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2016 Vocal Music Artist of the Year: Kyle Gabriel

Thus far into his composing career, Kyle Gabriel’s repertoire includes five completed songs.

And, he promises, “a whole lot more in the works.”

One of his original compositions, “Miles Away,” took him several years – and several heartbreaks – to finish.

He started it one year after music summer camp. Then he picked it up again after a different summer camp, with a different girl in mind.

Five summer camps later, he explained, it was finished.

He is 17.

Gabriel, seated at the piano, accompanied himself to an abridged version of “Miles Away” for the judges who ended up choosing him as the 2016 Orange County Register Artist of the Year in vocal music.

His tale of how the song evolved made them laugh.

But his songwriting was “spot on” in his understanding of harmonic structure and the value of a hook, said Steve Venz, visual and performing arts coordinator at the Orange County Department of Education.

“Lyrically,” Venz added, “it’s not sophomoric stuff.”

Mostly, what Gabriel hopes to accomplish when he performs is something that was difficult for him while he was growing up: communication.

Gabriel has Asperger’s syndrome, placing him on the autism spectrum and making it difficult for him to express himself in social situations.

Music became the means.

Gabriel, a senior at Valencia High in Placentia, is headed for Cal State Long Beach to study vocal performance.

“Kyle Gabriel is a student that comes around once in a teaching career with a brilliant musical mind, that still comes to class consistently hungry to learn,” wrote Megan Arthurton, director of vocal music at Valencia.

“When he sits at the piano to play and sing, he draws a crowd.”

Gabriel studied classical piano from the age of 7 but didn’t discover an interest in vocal music until he joined choir in middle school. He continued in choir at Valencia, joined the jazz band and pushed beyond his comfort zone to land the lead role in “Snoopy: The Musical.”

He only recently began taking lessons in composing. And he takes nothing for granted.

Gabriel learned a valuable lesson when he didn’t prepare and missed the cut for his school’s vocal jazz group the first time he auditioned.

He worked hard the next year and got in. Call him persistent.


Contact the writer: 714-796-2258 or


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