THANA FAYAD IS EXTRAORDINARY ON AND OFF THE COURT
Thana Fayad stepped out of the car and looked up at the Normal Heights music club marquee. There, in bold letters, was her name.
A 21-year-old University of San Diego graduate student and standout volleyball player, Fayad was the headline performer at Lestat’s West that night in mid-February. During her 38-minute set, she performed the single “Into the Woods,” which was released that night on Spotify.
When asked how it felt to see her name atop a marquee, Fayad recalls, “It was very, very humbling, and I was proud of myself to come so far, so quickly.”
At that moment, Fayad had no idea that the world was in the midst of a frightening change. By early May, the coronavirus pandemic had topped 3.5 million cases and nearly 250,000 deaths worldwide.
For Fayad, the outbreak meant the cancelation of a show, no volleyball practices, no rehearsals with her music colleagues. “It’s a very strange time,” she says. “Unlike anything anybody has ever seen.”
Music and volleyball have been Fayad’s twin passions for some time. She was taking piano lessons by the age of 5, voice lessons by 11. Raised in British Columbia, she entered a Canadian version of American Idol when she was about 11, and finished second.
One of five children, Fayad was restricted to one hour a day on the Internet in her teens and spent that time downloading music. Her influences lean toward Amy Winehouse, Adele and Alicia Keys. Always dabbling with lyrics, in her early teens Fayad wrote a song entitled, “Marry My Piano.”
“I don’t need a man,” Fayad says of her thoughts back then. “I’ll just marry my piano.”
Fayad’s two older sisters played volleyball and she shadowed them to the courts. Fayad grew to 6 feet tall, was blessed with some hops and a windmill right-arm swing. Former USD associate head coach Brent Hilliard spotted Fayad at a tournament, the Toreros offered a scholarship and the Canadian was bound for California.
She played well in her first year in 2016, then missed almost the entire next two seasons when she suffered two major knee injuries that required surgeries. After suffering the second injury in December 2017, Fayad wondered if her volleyball career was over. She remembers her mother crying on the phone when told her the news.
“Nobody can say I didn’t think about quitting,” Fayad says. “Multiple times.”
But Fayad dedicated herself to the arduous rehabbing task a second time. Last fall, in her comeback season, she earned All-West Coast Conference honors. On a team that advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the 22nd time in the last 24 seasons, Fayad finished second on the team with 298 kills and third with 260 digs. She has one more year of eligibility.
“I’ve never seen a more determined athlete,” says USD head volleyball coach Jennifer Petrie,
When Fayad suffered her second knee injury, her mother suggested she use the down time to rekindle her passion for music. Inspired by her battle to recover from the second surgery, Fayad wrote the lyrics to “Into the Woods.” Part of the lyrics read: When I fall, I don’t want to mask the pain / It will only help me fight again / When I fall, my power’s born again.
In December of 2018, Fayad put an ad on Craigslist. She identified herself as a singer/songwriter who wanted to get more involved in the music industry and noted that she aspired to be a professional musician after college. Andy Gallagher — a local guitarist and songwriter who plays in the band Trains Across the Sea — responded to the ad. Fayad and Gallagher have been working together for more than a year and have written about 20 songs.
“She’s got an incredible voice,” says Gallagher. “The question is, what do she and I have to say with that voice?”
Even in conversation, Fayad has a distinctive sound. Husky, a bit hoarse. As for her singing, she has been described as “soulful, jazzy.”
“I’ve heard the phrase West Coast Blues,” says Gallagher. “I certainly wouldn’t disagree with that.”
Fayad earned her bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies. She’s pursuing a master’s in Leadership Studies. Playing a team sport, sometimes in front of thousands, doesn’t faze Fayad. But singing in front on an audience at an intimate venue?
“All eyes are on me,” she says. “It can be scary. Is there going to be applause at the end or will they throw tomatoes? As of now, it’s pretty uncomfortable.”
Fayad has performed at local coffee houses, bars and cafes. That night at Lestat’s West, management kept the door open during her performance. A homeless man wandered by during Fayad’s February set. He stood in the doorway, smiling. Says Fayad, “Which I thought was kind of cute.” — Don Norcross