Performing like a Voss

On a summer night, a medley of 35 voices singing the “Stand By Me” by Ben King accompanies the strings of a mandolin and guitar in a Hawaiian style. 50 seconds zip by, and their uncle yells “Switch instruments!”. Tony frantically swaps his mandolin with a guitar from his twin brother Gabriel, and the Voss family immediately switches gears to Marie Osmond’s “Paper Roses.”

Seniors Tony and Gabriel Voss were introduced to the arts when they would play instruments they had no experience with, such as the Hawaiian bass guitar, mandolin and maracas, at family reunions. Since then, Gabriel has been able to play the guitar, trumpet and ukulele, while Tony plays the bass guitar, drums, flute, piano and ukulele.

“It really helps me foster a care for the craft and build an expertise. Our family has been very musical, especially on my dad’s side. They love to get together and break out the ukulele,” Tony said. “With music, you make whatever you feel and whatever brings your heart to it, and that allows you to see something that is raw and emotional. With singing, there’s more to music than just the sound or the words to it. There’s an experience being told through it.”

On the paternal side of their family, their father and aunt, who is now a choral director at Capistrano Unified School District, both performed in the Diamond Bar High School choir. Moreover, their great uncle filmed for a variety of American sitcoms, including “All in the Family,” “The Jeffersons” and “Good Times,” while their distant relatives were Shakespearean actors in Italy and Vaudeville performers. Likewise, their mother was involved in the Walnut High School drama program. With a predisposition to different backgrounds and appreciations rooted in the arts, the Voss family supports Tony’s and Gabriel’s careers through volunteering, donating and attending their performances.

“For kids who want to get into the arts, they sometimes don’t get that support from their parents. We’ve been extremely lucky to have a very good support system, and I honestly can’t wish for anything better,” Gabriel said. “It’s hard to live in a world where people say ‘You can’t,’ but with parents backing you up and relatives from Hawaii who say ‘We’re in town and we’ll see you perform,’ it’s a good feeling knowing that people out there are supporting you.”

Their introduction into acting began when they auditioned for Seussical the Musical on a whim when they were in sixth grade at Suzanne Middle School, resulting in Gabriel landing the role of Horton and Tony playing Jojo. Following their first venture into acting, they have gone on to give life to a multitude of characters in “The Wizard of Oz” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in middle school, as well as Walnut High School’s “Shrek the Musical,” “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Mary Poppins,” “Much Ado About Nothing,” “Death by Desert,” “Anything Goes” and this year’s fall musical “Big Fish.”

“Art truly enriches your life, and I think that’s why we have stayed with it and have chosen to pursue it in so many different forms and ways. It definitely allows you to explore parts of who you are,” Tony said. “While I play characters, I try to find an aspect of myself in that character. When we’re picking scenes, I get to see things from other people’s perspective and get a take on my own perspective. It lets you find a piece of yourself that you wouldn’t normally have been able to find.”

In addition to being enrolled in the Walnut High School drama program for four years, Gabriel joined Men’s Ensemble and Chamber Singers this year, while Tony has spent two years in Men’s Ensemble and joined Intermediate Jazz Band as a bass guitarist this year. In addition to these organizations, the Voss twins serve on cabinet of Thespians Club and Improv Club.

“It’s a form of escapism and expression to just do something you wouldn’t do normally. You have to enjoy what you’re doing, and that will translate into your audience,” Gabriel said. “I feel like the arts program here specifically focuses on that because it feels like nobody is really forced to do something. It doesn’t feel like a regular class, and there’s a lot of freedom with the way that these teachers and the craft itself lets you have fun and express yourself.”

“Nothing like tech week to bring people together.”

Those eight words encapsulate their brotherly bond. But its simplicity holds more weight than the phrase itself.

“Performing with my brother through all of these different things we get to do definitely strengthens our bond,” Tony said. “It’s not only our bond, but I have made a lot of lifelong friends through the different programs. The arts program connects students together and brings us together as a family, and we all find a shared passion. The arts unify us under one passion, and our unity drives us to improve and create even better work.”

This year, Tony and Gabriel are working closely with Special Programs Dean Marta Dibell to create a council for unity, recognition and representation for the Walnut High School Arts Program. In the near future, they hope to plan a potential Arts Rally to celebrate the Art Program’s accolades.

“All of our programs bring awards, and it seems like it can be covered up with everything else that goes on in school. We just get so enthralled in school that we tend to miss those opportunities and expression in finding out who we are,” Tony said.

Furthermore, they are currently in the process of starting their audio-exclusive podcast called Single Sessions, in which Tony and Gabriel will mainly improvise on random acting prompts in episode lengths of 20 minutes to an hour. The acting prompts will center around one story with each individual portraying a character. Tony is writing music for the introductions and outros, and they are looking into uploading the podcasts on either Maximum Fun or Apple Podcasts. Along with acting, they plan to invite friends to stay connected with them and to introduce them to a variety of radio formats ranging from radio plays to voice-overs.

“We want to expand a little bit on how we allow ourselves to be seen and just getting better at addressing people and staying in contact with friends,” Gabriel said. “It’s going to be another outlet in which we can have creative freedom and get our skills out there. By using this format, we can help our friends and ourselves to keep that process growing, and make sure we stay connected throughout this crazy time period of everybody going everywhere.”

By Sherman Wu, Manager
Photos by Jessie Dixon