CHESTER - Former Oak Glen High School tennis standout Moleigh Poling wants the world to know that she has interests other than sports.
Poling, 23, of Chester, has nurtured an interest in music ever since she started listening to Julie Andrews in the movie "Mary Poppins" as a child. Her tastes are more grown-up now, tending toward Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston.
"I really respect the artists (like Carey and Houston) who sound exactly the same in the studio as they are live," Poling said. "That's what an artist is."
Poling, whose stage name is Ari Banks, will be fulfilling a lifelong dream to sing professionally when she holds a single release party at 9 p.m. Friday at the East Liverpool Motor Lodge.
The West Liberty University senior will sing two original singles - "Clear to My Heart" and "I'm Gone" - and have them available for sale for $3 on CD. "Clear to My Heart" already is available on iTunes.
The single has a slow, R&B feel complete with horns and background vocals. The chorus explores a breakup theme: "We were so close in the beginning / Nothing could tear us apart / But I've heard that nothing lasts forever / You made that clear to my heart."
Poling said she wrote both songs after a bad breakup a couple years ago. "I probably wrote 12 to 15 songs after that. I just couldn't put the pen down," she said.
The child of a musical household, Poling said she realized early on that she had a talent for singing. Her mother, Maggie McCormack, sang in the choir at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, and her father, Greg Poling, played guitar and was a disc jockey on the side, she said.
"Music has always been my first love, even though I can't read music. I do it all by ear," she said. "It's kind of been a second-nature thing to me."
Poling pursued sports - mostly volleyball and tennis - in high school and college, entering West Liberty on a tennis scholarship. There, she started as a music education major but then switched to elementary education because she struggled with music theory. She plans to do her student teaching next semester and to graduate in December.
So does Poling want to be a teacher or a singer?
Fresh from recording her songs at a studio in Wheeling and excited about Friday's single release party, Poling said she's pursuing a singing career and keeping education as a safe backup.
"It's definitely something I see myself doing. It's definitely something I want to do," she said.
A mezzo-soprano, Poling is a perfectionist when it comes to music, so it was a source of consternation when she learned last year that she had a scar on one of her vocal chords. She underwent therapy at UPMC Presbyterian and had to learn a whole new way of speaking and singing.
She does vocal exercises daily and makes minimal use of pitch-correction software in the studio. She's not afraid to do multiple takes to get a part right, relying also on the prowess of Wheeling music producer Jamie Peck.
"I was really happy with how we recorded the songs we did. We only pitch-corrected three notes (on 'I'm Gone'). That was a really big accomplishment for me," she said.
As a songwriter, Poling said she focuses on the lyrics and collaborates with Peck on the music and the production.
"I find myself listening more to the words of songs. ... I pretty much listen to everything. I draw inspiration from everything in my daily life and the people I'm around," she said.
In addition to Carey and Houston, Poling enjoys R&B, music from the disco era, the Beatles and other pop artists. "Anything but classical," she said.
Poling hopes to go back into the studio soon to record more songs and anticipates releasing a full CD this summer. One of the songs on there may be "Love is Just a Dream," written by her uncle Leonard Lascola, a former West Virginia University marching band drummer.
Lascola died in 1986 after being diagnosed with leukemia, so Poling would like to record the song as a tribute to the musical uncle she never met.
Poling also is concerning herself with the legal aspects of the music business - copyrighting her songs, trying to get signed by a label. For now, though, she wants to get through Friday's single release party. The cover charge is $5, and doors open at 9 p.m.
"I just wanted to introduce myself and my music at the party," she said, "and, hopefully, create a buzz about what I'm doing."
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