Budding singer-songwriter is determined; nothing is going to get in her way now.
Kayla Kroh has a head full of dreams, but her feet are firmly planted in York County. First on her list of goals? Graduate high school. She’s a 16-year-old soon-to-be junior, but you’d be forgiven for thinking her much older based solely on her voice. And then, one day, she wants to do a world tour.
If ambition and talent are the prerequisites for that goal, Kayla Kroh has them in spades.
“The best things in life don’t come easy,” Kroh says. “And what kind of person wants to give up on their dreams?”
She began playing flute in fourth grade, then violin, drums and now guitar. Music is in her bones – or at least in her family tree. Her father, Todd, plays drums; her sister, Kortney, sings.
“Our voices are opposite, but they oddly blend,” Kroh says. “And how many people can say their dad is their drummer?”
Her voice has quite a range. In her school chorus, she sings soprano, but they put her where they need her, she says. And when she performs solo, she sings alto.
In May of 2012, Kroh released her first album, On Your Own, with producers Bobby Gentilo and Jason Hoffheins. The 12-song album contains five original tracks. She hopes to get back into the studio soon to record new material she gleaned from her days in middle school.
“That was a tough time,” Kroh says. “I’m excited about my new material. It shows how my life has changed.”
Kroh has made a complete turnaround from when she was a young wallflower. Now she can perform with some of the best singers. She has opened for American Idol winner Scotty McCreery and country stars Kristy Lee Cook and John Michael Montgomery.
But booking shows, travelling and trying to reach new audiences has not come without its challenges. Because Kroh is a minor, state law prohibits her from performing in certain establishments across Pennsylvania.
State law decrees that no minor can play in venues with a Retail Dispensing License – something the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board is now strictly enforcing. This includes most venues that serve alcohol and is intended to prohibit minors from engaging in illicit activities beyond playing music. Kroh and her family are doing all they can to get the law changed so that her exposure can be increased in her crucial development years, but that effort may take months or years.
“It’s crazy,” says Kroh’s mom, Jody. “We can travel to Maryland, and she can play anywhere. But because of this ruling, Kayla can waitress in these places but can’t play there.”
Meanwhile, Kroh has several upcoming shows – she’ll be at Reid’s Orchard in Gettysburg on Wednesday night – and she gets busier once the school year ends. She performs with the York County Senior Honors Choir, which is a select group of singers from all over the county. They have performed at places such as Penn State University, and this summer they traveled to perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
“Performing is my love,” Kroh says. “I feel so comfortable doing it now. I found myself in music.”
Ever since Kroh began singing for audiences when she was 13, people would often tell her she didn’t sound that young. The lyrics were all hers, Kroh says, even though she was “shaking in her boots” the first time she performed.
Kroh grew up listening to country music, but her taste is expansive – from show tunes to blues to country.
She plays covers from Dolly Parton to Pink, all with her own distinct voice and talented guitar picking. Her inspirations include Miranda Lambert (because of the way she “lives her life with great morals and values”) and Hunter Hayes (for his “mesmerizing lyrics and songwriting skills”).
She is now focused on controlling her voice, and she says writing songs helps. Kroh reads music and has taken lessons on violin, flute and guitar. Now she mostly plays guitar, but she dabbles with her other instruments for fun, making music with her dad and singing with her younger sister.
Music is a family affair for Kroh. Her maternal grandfather played organ by ear, and her parents met in marching band.
Kroh especially enjoys performances with a deeper purpose. She is involved with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and wants to do more with that organization.
“Seeing the giddy, happy faces of the kids makes it all so worth it,” Kroh says.
Kroh’s big heart is evident even outside of the world of music. Spending time with her family and friends and playing with her two rescue dogs are things that fill her life. She wants to someday raise money for dogs that need homes.
Kroh attends Central York High School and is excited about being a junior.
“I know this is supposed to be the hardest year in high school,” she says, “so that makes me a little bit nervous.”
One of her favorite high school experiences has been playing the character Nancy in the musical Oliver. She loves acting and the chance it gives you to “become another person for a little bit.”
Mark Zortman, her high school music director, has had a big impact on her career.
“He taught me stage presence,” Kroh says. “He got me used to singing without a guitar to hide behind, and that has been invaluable to me.”
Kroh will keep playing and singing, no matter what obstacles she faces. With one eye on graduating and one eye on that world tour, the future looks like it will include Kohl’s special brand of music from the heart.
“I will find new places to play; I will just keep going,” Kroh says. “It’s what I love.”
Catch Kaylah Kroh at The Cider House at Reid’s Orchard (400 Baltimore St., Gettysburg) on Wednesday, August 27. 6-9pm. Click here for details.