We continue our series of profiles of finalists in Morristown Onstage 2019:
By Marion Filler
A girl with a guitar: Diana McNiff is following the tradition of Joni Mitchell, Judy Collins and Joan Baez, to name a few who have captivated audiences with their vocal purity and the messages in their music.
They graduated from noisy coffee houses to huge concert halls. Now it’s McNiff’s turn. On Feb. 27, 2019, she will trade the din of clubs, bars, and weddings for the rapt attention of 1,300 spectators at Morristown Onstage, in the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
“It’s actually one of the exciting things about this experience that I’m looking forward to, because I have never played in a venue of this size. It’s silent and it’s the first time it’s going to be full-focus, so it’s a challenge,” says McNiff.
Not that she minds a challenge. The arrival of her son, now 2 years old, might have put a hold on performing. Yet the opposite is true.
Before motherhood, McNiff had a career as a professional fundraiser. She has been playing acoustic guitar for 20 years, performing for about half of that time.
“I’ve been a musician longer than I’ve been a mother, but since I had my son and paused my career, I’ve actually had more time to spend on my music than I did previously. It’s a lot of fun to teach music to a new person, and it’s another aspect of being a musician that is really fun.”
McNiff will compete for prize money against 14 other finalists in Morristown Onstage, a fundraiser for the Morris School District featuring top amateur talent from Greater Morristown.
More than 50 acts auditioned for this 12th edition of the show, which aims to top last year’s record of $143,000 raised for local school programs.
Organized by the Morris Educational Foundation, the competition is open to performers who live, work or study in Morristown, Morris Township or Morris Plains, and to graduates of Morristown High School.
McNiff’s choice of song is I Got a Woman by Ray Charles.
“I like the content of this song because it’s about women’s role in the 1950s, when it was written. It’s fun for me to play that song as an independent woman in front of everyone. I change one of the lines in it that brings the idea home, to modernize it a little bit.”
Original lyrics: “She knows a woman’s place is right there, now, in her home.” McNiff’s update: “…right there, now, as C.E.O.”
She figures that’s a perfect fit for this show, which boasts the theme History Happens Here.
“Here we are today when you can basically choose whatever path suits you,” McNiff says. “You are not forced into any type of role like the one described in the song.”
Fifteen top amateur acts from Greater Morristown will compete for cash and glory in the 12th annual Morristown Onstage, on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, at the Mayo Performing Arts Center. Tickets: $29-$79. Proceeds benefit the Morris Educational Foundation. Call 973-539-8008.