Scholarship Winners

Each year the committee receives an average of eight to 10 applications from graduating high-school seniors. Our evaluators are overwhelmed by the caliber of these talented young men and women, making the selection process difficult. HCC is proud to present you with our past recipients of the Renee Craig “Music in Motion” Scholarship.

2019 Winner
Sara Vacarro


Sara Vacarro is a 2018 graduate of Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, NJ. She is pursuing a musical theater degree from the College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University. It is her lifelong dream to pursue a professional career on stage — whether that path leads her to Broadway or a regional program.

Her most significant role during high school was as president of Ridgewood Highs Gay-Straight Alliance. She also served on the leadership council for her school's theater company.


2016 Winner - Gianna Porfano


Gianna Porfano is a 2016 graduate of North Hunterdon High School in Clinton Township, NJ. She is pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts from NYU/Tisch School of the Arts, studying the Lee Strasberg Method of Acting for her first four semesters. Her studio training will also include voice, dance, relaxation technique, and speech. She believes strong acting is the basis of meaningful performance. Gianna plans to continue singing in a chorus or choir at NYU.

Gianna sang with Freshman Girls’ Choir in high school, then auditioned and was placed in the school’s Chamber and Show Choirs for the next three years. She was a member of the NJ All-State Mixed Chorus for three years, performing at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City and NJPAC in Newark. She was a member of North Hunterdon’s Theatre Organization, Chamber Choir President, VP of National Thespian Honor Society, and a member of National Honor Society and Spanish Honor Society. She sang solos with Jazz Band, at her school’s annual Prism Concert, during North Hunterdon’s “Relay for Life” Luminaria Lighting, and was also chosen to perform the National Anthem at a number of high school events.

She loves sharing her love of the art of music with others, particularly through volunteerism. Gianna has worked one-on-one with special needs individuals and performed at various local fund raisers, at church and at nursing homes.

One of Gianna’s greatest career highlights to date was performing for Stephen Schwartz and MTI in the 2015 World Premiere of Children of Eden, JR (Yonah) at the Summit Playhouse, Summit, NJ. She also had the opportunity to do a staged reading of the final script for Mr. Schwartz this past spring. Gianna’s love for the stage began at age six when she joined ShowKids Invitational Theatre. She has performed in 15 broadway shows over the past 12 years and two classical productions, the Baroque Orchestra of NJ in which she played Second Spirit of the Trio in The Magic Flute, and the Development Wing of the Opera Project. Some of Gianna’s favorite roles include Yonah (Children of Eden, JR), Nancy (Oliver!), Sally (Me and My Girl), and Brigitta (The Sound of Music).

Gianna has trained in voice for 6 years (Steven Snow) and with a vocal coach (Trapper Felides). She takes dance and acting (The Star Maker School/LBC Talent), along with piano and guitar lessons which she will continue in college.

Her high school music teacher stated that Gianna “is a talented and expressive vocalist and actress who brings tremendous energy to each rehearsal, is an inspiration to other cast members and is a natural on stage”. She is certainly a triple threat!

When not on stage, Gianna enjoys horseback riding, traveling out west, hiking, biking and kayaking. She worked this past summer as a Student Conservation Associate in local state parks, and although she enjoys nature and the great outdoors is greatly anticipating continuing her music education in New York City.

2015 Winner - Samuel Denler

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Aspiring vocalist Samuel Denler from Baldwin Place, N.Y., is majoring in music education at the Westminster Choir College.

A member of the 2015 graduating class of Somers High School in Lincolndale, N.Y., Sam’s academic and musical achievements are impressive. His outstanding grades afforded him membership in the National Honor Society as a result of achieving High Honor Roll each year.

He was enthusiastically active in the high school choirs and ensembles all four years and was the male lead in each of the school musical productions. Sam has studied voice, piano and guitar since 2010. With only two years of high school Music Theory classes, he received the highest score possible on the national AP Music Theory test. His talent in this area inspired Sam to arrange a four-part choral piece for his high school chamber choir. He was also asked to be the student conductor for the piece in concert.

Sam participated in the NYSSMA All-State Mixed Chorus, All-County Chorus and Area All-State Chorus, Westchester County, N.Y., and was selected as a member of the National Association of Music Teachers National Honor Choir, Nashville, Tennessee, both the Ithaca College and the Westminster Choir College Summer Vocal Institutes, and the ADCA Eastern Division Chinese Repertoire Ensemble, Baltimore, MD.  He also earned the highest level marks on the NYSSMA Solo Adjudications for the last three years.

In her letter of recommendation, Somers Point Director of Choral Music, Ann McNulty Ferraro wrote: “His musicianship is exemplary, his enthusiasm has no bounds, and his talent has no end in sight.” The scholarship committee agreed with Ann that “he possesses a pure, beautiful, free and lyric tenor voice. “

Sam looks forward to arranging and composing at Westminster Choir College. In an excerpt from his application, he stated “…sometimes we forget what has driven the evolution of music—passion. Music is what our ancestors turned to in times of war, celebration, mourning and love, and it’s what we make when words aren’t enough.  The best thing we can do for our audiences is to hold on to the passion in the music we make.  The only way we can create music at the absolute highest level is if we open our souls to the music that we study and rehearse.”

We wish Sam the very best in his studies at Westminster Choir College and look forward to his future achievements.

2014 Winner - Katie Collins


Katie Collins is studying for her Bachelor's of Music at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

Part of the 2014 graduating class at Pascack Valley High School, Katie' was a member of the International Thespian Society, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, and the National Honor Society. She was the 2012 winner of Chemagination, a state chemistry competition at Princeton University, and also won notice in the role of Yum-Yum in a production of Mikado produced by the Ridgewood Gilbert and Sullivan Opera Company.

Katie plans a career in classic vocal performance, but she embraces many other styles of music. "I feel just as influenced by a 14th century madrigal as I do by a contemporary jazz piece," she wrote in her scholarship application. "Additionally, I feel myself very drawn to and influenced by the music of the world. Whether it is the strums of a Japanese floor harp or the clacking of castanets, the combination of music and culture opens my mind to a wealth of possibilities."

In her letter of recommendation, Pascack Valley High School Music Director Argine Safari expressed admiration for Katie's talent, hard work, consistency and determination. "For many students, their junior and senior years are extremely stressful as they take numerous standardized tests and work on their college applications," Safari wrote. "Not only did Katie continue to do very well academically, but also seemed to manage the stress level with remarkable grace. Katie continued to be actively involved in every choir concert/show and theater event, becoming an integral part of every major event sponsored by our music and theater departments."

The HCC scholarship committee was struck not only by the thoughtful maturity of Katie's application essays but by the clarity of her soprano voice.



2013 Winner - Margaret Tigue

"Maggie" hails from Wantagh, N.Y. She is part of the class of 2017 at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre and Dance. Here's a performance from December 2015.


2012 Winner - Christine Rosenblatt

Aspiring opera singer Christine studied at Barnard College in New York City. Learn more about the musical she wrote in 2017 — and continues to refine — in this article.


2011 Winner - Cailee Jo Whitefield

Cailee pursued a double major in music therapy and music education at Wartburg College. Since her graduation, she has been involved in providing music therapy to children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.


2010 Winner - Amanda Kaplan

Amanda studied Music Education at the University of Delaware, graduating in 2014.

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2009 Winner - Jessica Downs

Jessie earned a degree in composition from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and is a PhD candidate at the University of Buffalo. Over the past few years, Jessie has devoted hours of time to programs aimed at "developing the creative voices of students of all ages."