Keith Meline is a competitive swimmer with an award-winning voice.
And though his swimming skills have brought him many kudos, it is "the voice" that earned him a chance to perform next month in New York City.
The Hanford High senior, who sings tenor, took top honors at the regional Music Teachers National Association event last month in Montana. That win means he will compete at the national MTNA competition March 24 at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan.
"I'm very excited I won," he said. "I first had to win the Washington State MTNA (competition) that took place in November."
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He was told he had a very good chance of winning the Washington contest but didn't want to jinx himself by thinking too positively about it.
"I didn't want to go in there thinking I'm the best and gonna win," he said. "It messes with my focus."
Meline, son of Kent and Claire Meline of Richland, said he always has loved to sing.
"I started at a very young age, around age 7," he said. "I started getting serious when I was 12 or 13."
He credits his music teachers for helping develop his vocal pipes.
He studied with Elaine Sherperell-Burgess before she moved to Rhode Island last year. Meline now studies with Reg Unterseher, a well-known Kennewick voice teacher and composer.
"My first association with Keith was with Washington East Opera's Bravo Troupe when, as a fun-loving and somewhat unfocused 7-year-old," Scherperel-Burgess said in an email to the Herald, "he played one of the dwarves in Barab's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
"Keith has grown from that gawky kid into a focused, determined and personable young man whose voice has improved leaps and bounds. His determination to improve and bring out the beauty of his natural instrument is paying off for him and I believe he is sowing the seeds for success in the very difficult business of professional singing."
Unterseher feels much the same as Scherperel-Burgess when it comes to Meline's musical future.
"I have (taught) Keith during a really interesting transitional time -- vocally -- for a young tenor, as the voice really starts to develop and change," Unterseher said. "Even the last two months his voice has begun to really take off."
But, he adds, he is just one of several teachers who have guided Meline's vocal training.
"Keith was always a talented kid, and had excellent training before I got him," Unterseher said. "That is a great place to be as a teacher -- to help build on a terrific foundation."
Meline juggles a hectic life of voice lessons, practice and swim meets, as well as maintaining his studies at Hanford High. He is co-captain of his varsity swim team and will go to the state championships for the fourth consecutive year. At the event Feb. 17-18 in Federal Way, he will swim in the 200-yard individual medley and the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
His busy lifestyle sometimes puts a cramp on his social life, as swimming and singing constantly compete with any kind of time with friends.
"Many, many times I want to go hang out with my friends, but I can't," he said. "But my friends understand."
He also doesn't let the fact he prefers classical opera over the more popular music of his age group get to him.
"People often have prejudices against opera," he said. "But singers have to spend years developing their voices to the maximum, guiding their own instruments and built-in microphone.
"I would like to sing professionally one day. And though I love swimming, singing is my passion."
As for next month's trip, Meline is taking it one day at a time.
"I'm not exactly sure what will happen if I were to win in New York," he said. "I know there are some cash awards, but that's not my focus. I'm in it for the experience."