Huntington High School graduate Kirsten Maxwell, 23, was like all other high school students at the end of her senior year. When she graduated in 2010, the singer-songwriter didn’t know what she’d pursue at SUNY Potsdam in the fall.
“Both of my parents majored in music, but it didn’t occur to me that that was a path,” Maxwell said in a phone interview.
Her high school music teacher, Jason Giachetti, encouraged Maxwell to capitalize on her musical talent for a career.
She said Giachetti helped her put together a repertoire of songs and gave her music theory lessons every day at 7 a.m.
The hard work put into her foundation has paid off. After graduating from SUNY Geneseo in 2014 with a creative writing degree, she was a winner at the annual South Florida Folk Festival Singer-Songwriter competition in Fort Lauderdale in January.
That win may not come as a surprise to those familiar with her abilities. Giachetti, who is in his 16th year at Huntington High School, said he heard Maxwell sing for the first time during a vocal contest. Maxwell was in the chorus, but he said he didn’t know how talented she was until then, and told her she had to pursue a career in music.
“I’m just unbelievably proud of her,” Giachetti said in a phone interview. “For an educator of any sort, seeing one of their students really follow their dreams, it’s a dream come true.”
Maxwell’s path to a music career began long before high school, however. Her mother was an opera singer and her father was a conductor, and Maxwell said she grew up singing. When she was 12, she learned how to play the guitar and started writing some of her own songs.
“I’ve been writing ever since,” Maxwell said. She released her first album, entitled “Crimson,” independently in 2015. The album was part of a “healing process” following a particular relationship, she said, and its tone has a distinctive contemporary folk sound.
She is touted on her website as the “love child” of “Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot … raised with the help of godmothers Judy Collins and Maria Muldaur.” In her quest to make a living out of music, Maxwell said she’ll define her success by being not only financially stable, but also by being mentioned in the same breath as some of the iconic 1960s folksinging women.
“Things have changed, but I’d love to have the kind of career and image and respect that they’ve gained over the years,” she said.
Those who have heard her don’t hesitate to heap praise on the up-and-coming artist and her talent.
Jon Stein, who hosts a folk music-focused podcast called “The Hootenanny Cafe,” is a fan of Maxwell, according to her website.
“I never thought I’d ever hear a voice as angelic and mesmerizing as I did when I first listened to Joan Baez some 50 years ago, but then I heard the voice, songs and melodies of Kirsten Maxwell,” Stein said.
Maxwell credits her upbringing in Huntington as building a foundation for her music career, and now she will get to perform for the community that raised her. She is slated to perform a live show at the Huntington Public Library on March 25.
“It’s definitely significant in the fact that I have sort of a hometown pride and connection, growing up [and] being in the area,” she said.