Alison Turner is attending Nashville’s prestigious Belmont University

Alison Turner, who grew up in South Valley, is studying at Belmont University in Nashville in pursuit of a country music career. She will perform the national anthem at the Family Music Fest at 7 p.m. July 3. Photo courtesy Alison Turner

By Marty Cheek

People attending this year’s Family Music Fest in downtown Morgan will enjoy a special performance by a young South Valley woman with dreams of a career in country music.

Alison Turner grew up in Gilroy and Morgan Hill and, after graduating from Monte Vista Christian School in Watsonville, moved last fall to Nashville. She is now studying for a performing arts career at the prestigious Belmont University in that Tennessee city.

The 18-year-old is back in the South Valley for the summer. She’ll start off the Freedom Fest’s annual street dance by singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at 7 p.m. July 3 at the Third Street stage. She’ll follow this by singing a patriotic song as well as a country song she co-wrote.

Turner got her first taste of singing when she took “Mommy and Me” music class with instructor Michelle Moyer. As she grew, she started taking roles in musical theatrical shows in Gilroy and found performing on the stage a fun experience.

“I was really interested in it. And one day I said, ‘I want to take music lessons, mom,’” she recalls her decision to take her talent to the next level. “I don’t know what sparked it. I just wanted to sing.”

Starting at age 9, Turner went to Moyer who served as her voice coach during singing lessons. A few years later at age 12, she found herself standing in front of a mic at Morgan Hill’s Downtown Amphitheater, sharing her talent with the audience gathering during the pre-show at the Friday Night Music Series summer concerts. She began singing solos and developed a confidence in performing on stage alone.

Starting in her sophomore year of high school at Monte Vista, she joined the choir and further developed her singing skills with mentoring by the vocal coach instructors on campus.

“It helped me realize that I want to do music not just as a hobby but as a career and my life.”

On the afternoon of June 29, 2019, Turner stepped on the stage at the Boots & Brews Country Music Festival held at the Morgan Hill Outdoor Sports Center. As she belted out words to the American national anthem, she felt the approval of the audience of 20,000 people.

“That was the moment when I realized, this is what I need to do,” she said. “There were thousands of people and I was not nervous at all. Not one bit. It was the weirdest thing because even when I’m singing in church on Sundays, I get little butterflies in my stomach. I wasn’t scared. I knew, literally at that moment, yes, this is it.”

The teenager decided to take a chance on a country music career. She told her parents, Christina Turner (the city manager of Morgan Hill) and Lou Zulaica (the chef at Clos LaChance). They were supportive as they had been for so many years paying for singing lessons, Turner said.

She applied to Belmont and flew to “Music City” in early 2020 to audition to be admitted into their School of Music. Students are required to sing a classical song in a foreign language to be admitted. Turner sang a song in German. She doesn’t know the language but learned the lyrics phonetically. She also sang two pop songs in her audition.

She was accepted to Belmont and moved to Nashville in September 2020 at age 17. Her major is in commercial music, which includes pop music, country, R&B  — everything except for classical music. The university is well known for producing some of the best country music artists including Faith Hill, Josh Turner, and the band Florida-Georgia Line. Sometimes Turner joins Zoom lectures where up-and-coming and established performers share tips on how to succeed in growing a career.

One thing she finds herself enjoying at Belmont is the process of learning to write songs. At first it was difficult because she “over thought” the process. But finding herself among talented song-writers taught her to let the creativity flow. The first song she wrote was “Don’t Wanna Be Friends,” which was inspired by her boyfriend.

“We met and I liked him and he was, ‘No, we’re just friends. I don’t want to date.’  And I go, ‘No, we’re not just friends. You don’t bring your friends flowers and take them on dates.’”

The experience gave her the theme of the song: knowing how someone feels when they’re afraid to tell you how they feel.

Learning songwriting from musicians who have been doing it for 10 or 15 years has helped her to grow in developing her own lyrics. Belmont encourages its students to have a collaborative spirit and find a rhythm with the co-writer, she said.

“Learning from them was so big,” she said. “Just being surrounded by people who are more experienced than me gave me confidence and taught me it’s supposed to be fun. It shouldn’t be stressful. You just sit there and spit ideas back and forth and it’s so rewarding at the end . . . Being in Nashville and co-writing with other students and songwriters has helped me so much.”

She looks forward to entertaining South Valley residents at the Freedom Fest Family Music Fest stage to kick off the Independence Day celebrations.

“I love getting to perform in Morgan Hill because it is home,” she said. “I’ll sing for the people who have supported me long before I had a song.”

Marty Cheek