VSA Florida is pleased to announce the winners of their 8th Annual 2015 VSA Florida Young Soloist Competition who will be representing the State of Florida in the VSA International Competition in Washington, D.C. later this year. Congratulations to 19 year old lyric soprano, Lyudmilla Fuentes from Polk County, 17 year old pianist James Williams from Pasco County and Outta Sight, the musical performing group from the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Johns County. The three artists/groups were selected through a strict adjudication process facilitated by Tampa Bay professors of music at the University of South Florida and HCC Ybor and will now represent Florida in their quest for the international title.
The Florida and International Young Soloist Program seeks to identify talented musicians age 14-26 who have a disability with the intension of increasing their likelihood for successful careers in the arts. This outstanding program delivers by offering opportunities to serious music students to showcase their craft and performance ability at venues throughout Florida. Additionally, through a partnership with the Florida Orchestra and Ashley Furniture, each winner will perform at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg in October 2015 at the orchestra’s annual Concert in the Park. The coveted international award is given annually to four outstanding musicians, two from the United States and two from the international arena, providing an opportunity for these emerging musical artists to each earn a $5,000 award and a performance in Washington, D.C.
Lyudmilla Fuentes, 19, attends DePaul University School of Music studying with renowned opera singer, Jane Bunnell after graduating fifth in her high school class at Central Florida Aerospace Academy. She is a five-time VSA Florida Young Soloist with her eye on the International title that has been just out of her reach. Lyudi has been recognized with accolades nationally and internationally for her involvement in the arts, performing opera in six different languages. She has studied under top opera voice coaches including Jane Klavitter of the Bel Canto Faculty in Florence, Italy and at the Frost School of Music in Salzburg, Germany.
Lyudmilla was adopted to a family in Florida after being born with Poland Disease in Siberia, Russia. Her career began at the early age of 10 when selected to participate in twelve performances of Carmen with the Miami Children’s Chorus. Lyudmilla has continued to pursue her passion for music in opera performance. Most recently she was the recipient of the prestigious Arts for Life! 2014 Scholarship presented to her by Jeb and Columba Bush, was first place winner of NATS and first round of Classical Singer at Eastman School of Music. She has also been a finalist for the Imperial Symphony Orchestra Young Artist Competition, Tampa Bay Symphony, and Suncoast/St. Petersburg Opera Guild. In December 2013 she was part of the Tampa Opera Chorus performing with Andrea Bocelli. You can hear Lyudi sing by clicking here.
James A Williams, born in London, England, fell in love with classical music at an early age and taught himself, by ear, to play the piano despite the lack of formal training or the ability to even read sheet music. His diagnosis of autism makes this gift even more relevant. After winning a school talent show in 2010, James produced a fundraising CD, A Moment with the Classics, with a second one on the way. He tells us, “I really enjoy playing classical pieces because it touches other people’s lives. My music hs given me the ability to reach out to the local community and also to assist in raising dollars for nonprofit organizations. If you would like to listen to James, please click here.
Since beginning his musical journey over the past 5 years, James has put numerous music performance competitions under his belt that includes the FAF (Fine Art Festival) in Orlando, Louisville and Phoenix. In 2013 he won Spotlight on Talent at the Heritage Arts Center and has performed for VIP guests at the closing ceremony of the Martin Luther King Day celebrations organized by the Tampa Bay Black Heritage Festival. James has been honored to perform for Temple Grandin at the CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disabilities) annual conference in Orlando, at the Tampa Yacht Club and continues to share his gift with churches, nursing/retirement/veterans homes, coffee houses and local businesses in the Tampa Bay area.
“Playing the piano brings me peace and solace from difficult times and the courage to overcome adversity. I am more able to concentrate when I play my classical music and love to see the enjoyment of others when I play for them”.
Outta Sight is composed of 10 blind and visually impaired high school students who play a variety of instruments as well as lending harmonies. None of them are formally trained or read music, however each has sang or played instruments most of their lives. Their attendance at school (Florida school for the Deaf and Blind) has brought them together as a band that is primarily student driven. They are not regarded as a “school band” and membership, multiple rehearsals per week and performances are voluntary. They are under the direction of Bill Sabo and guidance of adult instructors. Outta Sight does about 25 shows a year including an annual headliner appearance at the national ATIA (Assistive Technology Industry Association) convention in Orlando.
Five members of Outta Sight participated in the application process this year. Leon Stewart, senior member of the band from Miami, plays keys and has yet to find a genre that he doesn’t enjoy, be it jazz, pop, classical, pop, country, it’s all music to him. Leon was a VSA Florida Student of the Month in 2013 and was seen on CBS’s 60 Minutes performing with Marcus Roberts. Although he plays by ear, he sings and co-wrote two of the group’s submissions. Denny Jackson, also from Miami, is a major voice in the group’s performances and leads the group in songwriting talent. Kathleen Rosado Cruz, was the only female that submitted this year, and carries much of the harmony and leads of the group’s show performances. She is from Puerto Rico and now resides in Tampa. Trent Ferguson, from Sebring, is the youngest member of the band and anchors the percussion section as a drummer. Eddie Gonzalez, also from Puerto Rico but now living in Kissimmee, is a singer/songwriter and gives keyboard support to the group with the use of strings, horns and ethereal additions.