dancers during their Bidwell dance concert series and Erie County Fair show. She also sang Christina Aguilera’s “Nasty Naughty Boy” for their Mardi Gras party at Allentown’s DBGBs bar. There will be plenty of upcoming dance events where Costanzo will showcase her voice as well with the dance group.
“I have a friend who works in the secret service,” Costanzo said. “His station was right outside the visitor’s office and he had overheard that they had a bunch of spots still available to perform during the East Wing tours.”
Different types of performing groups, such as choirs, musicians and even soloists, can be picked to serve as in-house carolers for this occasion. Costanzo and Jessica Hall performed from their 30 prepared Christmas carols while pianist Robert Hull provided musical accompaniment.
“It ended up being two and a half hours,” Costanzo said. “Finally they were like, ‘You guys were wonderful. We didn’t want to make you stop, but Michelle Obama has a luncheon happening, we have to clear the building.’”
On top of all the other groups she’s involved in, Costanzo recently tried out for Harmonia, a Buffalo-based a cappella group directed by Robert Pacillo. After her audition in August of last year, she was shocked to discover she was accepted into the highly esteemed ensemble.
Before the audition she was told the singing group had been invited to sing at Carnegie Hall and to keep that date open.
“He kind of put his feelers out to a bunch of people,” Costanzo said of Pacillo. “It was one of those things where like we knew at the start, so it was either you’re in or you’re out. So that was like major pressure right there, but it was good pressure because you knew you had to be on your game.”
For her audition she was asked to perform several pieces, which included a Latin piece, a jazz piece and a modern day melodic piece. After learning certain sections of each piece she had to sing her own part against other parts, sung by people who have been in the group for years. She also prepared her own solo for the audition.
“My solo was ‘Art Is Calling For Me,’” Costanzo said. “It’s from an operetta, so it’s very colorful and talking about how I’m a prima donna, but the song is so much fun.”
Overall she said the sight-reading was the most difficult part for her, but somehow she managed to get through it.
“Once I found out I made it, our first time together, they all went through and said what they did,” Costanzo said. “Out of the 22 people, I think 18 of them all either teach music or direct music. They all know music, I don’t know music, but I somehow made it.”
Costanzo travels to New York City with Harmonia to perform in “A Cappella Next: An Evening Devoted to Contemporary Choral Chamber Music,” being presented by the Distinguished Concerts International New York. The show will take place at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall on March 13 at 8 p.m. Tickets for the event are $50. Anyone interested in helping the ensemble with funds to pay for their trip can donate online by clicking here.
Before the Carnegie Hall concert, Harmonia will also have their “Into the Light: A Cappella by CandleLight- Music of Light and Life, Shadows and Darkness” performances on March 6 at St. Louis Church at 8 p.m. (35 Edward St. in Buffalo) and March 8 at St. Peter RC Church at 7 p.m. (620 Center St. in Lewiston). This event is free for all with a suggested donation of $10.
Once Costanzo was accepted into Harmonia and was flying high on cloud nine, she came upon another opportunity to perform at a wedding reception with the Steve Balesteri Band on New Year’s Eve at Asbury Hall at Babeville.
“Steve, the guy who’s the lead in the group, was by himself performing at a wedding at the country club that I work at and I happened to be in the kitchen belting to some tune on the kitchen radio,” Costanzo said.
Balesteri was sitting at the country club’s bar when he heard Costanzo’s voice. After walking out of the kitchen, Costanzo apologized for her singing; not realizing anyone could hear her. He shrugged her off and assured her it hadn’t bothered him and that he thought she had a great voice. Once Costanzo told him she had just been accepted into Harmonia, he was sold and asked her if she wanted to perform with him and his seven-part band while ringing in the New Year. She graciously accepted the offer. The pair began rehearsing for the gig in October and Costanzo learned 23 of his songs and prepared three songs of her own to perform.
“The minute I got on stage and sang my first song, I was like, ‘I got this’ because it was a wedding, unlike a concert where everyone is sitting there watching you. People could care less what you’re doing up there,” Costanzo said. “I was like pointing to people in the crowd and dancing with the mic. It was awesome.”
While juggling all of her singing and dancing opportunities, Costanzo still finds time to keep up her job as a math teacher at West Seneca East High School.
“Do I want to be famous?” Costanzo said. “No. But if I can continue to do what I love to do and still keep a full-time job and almost have it be my escape from real life, that’s what I would love to do.”