Barrington grad lives musical dream in Holland
BY CYNTHIA WOLF For Sun-Times Media | @cynthia_wolf January 8, 2014 5:14PM
Barrington High School grad Jennifer Lynn performs on "The Voice of Holland," a televised singing competition that now airs in the U.S. | Provided
Updated: February 10, 2014 7:07AM
Life has taken on a bit of a surreal quality for Jennifer Lynn these days, after a star turning Top 8 finish in the hugely popular “The Voice of Holland.”
Children, she said, run up and snap pictures of her at the local grocery store. And though she has been earning a living in the performing arts for nearly a decade, “The Voice,” which attracts millions of viewers, has catapulted the 1995 Barrington High School graduate’s career.
Lynn, who agreed to a phone interview while she was visiting friends and relatives on the West Coast last week, said many people are surprised to learn that Holland was the first to feature the televised singing talent face-off known as “The Voice,” now also popular in the U.S. and elsewhere.
“It’s such an amazing platform to get yourself out there,” she said. “I have such a following now ...”
Not only did Lynn make the Top 8, but she also was the top public vote-getter for a couple of weeks before her stint ended in December. When it all started last summer, she never thought she’d make it so far, particularly as a foreigner.
“They were riding me about my Dutch,” she said. “I found myself backstage rehearsing phrases.”
The opportunity to reach huge audiences has been remarkable, and the experience has been one she’ll never forget.
“The girl who made it to my position last year wound up having a gold record,” Lynn said. “It’s raised the bar to a whole new level ... I’m trying to ride the wave.”
It’s already helped her clinch far more high-caliber gigs and has put her music on the minds of European multitudes.
“I have a boxer-lab mix and I walk on the beach during the day and make music at night,” said Lynn, who was born Jennifer Lynn Saum, but uses only her first and middle names professionally. “This is kind of a dream.”
Those beachfront walks are a long way from her childhood summers spent happily at Honey Lake in North Barrington. A resident of the coastal resort town of Scheveningen, Netherlands, Lynn’s strolls now take her along the North Sea.
The youngest of five children born to Barbara and Boyd Saum, Lynn credits her time with the Barrington Children’s Choir and singing in the chorus at the high school as foundational to her music career.
“My mom was the village clerk in North Barrington when I was in school,” she said. “Dad taught at Hersey and Wheeling high schools. They moved us to Barrington because they really liked the schools and the fine arts program, [which] really had a big impact on shaping what I wanted to do.”
During Lynn’s early childhood she lived in North Barrington. The family later moved to a place along Cuba Road and, after her father died unexpectedly in 1993, she and her mother moved to Tower Lakes, with her elder siblings already having moved out.
Lynn attended Roslyn Road Elementary, Barrington Middle School, Creative Children’s Academy in Mount Prospect for eighth grade, and Barrington High School.
Her love of singing was fostered by a musical mom and the mentoring Lynn received as part of the children’s choir directed by Peggy Crawford.
“[The children’s choir] was probably my greatest musical influence, next to my mother, who sang and was a soloist at church,” Lynn said. “That was a constant musical source, with weekly rehearsals, quarterly concerts, tours.”
Crawford said she wasn’t surprised to learn of Lynn’s overseas achievements.
“I totally remember Jenny Saum from BCC’s beginning,” said Crawford, the choir’s founding artistic director. “She was a wonderful girl and a great chorister who helped pave the way for 27 years of successes ... she was always a gal with amazing drive and talent.”
In high school, however, Lynn suffered a minor setback when she auditioned for, but failed to claim a spot in the BHS swing choir.
“I was a little bit of a social outcast,” she said. “I didn’t fit into that crowd. But [choral instructor] Pamela Hayes gave me a solo in Handel’s ‘Messiah.’ She gave me the soprano and the alto part. That stuck with me for a while. That was probably my first time singing in front of a big crowd like that.”
After high school, and after a period of managing the Barrington Pet Shop and attending Harper Community College, Lynn started freelancing as a dueling pianist.
“I started with Howl at the Moon in Seattle,” she said. “I ended up playing Crazy Pianos in Miami, and their flagship location was in the Netherlands. It’s a beautiful club that packed 2,000 people in every night. Initially I went over there thinking it would be just for a couple of months.”
By mid-January, Lynn will return to Holland. She recently received a five-year residency permit, and frequently travels between Scheveningen and a town near Munich to visit her boyfriend, Ulf Wittl, a computer scientist and former pro hockey player.
“I fell in love with the town and the lifestyle,” she said. “I don’t know that I’m going to go back now.”